By Michael Hubbard
Following 2012’s “Marvel’s The Avengers,” Captain America returns in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” He continues to resolve his unfamiliarity with the quirks of modern day after being in cryogenic stasis for nearly 70 years since World War II after defeating the Red Skull in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
The Captain, or Steve Rogers, has now become a fashioned symbol of American freedom and flown up the ranks of the agency responsible for having assembled the Avengers: S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Nick Fury. Rogers continues working with S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff in the interest of both the United States and the rest of the world, protecting as many lives as possible.
One mission goes astray and Rogers begins to question the integrity of his work. He is informed of a S.H.I.E.L.D. operation where the entire planet will be spied upon to eliminate any potential threats, violating people’s privacy while potentially saving millions in the process. Rogers, Widow and Fury eventually become targets of a sinister plot to unravel S.H.I.E.L.D. and are hunted down by the mysterious Winter Soldier.
In this super-powered caper, lives are threatened, principles of government are questioned and Captain America’s past comes back to haunt him, and it is all entertaining enough to watch.
Chris Evans passably plays a Captain struggling to retain an identity in a world unfamiliar to him, who also puts his honor and honesty before his pride. Unfortunately, his boyish looks and attempts to express earnestness are juvenile.
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow here cannot be credited for any real acting ability, but rather her finesse and sexual image, for this is a film targeted toward an adolescent male audience, considering she wears a skin-tight, black leather cat suit for a majority of the Marvel films she is in. It is fun to watch her banter with Evans and have some cool, stand-alone action scenes, but that is about all she can offer.
The real standouts here are Samuel L. Jackson as the eye-patched Nick Fury and Robert Redford as Fury’s comrade secretary Alexander Pierce. Jackson provides the same entertaining, heavy-handed gravitas you remember from his many appearances from past Marvel films, sprinkling more dimension to his character by showing his vulnerability. He finally has his own intense action sequences that seal his formidability as a non super-powered individual.
Redford is at home in his role, having already starred in several political thrillers that the makers of “The Winter Soldier” said they drew inspiration from. Redford plays a bureaucratic co-head of S.H.I.E.L.D. willing to sacrifice others’ interests for his own, and he does it so believably. Pierce’s influence over S.H.I.E.L.D. and typical office politics is what makes this film more intriguing without obligatory bone-crunching action and loud explosions.
Sebastian Stan does what he can with his mostly voiceless performance as the Winter Soldier, using his threatening presence to speak the most for himself, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon is an enjoyable addition; however, he is unnecessary, as the character actually detracts from central themes of the plot.
The plot reiterates an actual dilemma plaguing the United States: NSA spying on United States citizens with the objective of eliminating any potential terrorist threats.
All ambition aside, “The Winter Soldier” is neither the first nor will it be the last superhero film to explore this theme, with Batman films “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” already to thank for that. “The Winter Soldier” attempts to show a more vulnerable side to Captain America, but both that and the aforementioned setup are glossed over once the heavy action kicks in. Also, the addition of a sidekicks like Falcon and Black Widow, did not capture the image the Captain as vulnerable; the scenes where Rogers is alone or not needing super-powered assistance already conveyed that both here and in “The First Avenger.”
Visually, “The Winter Soldier” is impressive, with the characters looking like they were torn out of the comic book pages and thrown into the real world. The action is kinetic and brutal, especially during the confrontations between the Captain and the Winter Soldier. The stunt work, particularly for the car-chase sequences, is spectacular and frightfully believable. Unfortunately, visual flair is not an excuse for relatively poor pacing, some weak-character development, and a story falling short of its ambitious setup.
The film is still a fun to watch, but doesn’t hold a candle to the retro-feel of its predecessor. Perhaps the next Captain America film will combine the best elements of the first and second, and the audience will be treated with possibly the best Marvel film yet.