Mark Reviews Movies

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout)

Running Time: 2:16

Release Date: 4/4/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 3, 2014

The red, white, and blue of his shield have faded. His muscle-boasting suit is a grayish blue. We've become so accustomed to notion of superheroes and their traditional costumes that we hardly think twice about them, so it's a slight shock that the hero's uniform in Captain America: The Winter Soldier actually has something to say about the person wearing it. He still may believe in and fight for truth, justice, and, above all, the American way (Or is that the other guy?), but he just isn't certain what that American way is anymore. There's a sense that he's afraid to find out, lest he discovers he doesn't agree with it.

Every superhero has to have a weakness, whether it be fear of unintentionally bring harm to those about whom the hero cares or a glowing green rock from the hero's native planet. Captain America's, the film supposes, is skepticism. Weakness isn't a negative in this context; it makes these people with preternatural abilities more human.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the man behind the mask and holding that indestructible shield, has grown from the poster boy for the fight against tyranny in World War II to become like any other American citizen. He doesn't trust the powers that be, and he certainly doesn't agree with every choice that's been made on his behalf as a citizen while and after he was frozen on ice. The only difference is that he has all of this coming at him at once. At one point, he takes out a list of cultural milestones since 1945 with which he needs to acquaint himself. We imagine that somewhere in his mind there's another list: Vietnam, Watergate, the Patriot Act, Iraq, etc. It's a lot to take in all at once.

In his previous adventure—the one before the other one with the team of superheroes—there wasn't much to Steve or, for that matter, Captain America. Like pretty much any superhero origin story, the setup was better than the payoff, which, like far too many movies about the origin of a superhero, pitted the newly formed hero against a generic villain with an even more generic plan, as if that's some kind of required challenge for these heroes to have to face each and every time—even if we're just getting to know them.

Steve was far more interesting before he became a superhero—back when he was a scrawny kid wanting nothing else but to serve his country and then, after being injected with a super-serum that turned him into a super-soldier, a tool of the government's public relations department. He may still be a tool for the United States government—the super-secret organization named S.H.I.E.L.D.—but now he knows it. The first act of the sequel is all about how he reacts to that knowledge.

Soon into the start, Captain America and a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) must stop pirates who have taken control of one of the agency's ships in the Indian Ocean. It really serves as a reminder of what Captain America does best: pummel bad guys with his fists, feet, and shield. Black Widow nabs some information from the ship's computer, and the Captain is angry that he wasn't aware of this side mission.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., gives him a long-winded explanation to justify keeping his top operative in the dark, and it only fuels Rogers' pessimism. There's also something about a top-secret initiative to send airships into suborbital surveillance—ships that will be used to kill terror suspects. When Rogers points out due process, Fury responds, "We don't have time for that."

Around this point, the plot becomes convoluted to the point that one really needs a flow chart to determine what cause resulted in what effect and where characters' loyalties really are. It hardly matters, since the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has already put us in a place where such confusion is in tune with Rogers' own.

Characters we previously assumed were dead come back from the grave (in one case as a gigantic network of computers keeping his mind alive in order to wait almost 70 years to provide exposition), and there's a massive conspiracy to bring back an old enemy organization. Rogers hasn't been able to put the past behind him, knowing that his old friends and companions are either dead or closer to death than his brain thinks they should be.

There's an exhibit in the Smithsonian about him, and as he wanders through it, there's nothing but reminders of his regrets.    Even the eponymous baddie—a mysterious assassin in a black suit and mask—has a back story involving decades of political murders with the purpose of changing the course of history when it doesn't fit the villainous organization's plans.

It sets up some tough choices for Rogers and, of course, plenty of action sequences. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo keep these sequences fluid, whether it's Fury trying to outrun a hit squad while dodging obstacles and using them to his advantage, close-quarters fisticuffs in an enclosed elevator, or a climax that features a trio of battles. It's especially the case in setpieces involving Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who takes to the sky on a winged jetpack to weave over, under, and around airships.

This is a sequel that easily surpasses its predecessor by turning its previously dull hero into one with unexpected but logical depth. Captain America: The Winter Soldier may follow the same outline of a lot of these comic-book superhero movies (especially the ones in the incestuous Marvel universe), but it does so with confidence in its protagonist—both what he does best and what he has become.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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