136 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
There are few moments early in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” that suggest what the film might have been.
Fans of the Marvel Universe will recall that at the end of 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the Cap (Chris Evans) was thawed out after a half-century of suspended animation and was recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his super-secret spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D.
Put yourself in the Captain’s shoes. You grew up in the 1930s a 98-pound weakling. You were transformed into a muscled hunk of extraordinary power by some government-brewed elixir. You fought the Nazis in World War II.
And now you’re in 2014. Overnight you went from a world where “high tech” meant an AM radio to one of cell phones and the worldwide web. Of course, you must contend with more than just technical advancements. You’re bombarded by modern morals and sensibilities that run counter to your squeaky-clean upbringing.
When you were frozen the word “teenager” didn’t exist. Now you’re in a civilization that caters to teens as the most desirable demographic (this movie being Exhibit A).
Credit Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay for this much at least: It tries to say something about the dislocation that good-guy Cap – aka Steve Rogers – feels, to explore the angst of a man from a genteel past trapped in a crass present.
That’s a movie I would have enjoyed.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been a Marvel movie, the main requirement of which is that the second half be devoted almost exclusively to blowing shit up. So after a quick rundown of all the stuff that makes Steve feel dislocated, the movie leaps right into heavy plotting and nonstop action.
This sequel isn’t up to high quality of the original, which benefitted hugely from its retro 1940s setting. But “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has been competently made (the directors are brothers Anthony and Joe Russo) and Evans’ Steve Rogers is, for my money, the most interesting of the Marvel superheroes.
Which is weird because he’s the least expansive of the bunch – a modest, ridiculously ethical fellow clinging to the mores of the Depression era. But there’s something about Steve’s fish-out-of-water existentialism that I find strangely compelling.
Anyway, the plot.
It turns out that within S.H.I.E.L.D. there are dissident elements secretly working to strip Nick Fury of his power (not to mention his life) and impose their own evil agenda.
The short version is that Captain America and his conversationally combative sidekick Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) become fugitives, with the full might and power of the federal government devoted to their extermination. Naturally, the federal government doesn’t stand a chance.
Cap and Co. have a new ally in ex-soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who goes from running a therapy group for veterans with PTSD to donning a set of mechanical wings that turn him into a superhero called Falcon.
They’ve got a new nemesis in Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a highly-placed security muckymuck with Machiavellian ambitions.
The Winter Soldier of the title, by the way, isn’t Captain America. Rather, it’s a masked, long-haired superwarrior who has been brainwashed into the belief that the Cap must be destroyed. I won’t say anything more, since the Winter Soldier involves a big reveal that will elicit oohs and aahs of admiration from Marvel geeks and shrugs of indifference from everyone else.
The action here has been pretty well executed. I’m particularly intrigued by the ways in which Captain America uses his round shield as both a defensive and offensive weapon, tossing it like a boomerang, using it to hack chunks out of buildings and vehicles.
But I’m in the dark about the nature of Cap’s superpowers. I mean, in this film he is shot and stabbed, yet he can smash into a wall at mach velocity without so much as a headache. He cannot fly, yet he can drop out of an airplane without a parachute and land safely on his own two feet. WTF?
Oh, well. I’m looking for logic in a genre that sneers at the very idea.
| Robert W. Butler