Thursday, April 3, 2014
Review: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
Captain America really is a walking anachronism.
Oh, of course there's the literal man-stuck-out-of-time thing, with a World War II super-soldier put on ice for 70 years to reawaken and pummel bad guys again. If you liked the last go-round of action-filled mayhem, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" offers more of the same.
No, what I mean is that Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), isn't like the other more recent iterations of comic book superheroes on celluloid. Lately it seems like we want our Batmen and Spider-Men filled with dark thoughts and forbidding back-stories.
Rogers is exactly what he seems: a straightforward, honest and terribly uncomplicated man who just wants to do right. After undergoing a secret experiment that turned him from a 90-pound weakling into the apex of manhood, he's increasingly concerned that his work for the spy/military agency S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't on the up-and-up.
It's a difficult thing to make a boring, bland guy into an engaging hero, but directors/brothers Anthony and Joe Russo -- TV guys making the transition to big-screen spectacle -- manage it well enough. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, making a return engagement, learn their lessons and keep things focused on the action-adventure without any unnecessary romantic entanglements.
The secret when your main character doesn't have a lot of layers is to dress up the background with interesting personalities, and there are plenty here. Scarlett Johansson is back as the Black Widow, a former KGB spy with a mysterious past and not a trace of a Russian accent. She and Rogers dance around each other the whole movie, trying to figure out if the other one is trustworthy.
Also returning is Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. chief Nick Fury, who prefers to keep his agents in the dark as much as possible while confabbing with high-level international muckety-mucks, who hold video conferences and sneer at each other. Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), an old friend of Fury's, mans the politics and leaves him free to build a new fleet of deadly hovercraft.
Fury has plans to identify and wipe out terrorists and the like even before they hatch their plots, which strikes Rogers as a bit un-American. He wears a U.S. flag on his indestructible shield and goes by the surname "America," so he should know from patriotism.
Serving as the able new wingman is Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a burnt-out military veteran with a very specialized type of aeronautical expertise. One thing I like about the Marvel universe as it's been depicted in movies is that the line between super-hero and guys who just have nifty gear and some gumption is rather fuzzy.
Of course, we also have to mention that other guy in the title, who happens to be Captain America's nemesis for the sequel. With long black hair, a snarly uncommunicative 'tude and a super-strong robotic left arm, the Winter Soldier is a mystery man whose story parallels Rogers' in some rather discomfiting ways.
At 2¼ hours, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a bit too long for its own good -- I feel like a broken record these days; most new movies seem too long to me. But it's an agreeable mash-up of spy thriller intrigue and CG-assisted battles. It's a popcorn movie with enough kickin' spices to make things interesting.