"Captain America: Winter Soldier" is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking place two years after the events of "Avengers," it follows Steve Rogers (Captain America) as he tries to adjust to a world some 70 years advanced from the one he knew.
Unlike others of his fellow Avengers, Cap has no Malibu mansion or Asgardian castle to return to after the end of their last venture. We find him leading a somewhat solitary existence in Washington DC, taking on stealth missions for SHIELD and doing a lot of jogging. As time has gone by, he's made a friend of fellow jogger/ex-military paratrooper Sam Wilson (Falcon) and developed nagging suspicions about his boss, Director Nick Fury, his partner, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow,) and the entire SHIELD organization.
His initial misgivings prove to be all too well-founded, when attacks are made on key SHIELD personnel, encrypted files are passed off, and the only advice Rogers has to guide him is "trust no one."
As the story progresses, Captain America will need to untangle a wide-reaching conspiracy in an effort to stop the deaths of innocents, fighting both old friends, new foes, and the mysterious Winter Soldier.
The bulk of the film is a call-back to the spy thrillers of the 1970's, so the choice of Robert Redford as guest star this time around is particularly appropriate. Having aged gracefully out of his naive-hero turn from "Three Days of the Condor," Redford here smoothly and skillfully assumes the Cliff Robertson role of the film--the man in power, bent on protecting the public's best interests regardless of the cost. The only downside of this casting is that a star of his magnitude is hard to see as anyone else--if you come out of the film remembering what his character's name was (Alexander Pierce) versus referring to him as "Robert Redford," you're doing better than I did.
Despite being the title character, Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier probably has fewer lines than any of the others. His origin--not much of a spoiler by this time--gives him a built-in relationship to Rogers that saves his screen time for the film's huge fight scenes. The battles themselves are well staged and choreographed with good specificity to each character's fighting styles, and my only wish would be that they were filmed with longer shots so we could get a better look at all the work that went into them.
Like all the rest of the recent Marvel films, "Winter Soldier" has a polish and wit about it that clearly elevates it above the vast majority of the other superhero sagas. Although the plot might be as lightweight and gimmick-dependent as others of its ilk, what gives the Captain America movies their strong appeal is their respect for their protagonist. Steve Rogers is clearly a Boy Scout of the highest order, a man of principle who refuses to compromise his belief in truth and freedom and honor. It would be easy, so easy, as we have seen with DC's treatment of Superman, to treat this as some outmoded, naive delusion that needs to be updated for today's more cynical time. Instead, although we do see Cap struggle to reconcile this grittier, nastier reality with his more gracious past (and Chris Evans does a fabulous job portraying Rogers as a man outside of his time,) we are confident that his faith in Humanity and its intrinsic worth will always win out. More than his ten-times-normal strength or agility, it is Captain America's conviction in the good in people and his trust in the possibility of a better tomorrow that makes him a hero.
Small flaws or not, "Winter Soldier" looks to be another smash hit for Marvel Studios, an entity whose box office clout is proving as powerful as any of the superheroes in its stable.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
*Always stay to the end of the credits.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. The Executive Producers are Louis D'Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo and Stan Lee.
The film enters general release on April 4, 2014, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
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