Well, this is refreshing. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the latest in a barrage of superhero films of varying quality, may be good enough to make all the mediocrity thrown on screen so far worth it.
The second Captain America film itself, not counting the horrendous attempts from decades ago, and the third proper picture with Chris Evans in the role, The Winter Soldier is an energetic, well told bit of action-theatrics. Our hero Steve Rogers is getting accustomed to life after spending over half-a-century frozen. Steve jots down little cultural things to catch up on (landing on the moon, Marvin Gaye) and wallops the baddies with the best of them. One thing Cap hasn’t adjusted to is the modern form of national defense.
After an exciting action sequence where Cap and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) rescue hostages on a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel, Steve meets with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about the secrecy that runs deep in the military and its partners. Fury claims it’s for the best, while letting Steve in on a new set of flying warships – Helicarriers to the dorks out there - that are power-packed for killing enemies at a moments notice, or even before the moment occurs. Steve isn’t a fan of attacking those that haven’t done wrong yet, but seems alone on that one, with Fury’s cohort Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) detailing how society is in a new place and needs new views on things.
Then chaos ensues. Assassination attempts are made, good guys turn out to be traitors and a new threat appears; the Winter Soldier. With a righteously strong metal arm and a pinpoint trigger finger, the mysterious Winter Soldier is unleashed by the movie’s true villain to kill Cap and ensure the deaths of millions.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier hums along smoothly, skipping over much of the franchise heavy-lifting that causes many of its ilk to stumble. The characters are set, the motions are fluid. Once upon a time the second film in a superhero series was expected to be the best (Superman II, Spider-Man 2, X2) and this is a reminder of why. With relationships intact, we are free to enjoy the adventure. Once more, Evans is excellent as Captain America, stoic without being condescending, earnest without seeming naïve or silly. He sells Cap’s might and intelligence decisively; a hero that wants to do good. It’s a real relief from the parade of reluctant heroes or smarmy do-gooders.
The whole cast matches Evans performance. Johansson makes her character unpredictability human, rooting her brains in an ability to read a room. Redford is sharp in tongue and immediately menacing as one takes guesses on whether or not he can be trusted. Plus, Anthony Mackie pops in Falcon, a unique kind of pilot who sports mechanical wings in combat. His friendship and admiration of Cap is one of the movie’s many delights.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree) mostly handle the action beats well. A highway shootout sets the space of the danger, with our heroes’ battle benefiting from establishing where all the players are dueling. The nimble nature of Black Widow is exciting to watch, as she darts her way through the bullets, while Cap’s brute force and shield-wielding carries a propulsive thud.
The only issue is a pair of minor ones. A bit of the action is over-edited and choppy, with one particular escape sequence jolting between cuts to aggravating effect. Additionally, the final set-piece, largely gripping, does have a smidge too much happening. At one moment we see two characters fighting in a building and the thought rang out, “Oh yeah, these guys are doing stuff too.”
Other than those little quibbles, Captain America: The Winter Solider is a dynamite experience. Hollywood blockbusting near the top of its game.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens wide all across Seattle Friday.