Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Despite the title, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is more about Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Steve Rogers’ difficulty adjusting to life as a SHIELD agent than it is about his reunion with (SPOILER!) Bucky Barnes, his former best friend and a character from the first Captain America movie whom most people completely forgot about. Despite that, however, it is a worthy installment to the Marvel franchise and better than “The First Avenger”.

“The Winter Soldier” finds the Cap annoyed at Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) because he feels left out of the SHIELD needs-to-know network. Nick responds by letting Captain America (Chris Evans) in on the secret: a new flying defense system that will eliminate threats to world security “before they happen”. Robert Redford makes an appearance as a skeezy politician, Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Black Widow, and Anthony Mackie appears as a likeable veteran who may or may not turn out to be another superhero. Danny Pudi – Abed from the excellent TV series Community – has a brief cameo as a nameless technician, and, of course, Stan Lee also shows up. The performances are solid, and all of the actors seem to be enjoying themselves. They also manage to make you care about what happens to them, which is important in an action movie, if not always present.

The action sequences are about what one has come to expect from Marvel. A car chase involving Fury stands out, partially because this is the first time viewers have been treated to Samuel L. in action. It also offers a sense of danger, which has more effect simply because Nick Fury (the one in danger) has seemed untouchable up to this point in the franchise. Another awesome sequence involves an older woman unexpectedly kicking some serious ass.

Speaking of women, Marvel seems to have gotten the message that they need to start giving more screen time to female characters, with pleasant results. The only woman in the first Captain America movie, his girlfriend, Peggy, has a small but significant speaking part; Agent Maria Hill and Black Widow (previously seen in other Avengers films) both have large roles; the Cap’s next-door neighbor, Kate, gets to be a badass; and the British representative on the security council is also a woman, though arguably not an actual character. Black Widow’s role in the film is actually bigger than her role in “The Avengers,” leading inquiring minds to wonder if and when she will get her own movie. (Soon, hopefully.) With a villain-of-color and not one but two black superheroes, the movie even (kind of) has racial diversity as well as gender diversity.

“The Winter Soldier” has an actual plot and actual character development, with the friendship/bromance between Steve Rogers and his two super sidekicks being especially entertaining. (Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson are real-life pals.) The main problem with the film is its inability to stand alone. More and more, the Marvel movies are becoming less movie-like and more like chapters of a serial. This isn’t to say that someone unfamiliar with the Avengers would be unable to enjoy the movie, but he or she would need to get up to speed quickly. The movie helps with some of this (mentioning, for instance, that Steve Rogers was frozen in ice for sixty years) but only a bare minimum. Also, a great deal of screentime is taken up preparing for the next installment in the Avengers franchise, whatever that might be. Characters are introduced who will no doubt be recurring. Plot elements are either not resolved or only sort of resolved, leaving the audience (Marvel hopes) salivating for the next chapter. Which… will not be until next summer, when “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” comes out. The Winter Soldier business? Left unresolved. The huge SHIELD shakeup that occurs during the film? (Don’t worry, no spoilers.) Left unresolved. Captain America’s inability to fit in in the modern world? Left basically unresolved. Black Widow’s sordid past? And so on. The world does get saved, of course, and the main plot – involving a government conspiracy and the aforementioned flying defense system – is wrapped up, but otherwise, this movie creates more questions than it answers. The viewer will just have to tune in next year.

4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 because lots and lots of fighting, killing, dying, shooting, exploding, and other assorted violence, and probably some minor forgettable swearing.

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