By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Captain America: The First Avenger definitely wears its heart on its sleeve and works as a nostalgic nod to superhero serials from the 1930s and 40s. Captain America (Chris Evans), an altruistic hero stands firmly for morals and ideals in a golden era where the sides of good and evil easily define themselves. In Cap’s second outing (in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Marvel’s The Avenger’s, our beloved Captain Steve Rogers has little time to adjust to his new era before things get crazier, and the world needs him once again. In Avenger’s, Captain gets a glimpse of how the world has changed and how the lines between good and bad have blurred.
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain is now getting a glimpse of how nasty and corrupt even the good guys can be. If the first installment of Cappy’s adventures wore its heart on its sleeve, this post-Avengers sequel rips that heart off the uniform and bruises it pretty badly. Things get seriously real, and the man out of time must deal with these startling developments.
Working as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative and often paired with The Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Rogers goes through a moral crisis, as he begins to question just how good the side is that he has been serving. Rogers, who has been helping S.H.I.E.L.D. successfully accomplish some covert missions, gets his world rocked when he can no longer tell the good guys from the bad. After Director Nick Fury is attacked by a mysterious unit led by a deadly assassin known as the Winter Soldier, Fury warns Rogers to trust nobody. Rogers, working only with Romanoff and new friend Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon), investigates into the matter further.
Much like Star Wars, which has its darker, less innocent, but smarter sequel in The Empire Strikes Back, Captain America’s second installment provides that same exact type of foil to the syrupy sweetness of his introductory film. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo really bring that intense gravity to this sequel and it is one hell of a journey. The material is actually ten times more mature than the first film and even though the kids will easily devour the action and violence on the screen, the story’s themes will probably go over some of their heads. In fact this film feels more like an espionage thriller with strong political overtones. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a kind hearted Boy Scout superhero to tackle.
Nevertheless, the script, the drama, the intrigue, the twists and the insanely intense action all work well. That last characteristic may give some parents cause for alarm. For a PG-13 superhero picture, this movie really pushes the envelope. Still, I must say that the fervor that the Russos put into their action sequences really pay off. I just wish that the cinematography during some of the hand-to-hand combat scenes wouldn’t be so darn sloppy and indecipherable.
I am not sure exactly what kind of rigs modern cinematographers often use in action sequences, but they really need to try something more old school. I have seen older movies present fight scenes with much more clarity than loads of recent films where the crew should’ve had access to all the latest and best equipment. I’m sure I have said this before, but if filmmakers persist in this practice, I will persist in addressing the issue in my reviews.
Enough about my cinematography soapbox, another issue which often comes up in discussions of movies of this type has to do with the use of 3D. The press screening I attended for this film surprisingly was in the 2D format; therefore, I cannot honestly critique the quality of any 3D effects. That’s quite alright with me. I rather enjoyed the film without having to look for flying objects popping off the screen or observing depth within the visuals. Besides, I prefer that the story and characters display a more abstract form of depth rather than that of trick photography and plastic glasses.
This film actually does offer those story and character qualities, courtesy of the solid script and the performances of the talented cast. Chris Evans once again shines as the good hearted super warrior who gets a firm slap of reality to his boyish face. Scarlett Johansson simply has her performance down perfectly as the sexy and badass Romanoff. Her character gets to show even more range of emotion and personality than her previous appearances in Iron Man II and The Avengers. Samuel L. Jackson returns to full BAMF mode as Agent Nick Fury, but gets to show some real human vulnerabilities as well. Marvel newcomer, Anthony Mackie brings a definite charisma and bravado to his role as The Falcon and Hollywood veteran Robert Redford shines as Alexander Pierce, a S.H.I.E.L.D. leader who desires to bring peace and order to the world.
And this film begs the question, at what price is that peace and order accomplished. That’s what I loved the most about this film. It takes what some people consider a dated and old fashioned superhero and gives him a truly modern challenge. That’s pretty heady stuff for a costumed hero, but that is exactly the kind of material that has driven comic books into the modern age. Captain America: The Winter Soldier does deliver top notch action and thrills, but at its core has a well written story. That ought to please not only comic book fans, but fans of movies in general.