Three hundred years after the great freeze, humans are the only surviving animal species on the surface of Earth, and even they cling on only one slip away from extinction. A violent, crumbling society whose only resource is geothermal energy, the population of the Arizona Federation, built below the icy wastes which were once a great desert, numbers just over 2,100, a number which is missing two souls.
Losing himself in a drug induced oblivion, Commander Bishop (The Black Russian‘s Paul Sidhu) of the Spartan-7 security force is absent without leave, unable to reconcile the death of his wife Mara and their unborn child five years before at the hands of ASH-393, a rogue Arctic Surface Humanoid of the 300 series, genetically engineered so their acidic black blood can withstand the sub-zero surface temperatures.
Bishop is out of uniform but he took the oath and is hauled back into service by General Trajan (Zombies vs Strippers‘ Brad Potts) who has no patience to indulge personal grief when there is a mission at hand. The compound reliant on the labour of the ASH 300s, it is believed that ASH-393 has survived in the dead zone and is raising a rebellion among other escapees of his kind.
The clincher to guarantee Bishop will lead the mission? Trajan tells him his daughter did not die along with his wife that fateful day but was in fact stolen by ASH-393 and still lives somewhere in the snowy wastes despite lacking the requisite DNA enhancements.
Written and directed by Joey Curtis, co-writer of Blue Valentine, from a story by Sidhu, The Winter Soldier has inescapable echoes of Blade Runner with a genetically engineered underclass whose physical perfection is compromised by the decision of their designers to make them sterile to prevent them from splintering off into their own superior species, Sidhu’s overwrought whispered voiceover ensuring the foremost memory is of the original rather than the superior Director’s Cut.
Somewhat randomly throwing science at the screen in hopes the audience will be bamboozled by terms such as epigenetics, Bishop is given a Captain America style makeover to safeguard against the elements before setting out with sidekick Ishmael and his ironic harmonica, badass El Hatta and insubordinate Kix (Westworld‘s Timothy Lee DePriest, Earthtastrophe‘s Kelcey Watson and American Honey‘s Arielle Holmes).
Their pristine state-of-the-art climbing gear as incongruous as Bishop’s flashbacks to his wife’s white wedding dress considering the dire circumstances of their subsistence level existence, The Winter Soldier improves in the final act when the story of ASH-393 (a surprisingly restrained and sympathetic Branden Coles) is brought out but the heavy handed first hour is notable only for an all too brief cameo from Mulholland Drive‘s Rebekah Del Rio performing in the club where Bishop is first found.
While day-for-night shooting does no film any favours most aspects of the production cannot be faulted and it is not without ambition, but while the locations, sets and physical hardware add value they’re not sufficient to distract from the pedestrian and derivative script which mistakes vulgarity for personality.
Acting like a bunch of kids playing grown-up, the camaraderie of the undisciplined team is forced and what little authority Bishop has falters when an electromagnetic storm cuts off communications. Holmes is particularly annoying, acting like she wishes she was Tank Girl and reading Mein Kampf, raising the question of either how a paperback survived three centuries or whether of all the books in history this was the one a dying culture chose to reprint.
Feeling very much like the sections of Riddick told from the point of view of the mercs, The Winter Soldier is less Pitch Black than blazing white, a by-the-numbers post-apocalypse action movie where all that might have made this particular snowflake unique is the wintery setting had The Colony and Snowpiercer not beaten it to the punch.
Released internationally as 2307: Winter’s Dream, The Winter Soldier is now available on DVD in the UK