There was a point in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where I decided that the movie could do no wrong. The film had already established the relationship between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Sam Wilson (Antony Mackie) rather effortlessly in the opening minutes. Knowing the kinship that Captain America had with his sidekick known as “The Falcon” in the comics, this would be an important element of the story. And after following that with an intense face off between Cap and the villainous "Batroc", it looked as if directors Anthony and Joe Russo (along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) were saying “we got this.”
Comic book geeks will recognize that movie borrows liberally from the recent run of comics written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Steve Epting. The darker tone of a spy-thriller combined with super heroics translates surprisingly well to the big screen, especially when you throw in some “Bourne Identity” style stunt sequences and add a dash of Marvel-style hyper-realism. The total package makes for a very effective and entertaining entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe series of movies.
The plot is both complex yet simple: After a daring rescue of passengers on a hijacked ocean freighter, Captain America finds himself caught up in a tangled conspiracy to take over the world by the shadowy organization known as HYDRA. (This would be the same organization that vexed the good captain in his last movie and The Avengers.) An assassination attempt on a key character demonstrates that powerful forces are at work, and before you can say “deus ex machina” we learn that millions of lives are at stake.
The plot serves to string together a thrilling number of action sequences, and allow the story to serve as an allegory about the how freedom is often given up too easily. It’s a comic book movie, so of course some moralizing is to be expected. And knowing the idealism of the titular character, it’s not all that hard to accept.
It won't be until the final act that you start to feel a bit cheated. Up until that point, the movie expertly juggles gritty, somber themes with tension-breaking humor. Scarlett Johannson reprises her role as Natasha Romanov, AKA The Black Widow, and gets substantially more to do in this film than she did in her previous two appearances. She's all witty/flirty with the straight-laced Cap, and even gets to make what I thought was the best joke in the film.
The legendary Robert Redford plays Alexander Pierce, a role somewhat remniscent of his turn in the movie Spy Game. As his part in the story plays out, you can see why Redford and his gravitas were brought on board.
As for the main “baddie” the “Winter Soldier” himself, I was rather pleased that the screenwriters decided to keep to the plot line of the comics and make his fate rather…ambiguous. If you’ve read the comics, you’ll know what I mean.
If there's any downside to the movie, it's that veteran movie goers will spot the “villain” a mile away. And for a movie that played such a smart game, I wished that the screen writers had come up with something more clever for the climax than yet another scenario with a doomsday device that the hero has to defeat before the clock runs out. I mean, we’ve already seen this twice before in Thor: The Dark World and Marvel’s The Avengers.
Speaking of things we've seen before, I will award a prize to the first person who spots what appears to be a “Star Wars” homage in the movie. Send me an e-mail if you recognize it. I think it's pretty obvious
Despite these nitpicks, Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves to be yet another satisfying entry to the Marvel Studios series. It’s fun, thrilling and gritty. Yet never takes itself too seriously.
Now, if only they can only come up with a new kind of ending.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER GETS A GEEK FACTOR RATING OF: 3 ½ VIBRANIUM SHIELDS (out of 4)
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
RATED PGCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun