“On your left!” Much like how Captain America comes up from behind and surpasses the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) while jogging around Washington D.C. at the very beginning, Captain America: The Winter Soldier does the same thing to an unsuspecting viewer. As much as I enjoyed the first CA movie (which I felt was unduly marred by kicking him up into the present day way too soon), I was still never a huge fan of the Captain America character; I always thought he was an anachronism who was better left in the 1940s, where his “rah-rah” nature was better suited to fighting Nazis. The first movie deftly switched Cap’s villain from Nazis to Hydra; a super secret scientific organization led by the Red Skull that broke away from the Third Reich.
But the CA sequel, coming right after The Avengers (where Cap acquitted himself nicely, but he shared screen time with a large cast, and Robert Downey Jr.’s high flying Iron Man remains the main draw of that flick for me) places the Greatest Generation’s hero into the present day, and I figured the regular exploits of Captain America would be pretty mundane. But the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Joe, along with the Marvel brain trust, had other ideas. If the first Captain America film was an ode to World War Two movies by way of Indiana Jones, then the sequel coolly evokes the paranoia of a 1970’s spy thriller (complete with having Robert Redford in its cast).
Shield, the somewhat fascist organization that is sworn to protect each and every one of us–whether we want that protection or not–is now gearing up the big guns. Three new heli-carriers, more advanced than the one seen in the Avengers film, are just about ready to make their debut in the skies above us (a reflection of the surveillance drones that police departments across the country are slowly trying to press into service, perhaps?). Under the command of a satellite system known as Insight, these carriers will stop crime before it can even be committed. When Captain America voices some concern about all this being too much, Nick Fury, Shield’s commander, is shot and Cap finds himself on the run, framed for Fury’s death.
The Russo Brothers always keep their eye on the ball, which is to smartly advance the story with the small character moments, as well as with action. And the action sequences are to die for. They are expertly directed with a breathless energy that’s quite rare to see these days. Chris Evans shines as a guy who’s still trying to catch up with the modern world, only to be fighting for his life.
Scarlett Johansson is also superb as Black Widow, who offers Cap some much needed help, even in the dating department. Cobie Smulders makes a welcome return as Maria Hill, and Mackie is very good as the Falcon (his intro scene as the classic comic book hero is simply enthralling here). Think about it: a film that has nonstop, vibrant action scenes that are well thought out and serve the overall story–yet the movie still contains a thoughtful message on just how far should we take our quest for security? Way to go! Kudos to the Russo boys for making a Cap adventure that’s still relevant, but also fun and just plain cool, to boot. –SF