While we've seen brief glimpses of Captain America in the Marvel offerings since the 2011 film that tackled his origin story, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" gives some insight into how he's adjusting to the modern world. Unlike the previous movie, which was set during World War II, "The Winter Soldier" is very much in the here and now — for all the good and bad that entails.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) now lives in Washington, D.C., and works for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency. After a leisurely morning jog, he's called in to save an agency ship that has been hijacked by pirates. He develops the plan of attack and coordinates with the team, which includes Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), to execute a flawless takedown of the pirates and save the agency personnel aboard. He finds Romanoff downloading data from the vessel's computers, making him wonder if S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn't trust him. Fury is unable to access the recovered data, and he hands the USB drive to Rogers, who works with Romanoff to figure out where the data leads. Along the way, they get some help from Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and encounter the titular Winter Soldier, a fabled Russian assassin.
"The Winter Soldier" provides a lot of good acting opportunities that simply aren't possible in an ensemble piece like "The Avengers." The movie spends quite a bit of time on Fury and Romanoff, giving the audience the chance to get better acquainted with the characters. Jackson is finally given some screen time beyond simply barking orders at superheroes, and it's glorious. This is Johansson's best outing as Romanoff, showing that she can be a smart, strong female friend without being treated as a love interest.
Of course, the film focuses on Captain America, and Evans does a superb job in conveying the character's struggles to modernize. He has a Smartphone, but he still carries around a notepad and pen to jot down quick notes. He looks even more muscular than he was in the previous film, and Evans has also improved his acting chops, as evidenced by a visit with the elderly Peggy Carter at a nursing home. He still exudes all-American apple pie goodness, but you can also sense his frustration at the less innocent, more fear-driven world that evolved while he was a Capsicle. Nobody does Americana quite like Evans, so it'll be interesting to see what happens when he passes the torch.
Interestingly, the action sequences are both the best and worst feature of "The Winter Soldier." The origin story was set in WWII, so most of the combat was done on the battlefield. This movie has some knock-down, drag-out fights, and some parkour is thrown in for good measure. Evans spent months training in parkour, and he added a few martial arts disciplines to his arsenal to update Cap's fighting skills. The action is definitely more intense, but the split-second shots are so fast and so zoomed in that you lose some of the context and impact.
British actress Jenny Agutter has a surprising scene that shows you can still kick ass well into your 60s. I was initially skeptical about Mackie's Falcon, but there are some very cool flight scenes in the film, and the screenshots simply don't do them justice.
Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the World Security Council, and given how selective the actor is with his roles, his presence shows the progress that comic book-inspired movies have made in the past decade. Alas, the best part of the previous film, Tommy Lee Jones, doesn't return here because his character was already older than dirt in the 1940s, and 70 years have passed.
"The Winter Soldier" expertly weaves some social commentary into the plot, and it integrates really well and doesn't feel contrived. It also brings some awareness to issues facing men and women in the military, and Cap is the appropriate vehicle for this.
However, not everything meshes quite as well. There's a scene featuring Toby Jones that feels very out of place but is necessary to advance the plot.
If you've been following the TV show, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," this month finally brings everything together in the Marvel universe. This week's episode featured a character you'll see in the movie, and the events and plot are also related to those in the film, reinforcing the connection between the two. Well played, Marvel.
While this film has a different director than "The Avengers," the helicarrier scene at the end provides a similar sense of epic scale, countering the up-close nature of the fight sequences. The 3-D is added in post-production, and although most press screenings are in 3-D, we were shown the 2-D version. Chances are the 3-D isn't worth the extra cost.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is definitely more action-packed than the first film, and the acting has been kicked up a notch. Although Captain America is the focus, Black Widow and Fury share the spotlight with substantial screen time and backstory. "The Winter Soldier" is a lot of fun to watch, and it's a great addition to the Avengers franchise.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D and 3-D IMAX.
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