New 'Captain America' a first-rate comic book movie with a point to make
Published: Friday, April 4, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.
The crucial element that both “Captain America: The First Avenger” and its successor, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” get right is that they understand Captain America is an icon in a way Iron Man, Thor and the other Avengers are not.
‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson,
Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan
It's in the name; Captain America is supposed to stand for the best America has to offer. While “The First Avenger” showed us what made him an icon, “The Winter Soldier” wisely uses what Captain America stands for to examine America itself. Combined with a sharp script, top-notch performances and a bevy of exciting action set pieces, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a first-rate comic book movie with a point to make, setting it apart from many of its lesser brethren.
As “The Winter Soldier” begins, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is working with the intelligence organization SHIELD to keep the world safe after the events of “The Avengers.” But he's getting tired of being “Nick Fury's janitor” (Nick Fury being the director of SHIELD played by Samuel L. Jackson), so when a hostage-rescue mission on board a SHIELD vessel doesn't go quite according to plan and Rogers discovers information was kept from him, he becomes even more suspect of SHIELD, its motives and its tactics.
This is all before Fury clues Rogers in on a plan to launch three SHIELD helicarriers (basically flying aircraft carriers with big guns) to eliminate supposed threats before they happen, after which Fury is attacked by SHIELD operatives and then assassinated by the mysterious Winter Soldier. Fury's death prompts Rogers to recruit Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a former special forces soldier now working with wounded veterans, to investigate the rot at the heart of SHIELD, now led by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).
While it doesn't visibly strain for greater depth and meaning in the manner of “The Dark Knight,” the unmistakable parallels between SHIELD's actions and the current war on terror do give “The Winter Soldier” an added depth and relevance that Marvel's movies have been missing since the first half of “Iron Man.” The movie isn't a polemic by any means, but setting Captain America, the embodiment of America's ideals, against America's black-ops security apparatus definitely makes a statement.
The way this all plays out on screen, though, is through Captain America fighting ever-growing waves of bad guys with occasional pauses for character beats, so it's a civics lesson that goes down with a spoonful of sugar.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo do an excellent job of showing how capable Rogers is even without the godlike powers of Thor or Iron Man's armor; in fact, the hand-to-hand combat in this movie is often downright brutal and punishing. The action choreography occasionally strays a little far into shaky-cam territory, but for the most part the action is fluid, briskly paced and very exciting; the third act finale, in which Rogers is basically fighting all of SHIELD, is probably the biggest set piece Marvel has done since “The Avengers.”
Helping the movie out on all fronts is its tremendous cast. Evans has to play by far the most subdued of the Avengers, but he projects innate goodness so well and plays his part with the perfect amount of self-deprecation, as if even Rogers knows he's a relic but carries on fighting the good fight anyway. Evans goes a long way toward selling the emotional stakes of the movie, even when the physical stakes take a massive leap upward and threaten to overwhelm the proceedings. Returning Marvel repertory players Johansson and Jackson have grown greatly accustomed to their roles, with Jackson bringing an extra dose of world-weariness to bear and Johansson showing surprising emotional vulnerability as well as hyper-competence.
A few nitpicks: Redford doesn't make for a particularly sinister villain, especially compared with a surprise appearance from Rogers' past. Furthermore, despite having his name in the title, the Winter Soldier isn't actually in that much of the movie and doesn't have a whole lot to do besides provide one admittedly-shocking reveal that doesn't really go anywhere. Lastly, Henry Jackman's score, while not really bad, lacks in comparison with the great work done by Alan Silvestri in “The First Avenger.” But these are, as mentioned, nitpicks. “The Winter Soldier” is a great Captain America movie and an excellent comic book movie overall. Just make sure to sit through all of the credits.
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