The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan is back for this third outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the third post-“Avengers film, and marks a change in tone for the superhero universe.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still adjusting to the 21st century and is now operating as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, alongside Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) under the command of Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Rogers is having a tough time adapting to the new post-9/11 world, where security and protection have taken a more offensive tactic, and the necessitation of more discreet and covert operations that don’t fit the Captains straight and narrow ideals.
As the result of one of these covert missions, Nick Fury, Captain America and Black Widow end up on the most wanted list and in the cross hairs of a wet works specialist, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). After going underground with the help of Samuel Wilson (Anthony Mackie) aka Falcon, and Agent Maria Hill(Cobie Smulders), Captain America and Black Widow face an enemy wearing a familiar face, in the midst of an emerging new world order.
The difference between “Captain America 2” and the other Marvel films come in the tone of the movie. Where Thor and Iron Man also explored a more personal side with post- New York films, the Russo brothers have used Captain America as the figurative rose-colored glasses we all prefer to look at the world through.
That world is an exaggerated form of our own. As a security state, America has allowed entities like S.H.I.E.L.D., the equivalent of the NSA, to listen and track our every movement, and as a result we have willingly handed over our freedoms bit by bit for safety and the ability to predict the threat before it occurs. But by doing so, we also have quit paying attention to those entities doing the watching, and something more nefarious has arisen as a result of our lack of diligence.
A more purely action film, part espionage homage to latter half of the 1900s, and part exaggerated mirror of our own reality, “Captain America 2” strives to overcome the superhero genre stereotype and prove to be a thoughtful piece of art.
This succeeds on many levels. The introduction of Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the “Pulp Fiction” and “War Games” quotes, simply scratch the surface of the callbacks this film makes. By giving Captain America a mission that tests his loyalties and limits, we are given the best window into how this man out of time is deciding to interact with our world.
On a lighter note, the cast of this throwback movie has never been more on their game. With the well-placed addition of Falcon, as another light-hearted, heavy-spirited hero, the team plays off each other, and works like a well-oiled machine, despite some newer parts, to face off with the enemy.
There is a wry chemistry between Evans and Johansson as their characters team-up, although one that doesn’t imply romantic notions, rather one of kindred spirits, despite their different life outlooks. The lack of a romantic subplot even frees the movie to expand on its main idea, without feeling overstuffed, even though the third act does proceed with dizzying speed.
Instead of being chockfull of special effects, the film relies on old fashion action movie tropes like fistfight, car chases and explosions. This keeps the focus on the characters as they maneuver the twists in the road, as well as keeping the movie grounded with our heroes.
The detriment to the film is something Marvel has struggled with, in creating forgettable villains. The misstep here is taking the Winter Soldier, whose storyline revived the Captain America comics, and downplaying his presence. The title character is a visitor in his own movie, and that is a shame considering the emotional effect of this particular character on our hero.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is by far the best film of the stand-alone films of the MCU, both in delivery and in how it advances the world building. Solidly an A effort, the Russo brothers blended comedy and action perfectly in the movie. The Easter eggs throughout keep the comic fans on their toes, but those new fans are never left behind. Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout.