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Movie Review: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' (2014)

With the increasing influx of superhero movies, the recent trend for Marvel has been to make a push for graver scenarios and heavier violence. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” complies, offering a darker tone with far fewer instances of jokey antics, and an elevated focus on frenzied shootouts and hand-to-hand combat. But while the action sequences gain gravity and ferocity, the storyline reaches in the opposite direction with a tired world domination plot that’s both stale and ludicrous. This sequel begins with an intriguing mystery setup, but the reveal arrives too quickly and provides an explanation steeped in nonsense. At least the titular juggernaut villain proves a more formidable (and less outlandish) foe than the red-faced menace from the previous entry.

Adjusting to his new place in the 21st century, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), continues to work for espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. under Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). After a mission to recover a covert military vessel reveals an intricate web of lies and deceit, Fury is attacked by an illusive assassin dubbed the “Winter Soldier” (Sebastian Stan), forcing Rogers becomes a fugitive from his own organization. Partnering with lethal spy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and former pilot Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Rogers must uncover the traitor and thwart a force of evil intent on destroying S.H.I.E.L.D. and all who would stand against tyranny.

While this new film fixes a lot of soft spots in the original, poor Captain America has revealed yet another flaw: the complexity of his character - or rather, the lack thereof. Apparently, even though it’s only the second film in the series, there’s nothing left to do with him. He’s forced to share the spotlight with sidekick Black Widow, who does her best to outdo his smarminess and one-liners. He must also contend with Nick Fury’s progressively larger role. And finally, there’s “The Falcon,” an uninspired ally who is ultimately just one more pseudo-superhero to share the spotlight. If that situation wasn’t bad enough for the lead protagonist, the villain department suffers from the same misguidance. The Winter Soldier, an infinitely superior creation to the laughable Red Skull, competes against a commonplace henchman (in the form of Frank Grillo as Crossbones, who is supposedly skilled enough to combat superpowers without possessing any of his own) and an unanticipated evil mastermind at the heart of the drab world takeover plot. There’s even a brief return of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), a baddie from the first film.

Utilizing a pirate hijacking of an enormous naval vessel and “Heat”-styled terrorism, full of machinegun fire and grenade launchers in the middle of crowded streets, gives the film an opportunity to mingle with current events and contemporary fears - along with commentary on recent NSA criticizing and far-reaching, paternalistic overseeing. Who gets to make the important decisions on freedom or privacy over security (especially on the tipping point of chaos and order)? But the potency takes a back seat to sharply edited, unusually tense shootouts and expectedly over-the-top stunts saturated with unnatural posturing. Most of the action choreography leans toward unrealistic showiness rather than efficiency and sensible stealth. There’s sloppiness to the flamboyance that results in injury and the alerting of enemies.

It also doesn’t help that Captain America has never been given a precise set of rules governing his superpowers. Clearly, he can run faster, punch harder, and block explosions with his shield, but he’s not impervious to knives and bullets. Can he die? That question is never answered because the extreme advancements in technology allow for any predicament to be spontaneously resolved. Any warrior in the face of certain doom magically unbridles a weapon or device that can coincidentally defend against said instigator of demise. None of the main characters are ever in any believable danger. By the end of it all, the film also proves itself to be just another middle chapter to an episodic series of interrelated Avengers adventures. It’s one of many successful attempts to have big-budget, grand movies mimic the diminished feel of television episodes.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)