”Captain America: now more than ever” is what the tagline for this second (or third, if you count The Avengers) entry in the Marvel Universe franchise should read, seeing as how it pointedly comments on real-world political and military fear-mongering in our new age of uncertainty. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s 97-pound weakling-turned-supersoldier with the red-white-and-blue heart returns, alongside Marvel stalwarts Black Widow (Johansson), Jackson’s Nick Fury, and newcomer Falcon (Mackie) to thwart not only the free world’s longtime nemesis Hydra, but also the internal strife amongst good guys at S.H.I.E.L.D. There is, to be sure, a heckuva lot of plot going on here, in addition to a boundless supply of deep-core references, spot gags, and, of course, Marvel Comics/Studios godhead Stan Lee’s ever-enjoyable comedic cameo. And while it doesn’t deliver quite as much giddy fun as 2011’s origin story Captain America: The First Avenger (fewer Nazis to smash), The Winter Soldier is a top-flight entry in Marvel’s increasingly complex multimedia omniverse.
Captain America has always been the most virtuous – and most white-bread – comic-book emblem of America’s finest traits, and, having been awakened after 70 years of cryogenic sleep, he’s still having trouble adapting to the modern world. (One terrific throwaway gag has him adding “Marvin Gaye” to his back-pocket notebook of things to catch up on, along with various postwar cultural items.) But he’s busy enough as S.H.I.E.L.D. prepares to launch a trio of allegedly terrorist-destroying, airborne supercarriers, and a mysterious baddie, dubbed the Winter Soldier (Stan), keeps giving everybody a serious pain in the neck. There are too many spoilers involved to give away any more, but longtime fans of Cap and his late, best buddy Bucky Barnes will have plenty to chew on.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo bring a different sort of vibe to the action than The First Avenger’s Joe Johnston. They frontload the movie with almost too much action, exposition, and not always well-filmed fight scenes. At over two hours, The Winter Soldier could have easily been trimmed by a good 20 minutes, but if it’s spectacular imagery and duplicitous goings-on that you crave, the film will not disappoint. Captain America, the character, has been more-or-less seamlessly integrated into the new Marvel Universe, and while this particular entry doesn’t come within Hulk-smashing distance of the truly epic The Avengers, it remains a highlight of Marvel’s bid for big-screen dominance, as well as a canny meditation on the perils of overprotective government agencies blithely swapping liberty and freedom for a tenuous sense of safety in a post-9/11 world.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Toby Jones, Jenny Agutter