Marvel Studios calls it Phase Two which they kicked into action with Thor: The Dark World last fall. Each superhero film will be linked by either major or minor plot points as they continue to roll out.
It will be tough, however, to match what’s on the screen with Winter Soldier, a film filled with action and political intrigue. Yes, political intrigue.
Comic book stories have grown more sophisticated over the years and Winter Soldier, which is directed by Cleveland natives Anthony and Joe Russo, is the culmination of that fact. The political theater plays out with tension-filled precision, but the Russos and the script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, take Capt. Steve Rogers on an emotional and psychological journey, going places audiences wondered about after his revival from deep sleep after more than 60 years in Captain America: The First Avenger.
It was difficult to get into those issues in more than a superficial way because the events that transpired in The Avengers came to be.
Not so here. Rogers is confused. Very confused. He’s still a member of SHIELD, acting as the patriot he is. serving his country and his commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) without question.
Things, however, change. It was easier during Rogers’ World War II era to follow orders without question. Things tended to be black or white when dealing with Nazi Germany and the country’s atrocities.
That’s not the case here as Rogers tries to discern who he can trust and that includes Fury and fellow Avenger Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
He’s a man out of time and the shift to modern day America proves a challenge. It helps, however, when he gets to know Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a veteran helping other veterans who return from the Middle East to cope with emotional and physical problems. Rogers certainly could qualify.
He needs that because he’s starting to have thoughts about the goals of SHIELD and its leaders, and those motives aren’t very altruistic.
He learns that someone has compromised the agency and finds himself being hunted by those with whom he once worked.
Gone is the illusion that Rogers lived under that everything as it relates to America is without shades of grey. Things can get very grey and quickly. Enlisting the aid of Black Widow and new ally Wilson, who becomes Marvel hero The Falcon thanks to some military hardware, he attempts to ferret out the truth.
It’s that maturity that permeates The Winter Soldier that makes it so enjoyable. The fact that the filmmakers set it up so the character evolves offers intrigue as Captain America loses the jingoism – the patriotism that often sounded over the top and naïve. It its place reality as it relates to this universe.
Evans does a wonderful job of conveying the bewilderment that Rogers faces in coming “home.” He slowly peels away from the character’s initial idealism to understand that things do change. Mackie’s presence is nothing but a positive. And Johansson and Jackson find their place in this comic book thriller.
The Russo brothers haven’t been known for big budget action flicks. In fact their best known movie to date has been You, Me & Dupree. Their direction of Winter Soldier shows that they are very much comfortable working in the genre. The result is fast-paced, intelligent entry into the Marvel movie canon that gives the box office an early start on the summer.
Movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.
Running time: 136 minutes
George’s rating: 4-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com