Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the latest Marvel movie/merchandising monolith, has all the makings of another generic comic-book blockbuster. It’s a too-long sequel with a few snappy one-liners, a third act that concludes with a predictable cacophony of explosions and the usual end-credit previews for the next installment. Nothing new to see here.
Except, for the most part, it works.
Maybe it’s the charm and chemistry between Chris Evans as our squared-jawed hero, Steve Rogers, and Scarlett Johansson as his partner in global crime-fighting, Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Maybe it’s the rock-’em-sock-’em, mano a mano action scenes that directors/brothers Anthony and Joe Russo stage. Maybe it’s the topical relevancy as the government Captain America defends seems to be turning on its own people, launching a worldwide satellite spying program that theoretically will have the ability to kill those presumed dangerous to the state. Whatever the case, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the better entries in the franchise.
At the start of the movie, Rogers is undergoing some emotional turmoil. A chance meeting with veteran Sam Wilson (an engaging Anthony Mackie), who works with soldiers struggling with PTSD, brings to the surface mixed feelings Rogers has about his role as Captain America, the genetically engineered defender of all things red, white and blue. Remember, he’s originally a man from the ’40s and he’s not sure his old-fashioned sense of what’s fair has a place in this modern world.
His faith in the institutions around him is further shaken by the latest threat: The agency he works for, S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), has evildoers within its ranks. They are pushing for the new surveillance program, under the guise of protecting our freedoms.
It’s up to Captain America to wage a one-man war against the people he used to trust. And who can he trust? Natasha? His no-nonsense boss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)? Government bureaucrat Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford)? His flirty next-door neighbor, Kate (Emily VanCamp, from TV’s Revenge)?
And there is the Winter Soldier of the title: another soldier (Sebastian Stan), like Rogers, modified to be indestructible, but one who takes orders from the bad guys. With all the world against him, how can Captain America hope to survive?
At 136 minutes, it takes the Russos, working from a script by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Ed Brubaker, a while to get to that answer. And you don’t have to see one minute of the film to know what the answer is.
But there’s enough fun and actual suspense along the way to make the whole affair entertaining. While the Russos made their mark in television — working on sitcoms like Community and Happy Endings — they’ve made the transition to big-budget action seamlessly. In fact, there’s a car chase between Fury and the baddies that’s especially convincing.
Be sure to stay through the credits, as there are two previews promoting the whole Marvel enterprise, which is the point after all.
Yet, if Captain America: The Winter Soldier is indeed an augur of things to come during this special-effects-laden summer, maybe it won’t be such a painful season after all.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
* * *
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Frank Grillo, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout)
Running time: 136 min.