For a superhero movie to be considered worthy there is a baseline of quality it needs to meet. If you can pull together some competent filmmaking, eye-popping action and a likeable cast then you can pretty much just go ahead and collect your $200 million.
Occasionally a superhero movie will strive for something more, dig a little deeper and weave a little social commentary among all the “bams” and “pows.”
If it works you’ve got something special on your hands and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is indeed something special.
The Marvel movies have worked hard to corner the market on fun. Let Batman and Superman brood all over the place; Iron Man, Thor and the Incredible Hulk are the guys you want to party with. OK, maybe not the Hulk; unless you’re not worried about getting your security deposit back.
Even the first Captain America movie was a jaunty throwback to World War II movies where John Wayne went around socking Nazis on the jaw.
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Now don’t worry, “Winter Soldier” doesn’t give the Christopher Nolan treatment to Captain America; in fact the movie was directed (exceedingly well, by the way) by Anthony and Joe Russo, two brothers best known for directing oddball sitcoms like “Community” and “Arrested Development.”
This is unquestionably the most prescient movie Marvel has made so far as it delves into government conspiracies, the debate over covert surveillance and the balance between personal liberty and national security.
A throwback vibe to the political thrillers of the 1970s permeates the film, and just to drive that point home Robert Redford shows up to lend some gravitas playing intelligence secretary Alexander Pierce.
I notice that concerned, “who changed my football game to C-SPAN” look on your face. Don’t worry kids, this is still a Marvel movie and while there’s a little more to think about here there are still plenty of good, thrilling times to be had.
Chris Evans returns as Capt. Steve Rogers, a super-soldier from World War II who got frozen for a few decades and was thawed out to fight bad guys here in the digital age.
Three movies in, Evans has really grown into the role, fleshing out what was essentially a one-note, muscle-bound Boy Scout into that of a lonely hero who is perpetually out of place in a strange era; forced to depend on only his principles to get him through the day.
Cap finds himself unsure of who to trust with a mole (or moles) on the loose inside of his super-secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and his boss Nick Fury (the incomparable and tireless Samuel L. Jackson) fast-tracking a fleet of hovering aircraft carriers capable of monitoring and dispensing quick justice on every person on the face of the earth.
Marvel vet Scarlett Johansson is also back as Black Widow, a cynical super-spy who is right at home in the trust-no-one atmosphere of this film. What a breath of fresh air Johansson has been in these movies.
In a boys-club genre where women either need to be rescued or expertly fill out a lycra suit (which, to be fair, she does), Johansson brings independence, competence and humanity to a part that in lesser hands would be an afterthought. She also has great chemistry with Evans that’s mostly professional, but with a perfect dash of sexual tension.
Along for the ride is Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, an army vet whose military specialty involved a top-secret, winged jet-pack. Like that’s not going to come into play.
At any rate, Cap has to wade through some political intrigue and a handful of outstanding action sequences while hunting down a mysterious assassin called The Winter Soldier and dealing with the fact that a lot more of his past has followed him into the 21st Century than he originally thought.
What’s really great about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is that it feels like its own fully realized movie and not just a bridge to the next superhero extravaganza (which, incidentally, will be “The Avengers” sequel, subtitled “The Age of Ultron”).
The good people at Marvel have proven themselves to be the gold standard when it comes to managing superhero franchises. The scary part is that it looks like they might actually be getting better at it.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.
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