Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evens, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Frank Grillo, and Anthony Mackie
Opening: April 4 2014
The Plot: Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a stranger in a strange land. Just when he's thinking about quitting S.H.I.E.L.D. and trying to scrape out a new life in 21st Century Washington D.C. a sinister assassin known only as the "Winter Soldier" starts taking out key players in S.H.I.E.L.D. Soon it becomes apparent that the Winter Soldier's leash may be held by someone in S.H.I.E.L.D. central. With nowhere left to go, and no one he can trust outside of Black Widow, (Scarlett Johansson) Captain America is all that stands between a new global threat and the extinction of millions of citizens.
The Film: You have to hand it to Marvel Studios. Not only have they managed to get most of the public corralled into theaters to see their hero movies, and may have even discovered the minor miracle needed to get theater attendees to STAY SEATED during the closing credit crawl, but they somehow have been disciplined enough in their production empire to give the different pieces of their Avengers franchise their own identities for their individual films.
Iron Man movies are Iron Man movies. Lots of money, lots of tech, lots of sarcasm. Thor movies are fantasy/epics. Pretty to gawk at and hyper-nerdy. Captain America, on the other hand, is something a bit more blue-collar and forthright. He's the people's champion. The Rocky Balboa of the superhero clique. The mixological cocktail of Ginger Ale and Human Growth Hormone.
He also happens to be the one guy in Marvel's hero roster with the most definable power schematics.
To illustrate: The Winter Soldier opens with Steve Rogers jogging (sprinting) around the National Mall yelling "ON YOUR LEFT!" as he blows by the other joggers plugging along at an average pace. Not only is it a light, funny way to start this movie up but it gives us an easy-to-comprehend frame of reference of what Captain America can and can't do. Thor can call hammers out of the black hole of the universe, Iron Man can apparently push start a massive helicarrier, and the Hulk can play the knockout game with space dragons the size of Yankee Stadium, but Captain America still has to exercise. He carries a shield because, even though his intimidating muscle-mass may say otherwise, he isn't impervious to bullets.
In fact, the only real superpower the Cap displays is the ability not to succumb to the veiled advances of Black Widow.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is much more of an espionage/action/thriller compared to its predecessor. Take the pugilistic bombast of a Bourne movie, (the Captain's first big fight in the flick is with the UFC's George St. Pierre - someone at Marvel loves me) and add in a cool Bond-type global conspiracy plot that, for once, an average person can follow.
As much as I've admired this latest well-spring of Marvel features, they've relied too much on dealing out Macguffins (the Tesseract in The Avengers, the Aether in Thor: The Dark World) to keep the heroes and villains at each other's throats. The Winter Soldier feels much more natural by comparison. This is a story of the corporate takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the attempted coupe of world power. The comic-book influence is still very much prevalent in The Winter Soldier - as illustrated by a very, very retro-cool cameo by Dr. Zola - but refreshingly the film doesn't get bogged down in Marvel-babble.
As the story stakes are raised and things start looking desperate for Captain America we're left sort of wondering why the Cap doesn't call in the rest of his new Avenging buddies to lend him a hand stopping the planned genocide of the genetically undesirable portion of humanity. Surely Thor could whip Frank Grillo and The Winter Soldier during a coffee break. The Hulk could do it in his sleep. But then again... this is Captain America. These colors don't run. I guess they don't call for back-up either.
I was happy that they let the Cap have his crisis, and let him come up with a way to solve it. Part of this Avenger's magic is that he has no magic - just a shield and a deadly right hook. Which, when we're discussing the Winter Soldier himself, just doesn't seem to be enough to close the deal on this occasion.
Marvel's always been a bit light in the ass when it comes to villains, and though the Winter Soldier is skimpy on conversation (Bane comes off as an absolute jabber-box next to this guy) he's generous when it comes to doling out carnage. If I complained, (and I did) about The First Avenger, it was that, for an origin story it relied too much on montages to get from story point to story point. So much so that as an action film it felt neutered. The Winter Soldier remedies that by creating a volatile environment for Captain America, Black Widow, and Nick Fury, to try and operate in. When diplomacy fails, and the lead starts flying, we finally get a Captain America movie with some legitimate punch to it.
There is little mystery as to who the actual Winter Soldier is under the mask, but since it looked like we might finally get to see someone put the first dent in the Cap's Vibranium shield I wasn't complaining too much.
The Verdict: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a great American action/espionage feature. There's plenty to like about this character, and plenty more to like about this sequel to The First Avenger. As a solo project it ranks among Marvel's best work to date. My advice is to get in line this weekend.