Marvel turns to America’s very first Avenger as it prepares itself for the latest, and ninth (if anyone is counting), addition to its superhero cinematic canon. Functioning not only as the sequel to 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” but also expanding on 2012’s “The Avengers” and even ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is thoroughly engulfed in the Marvel Universe. Even so, directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) manage to bring an awesome action epic to the table that will certainly enthrall fanboys, but will also captivate casual superhero dabblers as well.
Reprising the role of the Captain himself, Chris Evans is a force to be reckoned with once again. Both chiseled and handsome, the minute we pick up with the all-American hero, however, there is a much more noticeable edge to the character this time around.
I hate admitting it, but on the surface, Captain America isn’t the most inspiring hero out there. Like Superman, there isn’t a lot that can harm the guy. While the first film avoided the character’s uninspiring attributes by telling an origin and rise to fame story, this latest episode goes a slightly different route.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus (Pain and Gain) and Stephen McFeely (Thor: The Dark World) equip America’s first boy scout with a much grittier side. His punches land harder, his shield is thrown faster, and when it comes to taking down an enemy, the character has no problem breaking a few bones. The result is hugely successful. Even though any fan of the series will know there isn’t anyone on this planet that can threaten Captain, it’s still fun to watch him mutilate the enemies that get in his way.
Behind the mask, Chris Evans shows, yet again, that he is capable of kicking serious bad guy butt. He continues to impress the third time wearing the suit. But it is in the film’s lighter moments that his raw comedic talent is most appropriately displayed. No matter how over-the-top his character’s one-liners may be, the actor behind the comic book hero plays the whole charade off with such infectious bravado it is all but impossible not to smile at every passing quip.
Despite its fair share of tongue-in-cheek laughs and toned down PG-13 level violence, the story centering this latest chapter in the Captain America saga is decidedly adult. Focusing on an evil sector of Hydra (fans of the first installment will remember these baddies) rooted deep within the otherwise praise worthy S.H.I.E.L.D., a renegade villainous mastermind plans to use a futuristic drone system to remotely eradicate millions of innocent people. Anyone that follows America’s own drone strike dilemmas will certainly pick up on the similarities.
Apart from this meta-storyline, the antagonist (who happens to share the film’s title with our hero) comes in the form of one of Captain America’s ex-army buddies. Reprogrammed, once again, by Hydra, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is hell-bent on destroying his one-time best friend. Armed with a high-tech metal battle arm, the Winter Soldier is an assassin of the most lethal variety.
Helping Captain America thwart evil for a second time is his sexy sidekick the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). With impressive performances in last year’s “Her” and “Don Jon,” the leading lady packs quite a punch in this souped-up role.
New to the Marvel Universe are both Robert Redford (All Is Lost) and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker). Redford certainly adds a bit of Oscar worthy class to the action romp, playing a complex S.H.I.E.L.D. higher-up with a hidden agenda. The truly underrated Mackie, on the other hand, plays Captain America’s wingman —quite literally. Strapping on a winged military suit, Mackie’s Sam Wilson is able to do the one thing Captain America can’t: Fly.While further additions to the series promise to include Mackie’s character in a larger role, I would have loved to see a bit more development of his Wilson character in this version.
Spending the last five years directing network sitcoms, brother directing team Anthony and Joe Russo reemerge from the ashes that was 2006’s disappointing “You, Me, and Dupree,” largely unscathed. With a strong background in comedy (they won an Emmy for their work on the hilarious “Arrested Development”), their handling of the light moments in “Winter Solider” is understandably spot-on.
It was a pleasant surprise, however, to see just how adept the directors were at navigating all of the over-the-top action. Using an effective array of both long shots to show the film’s impressive special effects work as well as much more extreme angles to capture Captain America’s gritty, redefined fighting tactics, the Russos are dynamite.
The Marvel Universe is starting to look a lot more like the Marvel Galaxy these days. Ever since Disney acquired the comic book behemoth, Mickey Mouse and Company have successfully been able to turn a bunch of stand-alone super-powered protagonists into one of the most engrossing trans-media worlds operating in the Entertainment industry today. Movies. Television series. Video Games. When it comes to Iron Man, Thor, and the rest of the Avengers, there is no limit as to where these costumed heroes can tell their heroic stories. Case in point, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is an engaging, emotional, and action packed adventure that promises to segue perfectly into future installments. Although, it is also a heck of a lot of fun for the people out there who cannot name every member of the Avengers.
Watch Out: Both fans and newcomers alike should make sure to stick around for the credits. Surprises are in store!
By David Morris
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout