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‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Pledges Allegiance to Strong Action, Twists

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CHICAGO – In record-breaking time, even for Marvel, a comic book character has had their existence (basically) rebooted. The arc may be continued from the previous film, and some of the actors may reappear, but this take on Captain America is bonafide divergent. It’s not the hollow nostalgic relic seen in his debut “Captain America: The First Avenger”, nor is this the goofy time alien/boy scout he was made in to be in the ensemble film “The Avengers”. This version of Captain America, and the world he lives in, is leaner and meaner. Placing the walking shout-out to the “Greatest Generation” in modern time, and at the center of a conflict that could affect any American, Captain America is given what has marked the best of action heroes, even those with super abilities - a palpable sense of high stakes.

This shining sequel from directors Anthony & Joe Russo finds our title hero (played smoothly by Chris Evans) in Washington D.C. in 2014, after the destruction experienced in 2012’s “The Avengers”. Captain America, or Steve Rogers, has continued his employment as a valuable super-soldier under the secret division of S.H.I.E.L.D., and works alongside female comrade, ex-KGB agent Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johannson). He creates a new ally in veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who also shares the aches that Steve does about his fallen brethren from war.

The actual arc of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was too thrilling for me to witness, so I won’t strip you of that fun. But to generalize the bases, I can say that this story features Rogers and Romanov on the run as fugitives, while Robert Redford’s head honcho Alexander Pierce uses his power in S.H.I.E.L.D. to create super-aircraft that defends by attacking, like a more literal take on Captain America using his trusty shield as a weapon. This Patriot Act-like operation is then challenged by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury leader, who begins to suspect something is rotten in the state of S.H.I.E.L.D. Bad things happen, a Winter Soldier appears, and abundant frivolity is had, once again and finally, in a Marvel movie.

Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'
Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Photo credit: Marvel Studios

Characters previously poking around the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU on Twitter, apparently) are given more sturdy territory in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, including the title hero himself. Here, Evans’ Rogers is able to flesh out his unique brand of charisma. He’s endearing, idealistic, and with so much emotional baggage one can’t hate that he can be like a buff man-puppy.

Johnasson herself, in more black spandex and tempestuous red hair, is upgraded from her designation as “The Girl” in “The Avengers” to a formidable character construction, though she can often be accepted as Captain America’s sidekick, and sometimes chauffeur. Marvel favorite Nick Fury, who became a fixation of cameos throughout the previous Marvel movies, is given some time to make his own stake, especially in an action sequence that has curious, old-school Samuel L. Jackson racial implications.

The newer characters that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” introduces to the roster are indicative of the imperfections this film can too readily experience. Its subtitle villain, a pleasant surprise to see unfold, is a few pegs off from fitfully menacing, proving once again that it’s harder to look even more terrifying once the mask comes off. Most significant to the script’s intentions, the film isn’t swiftly able to create the necessary emotional tension between Captain America & The Winter Soldier that even its title relies on.

And as the series needs to add a new hero, Mackie’s Sam seems like a character most of all shooed in by an agenda, either from the purpose of heightening this movie’s popularity with veterans, or by to add a little diversity to the “Avengers” roster. With a strange fixation constantly crossing his arms, Mackie is most intriguing when he is playing a veteran with no flying ability at all, whose past involving wartime regret doesn’t include any fantastical assistance.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has a grand allegiance to the practical work that lies under any strong thrill in an action movie. These battles are not secluded events, in which good fights evil while the rest of the world is all snug in their beds. This is closer to Christopher Nolan wanting to harp on “Heat” with “The Dark Knight”, creating a daytime urgency with madness unleashed on civilian environments, with action that smashes up cars on busy highways, then takes it to the streets, where the risks are as high for the general public as its characters. Even the citywide chaos of the “Avengers” third act did not feel as much of a rush as this film’s second act melee under an overpass, in which the superpowers of two soldiers are not used as a definitive trait, but as a handicap to heighten the action.

The Russo brothers’ spectacle of action is indeed captured by a camera descended from the filmmaking of Justin Lin’s “Fast & Furious” films, or Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption” (whose sequel opens today, and is superbly higher in action concentrate than even “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”). The film’s camera gives the characters, and their combat, a necessary sense of space. Instead of close-ups and shaky camera work covering up movie fighting (a defeating trend in action movies for years) the choreography is naked; conclusive takedowns have more ouch, and the surprising methods of punching and kicking have an unusual grip on our attention. The film’s CGI third act of airborne action, with characters making dramatic leaps amongst “Transformers”-like chaos, would be regular for any previous Marvel movie, but the fact that it is off the course from the rest of the film allows it to remain special.

Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'
Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Photo credit: Marvel Studios

These stakes within “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” are not limited to the characters’ physical capabilities, but the story as well. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” shows the evolution of the Marvel arc, with a surprising direction that causes unpredictable conflict. With its story involving the question of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s integrity, the idea graduates the entire Marvel arc into the universality of something like the James Bond franchise, in which even the total security of home base is shown to be an illusion. The direction that the franchise will take with the damage that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” does to its roots may be determined when referring back to previous franchises, but it nonetheless leaves one’s curiosity amped to see how such will challenge the superheroes reunion of “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”.

2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” was not just the story of a soldier in a different era, but a film from another time as well. Director Joe Johnston dressed the poster patriot like a twentieth anniversary tribute to his 1991 flat 1950’s serial film “The Rocketeer”, more than a comic book character in the new popular cinema scene post-Iron Man, or even The Dark Knight. With this sequel, in which this veteran is placed into a world ruled by the Patriot Act to defend our lands from the ne’er-do-wells within, the hero has relevancy not just to the Marvel canon of movies, but when compared to other fruitful franchises. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” valiantly introduces a new action hero.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens on April 4th. Featuring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo. Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com editor and staff writer Nick Allen

By NICK ALLEN
Editor & Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
nick@hollywoodchicago.com

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