Iron Man can fight giant robots lead by a guy who can spit fire. Thor can fight gods and dark elves of the many realms in the universe. Hulk can basically smash anything he wants without rhyme or reason. With all of that said, what exactly makes Captain America’s life so exciting? Sure, he fought Red Skull and the Nazi side project Hydra during World War II and America is all the more grateful. However, he isn’t in the 1940s anymore: It’s 2014 and he has a lot of catching up to do. Steve Rodgers is a man out of time, meaning he’s not up to date America’s new government policy of red, white, and corruption. Yes, paranoia and bad politics round out the fast, fun, and stellar return of Marvel’s American hero in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Chris Evans, the man formerly known as The Human Torch, is back playing Steve Rodgers as S.H.I.E.L.D’s star employee, Captain America. Despite the encouragement of fellow agent Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) to get out in the world, Rodgers feels alone and out of place in the 21st century. He’s trying to learn about Thai food and Nirvana while completing the various vague missions issued by S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury is in the midst of issuing a worldwide police force through 3 massive flying warships, which Fury describes as stopping the threat before it happens but Captain America calls fear through firearms. Cap doesn’t trust Fury, but he’s going to have to considering a mysterious assassin named The Winter Soldier attacks Fury. Accused of being involved with the plot by S.H.I.E.L.D executive Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Captain America is labeled a fugitive by the organization that saved his life. More paranoid than ever, Captain America must work with the sly Romanov and a former military pilot named Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to discover what’s really going on behind the closed doors of his own employers.
This is a plot with many moving parts, which is a big step for Marvel Studios. Thankfully, most of it locks into place and works nicely. The action is very impressive with a healthy balance of stealth, bare-knuckle brawls, and spectacular special effect-driven aerial attacks. Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of the film, carefully balance the “politicians are evil” spy movie with the typical summer popcorn movie.
Captain America only has half of the charm of Iron Man, a quarter of the emotional struggle of Hulk, and 1/100 of the power of Thor (possibly less). Fortunately, he’s played by an impressive actor in Chris Evans, who plays Cap like a conflicted man with strong morals that are constantly being dated. The dimensions that Evans added to Cap in “The Avengers” are brought up front here, and it builds great character development. Evans also has great support from Johansson, Jackson, Mackie, and Redford. Basically everyone is here to help push Captain America into the public conscience and they succeed.
Granted, this movie isn’t flawless: It suffers from vertigo-inducing camera movement at times, a pretty obvious villain, and a mostly by the books ending. Redford, as great as he was in last year’s “All Is Lost,” seems to be phoning his performance in. The Winter Soldier himself is given very little character development (although his true identity is not that hard to figure out if one saw the first movie), along with Mackie’s Sam Wilson. It’s a bit frustrating because there is plenty of potential in some of these small characters.
While “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is not as smart or grown up as it would like to be, it’s still a great piece of pre-summer popcorn movie fun. It’s definitely better than its predecessor (and “Thor: The Dark World”) and also better put together by “Iron Man 3.” It’s action and plot is smarter than the average Marvel movie, though a little more wit and humor could’ve helped. The important thing is that this could’ve been worse (look what happened to the Thor sequel). Hopefully the cannon of humor will be filled by “Guardians of the Galaxy” come August, but the bar for summer movies has been set high by the man in stars and stripes.
Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars