Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 10, 2014

Strong performances bolster 'Captain America' sequel

By Ryan Maddux
Daily News

---- — With Andy in The Big Apple, I’ll be taking a solo look at Marvel’s latest offering, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (PG-13).

After an attempt on Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) life, a series of events unravel that involve a massive conspiracy within the espionage and law-enforcement organization known as SHIELD. Needless to say it’s up to Captain America (Chris Evans) and friends (Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie) to save the day. Robert Redford and Sebastian Stan costar in the film. Anthony and Joe Russo (TV’s Community) share directing duties.

For the first hour or so, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best movie from Marvel Studios (and yes, I’m including the Avengers in that). The narrative that harkens back to the conspiracy thrillers from the 1970s coupled with some great opening action sequences gets the ball rolling for what appears to be a game-changer type of film in the Marvel canon. Adding in the great characterization of Steve Rogers trying to adapt to the modern world and one actually has a Marvel super-hero film that feels grounded and interesting. Regrettably, the film’s momentum is stunted in the second half of the film as it’s unable to escape the Marvel blueprint for underwhelming yet over-the-top climaxes.

One of the biggest issues I have with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that the films don’t seem relevant. Say what you want about the Christopher Nolan driven films from their competition but those movies — aesthetically and narratively — feel like they exist in a more grounded (albeit hyper) reality.

That just has not been the case with any of the MCU films to this point. I give the Russo brothers a lot of credit for at least trying to produce a film that feels like it exists (or might exist) in our world. Contemporary issues such as government surveillance, privacy, preemptive warfare and terrorism are all explored in The Winter Soldier. And those modern issues juxtaposed with the idealism of Captain America makes for some intriguing inherent drama.

Unfortunately, while those present-day issues are mentioned there’s not much resolution to those narrative themes. And by the end of the film it becomes quite muddled to what kind of position the film was trying to take. But ultimately I do give the Russo brothers props for weaving in current political issues – that at the very least – gives the appearance of a more believable world.

Another red-flag of most MCU films is the lack of compelling villains. The last two films, Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 have really suffered from not creating lasting and threatening villains. That’s mostly true again with Captain America 2. (I say mostly because there is at least one provocative antagonist in the film). Sadly, the rest of the villains in the movie are just not that interesting or threatening.

This film has Winter Soldier in the title and as the movie’s main antagonist he is severely lacking in screen time. The movie presents him in a very convoluted yet uninteresting manner. I’m sorry, but the mindless unstoppable assassin is a tired trope. The battle between Captain America and The Winter Soldier should have been a big emotional encounter but it just doesn’t work as well as it was intended. Additionally there is another bad guy in the film that fans will recognize from the first Captain America movie. And while he’s crucial to the plot of the film, I just can’t wrap my head around him being a physically dead yet alive artificial intelligent Nazi.

All in all Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a refreshing entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It initially bucks the “comfort cinema” formula of the MCU but cannot escape completely from the predetermined template. Nonetheless the strong performances by the leads coupled with some breathtaking action sequences makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier an upper tier entry into the MCU.

Final grade: B.