Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Posted by Joel Copling on April 5, 2014

For the first time in this franchise (the "Avengers" one on a broad scale, though also the burgeoning "Captain America" one on a more specific scale), the audience has been given a reason to doubt the system. That doubt is planted through the subtle acts of a covert group of particularly nasty Nazis who believe that Adolf Hitler's vision didn't quite go far enough. If 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" wasn't able to sell this idea on an emotionally engaging level, its sequel, subtitled "The Winter Soldier," most assuredly is. It might not completely avoid the trap of a convoluted narrative, but it depicts its titular hero in various states of disarray. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, working from Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's comic book, have also loaded quite the scenario for our red-white-and-bruised hero to escape.

After more than sixty years in a cryogenic freeze, Steve Rogers' (Chris Evans, who is pretty terrific here) alter-ego Captain America has become a household name, earning an exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute (which he himself visits in one of the film's more affecting sequences) and kid's-toy fame with the masses. He is even the literal captain of some of the S.H.I.E.L.D. missions, on one of which the film opens: Pirates have taken a ship important to this secretive division of the government, and as is his way, Captain America bustles in, takes out the mercenaries, and escapes with partner Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)--also known as Black Widow, of course--and a jump drive's worth of S.H.I.E.L.D. intel. But, of course, this isn't all that the Cap has on his plate during this go-round.

Another S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is gunned down with the help of a near-mythical, metal-armed menace known only known as the Winter Soldier, as Natasha puts it, to those who believe he exists. He operates in an incredibly covert fashion and is seemingly unstoppable. He also carries with him an identity that will surprise many not paying close attention. But more revelations are around the corner, too, including a particularly shocking one located at the very center of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. Suddenly, all bets are off, Captain America is marked a fugitive from the law, and it's more than just a few hundred people's lives at stake. It's the massive entirety of a specific faction (whose identities I will leave you all to discover).

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is surely a bit convoluted, but don't tell that to sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who approach this material as both an action extravaganza (a rip-roaring one, built out of brutal combat and dazzling heroics--and this time, Steve and Natasha are joined by Sam Wilson, a pararescue soldier and rare ally played by Anthony Mackie) and a 1970s-era conspiracy thriller (Robert Redford shows up in a pretty important supporting role, which is a rarity for the legendary actor and which he engages with relish) and pretty much dominate both aspects with incredible precision. Operating in the same balance between superhero movie and spy thriller in the way that 2008's "The Dark Knight" co-inhabited the crime epic (though let's not kid ourselves--this is no "Dark Knight"), "The Winter Soldier" adds complexity to its formerly wonderbread hero and the increasingly busy Marvel cinematic universe. After 2013's double-bill of installments, "Iron Man Three" and the under-appreciated "Thor: The Dark World," did the same for its respective heroes, we can only hope that Marvel has bypassed the need for familiar introductions and can move on to the darker, more complex arena of consequences.

Film Information

Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Emily VanCamp (Kate/Agent 13), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Maximiliano Hernández (Jasper Sitwell), Toby Jones (Dr. Armin Zola), Callan Mulvey (Jack Rawlins), Jenny Agutter (Councilwoman Hawley), Bernard White (Councilman Singh), Dale Coffman (Councilman Rockwell), Chin Han (Councilman Yen), Garry Shandling (Senator Stern), Georges St-Pierre (Georges Batroc), Pat Healy (Scientist), Stan Lee (Smithsonian Guard), Thomas Kretschmann (Baron Wolfgang von Strucker), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver).

Featuring the voice of Gary Sinise (The Smithsonian Narrator).

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the comic book by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Rated PG-13 (intense violence/gunplay/action throughout).

136 minutes.

Released on April 4, 2014.