Captain America has always been one of my favorite superheroes. Then again, he has also suffered from being one of the superheroes with generally the lamest comic books. Why this is the case is hard to pinpoint, but if you look at the character you can see how it might have been difficult to write compelling and dark stories for him. Cap has always been so gung-ho American that he now only waves the flag, he wears it. He was the skinny, sickly, kid who wanted to go battle Hitler and was too sick to get into the Army, so they injected him with the Super Soldier serum that brought him to the peak of human perfection and turned him into Captain America. In one early issue he and his sidekick, Bucky, literally punch Hitler and his men in the face.
At the same time, when you look at the villains he faces, they are incredibly dark. The Red Skull is a terrifying Nazi who uses a poison that turns its victims into red skulls. Baron von Strucker runs Hydra and he is also a Nazi. These are bad dudes, but Cap just keeps plugging away with gung-ho, All-American guts and a smile on his face.
Of course, in recent years that has changed a bit. It was good when Captain American finally came to theaters and they darkened him up a bit. The Skull was actually scary and Cap was very human and, perhaps, not quite so gung-ho. Now, having been frozen and awakened in modern times, he has already helped save the world and he wonders where he fits in during these complicated times.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens with Steve Rogers still wondering where he fits in. He keeps a little notebook in his pocket to make lists of important events he missed (Nirvana - band, The Moon Landing, Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man, etc.). He also spends his time working for SHIELD alongside the Black Widow, his fellow Avenger.
However, something seems wrong within SHIELD these days. They have a plan to launch giant heli-carriers into the sky that will coordinate with satellites that are capable of predicting potentially dangerous behavior and literally vaporizing it from almost-space. Cap thinks that this might be wrong, but Nick Fury, the guy who heads SHIELD, seems to want it to happen.
The new movie is not like your standard superhero flick. There aren't aliens who invade. Technically speaking, there really aren't even super villains at work this time. The threat is from within, and it becomes a kind of spy caper. In fact, this is a story that would make a great James Bond film if you put Cap in a tux and changed SHIELD to MI-6.
What you get is a film that manages to have plenty of action (and it is GREAT action, with much of it, early on, not CGI'd), but with a real story. The villains are real people, not just guys who chew the scenery in a ridiculous costume. There is real danger and angst for Cap as he wonders who he can trust.
I hate to give away too much, because the joy of this film is following the twists and turns, the betrayals and back-stabbing. It leaves you wondering who you, as the viewer, can trust, and that is the mark of a really good thriller.
The performances are excellent. The action is intense. Yes, of course, there is a big fight scene involving a LOT of the CGI that they avoided early on, but it would be hard to have giant heli-carriers over Washington D.C. in real life.
It's just the start of the summer movie season. Captain America: The Winter Soldier sets the bar very high for the rest of the action movies and the rest of the superhero movies slated for this year.
I loved this movie. The more I think about it, the more I liked it. It was a blast to watch. Sure, I am sure there are fan boys out there willing to nit-pick this thing to death (they go into these movies, instead of planning to enjoy it, rubbing their hands saying, "can't wait to see what I can find wrong in this film!"), but if you are actually a sane person who can enjoy a movie for the wild and fun romp it is - this movie is for you.
Oh, and there are TWO post-credits sequences. One midway through the credits that helps set up the second Avengers movie. Then there's another short one after all of those credits roll that must set up the next Captain America film.