Captain America- Winter Soldier

April, 2014, Action

Captain American: The Winter Soldier

Question: What connects Star Wars and Marvel Comics?

 Answer: The arrival of the former sparked the 2nd life of the latter, which morphed from a tired, hard-copy comic book publisher into the producer of a staggeringly profitable collection of blockbuster movies.

Films in the Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Ironman, Thor & Captain America franchises (21 in number and counting) all arrived in the wake of George Lucas’ reinvention of the science fiction genre that placed names like Hans Solo, Princess Leia and Darth Vader in America’s lexicon. That film’s truly imaginative depiction of alien creatures and places, (coupled with the substantial budget that brought it vividly to life) created a sea-change in Hollywood that’s still being felt today, signaling the arrival of fantastic computer simulations and their explosive impact on how films look. Improvements in 3-D technology have lately enhanced the “feel” of these movies as well, with the result that new “superhero” stars now pour out of major studio films at a dizzying (and incestuous) pace.  If only smaller productions, with solid scripts and compelling performances, could attract such financial backing…

 This second installment in the Captain America series is vastly superior to its predecessor and represents perhaps the best combination of intelligent storytelling with startlingly improved deployment of 3-D technology. While not as deliciously sly as the original Iron Man,Winter Soldier possesses a knowing wariness about a number of issues that currently trouble the American psyche (our right to privacy vs. the necessity of intelligence gathering, the emergence of right-wing conspiracy theories, an over-reliance on computer technology, etc.) which make for a storyline of sufficient heft to augment its successful use of the 3-D format.

 33-year-old actor Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, the puny runt rejected for military service in WWII whose physique is transformed by secret scientific processes into a man of dazzling physique and extraordinary strength in the initial chapter of this series. At the end of that movie, (2011) Rogers was frozen in order to recuperate from life-threatening injuries he incurred in saving the world.

 Evans, an impossibly wholesome-looking man with a finely sculpted body, reprised his character in The Avengers, (2012) a filmed compilation of various Marvel characters before making an unaccredited appearance in Thor, (2013) on his way to the reappearance here in the second Captain America outing. Evans has already completed work on the next Avengersmovie due out next year, making him the only actor I know of to play the same character 5 times in as many years. If only he could do more than look clean-cut as he utters his lines…

 Samuel Jackson returns in his role as a one-eyed spymaster in SHIELD, the super-secret organization that appears to be the breeding ground for a good many Marvel characters. Scarlett Johannson shows up here too, playing Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. The Black Widow. The script provides no explanation for her russet-colored hair or systems skills and her treatment of Captain America has the breezy feel of an older sister trying to enhance the dating prospects of an awkward younger brother. For audiences of a certain age, it’s also pleasant watching 78-year-old Robert Redford play against type as a Rumsfeldian government official patiently explaining why America would be better off simply mass-murdering the dregs of our society using high-tech weaponry.

 At a bit more than 2 &1/4 hours in length, Winter Soldier pushes beyond the needs of its plot; less footage would have had even more impact. And the denouement so shamelessly sets up an already planned sequel that it makes the final minutes of this film seem a bit like sitting through the preview scenes of next week’s episode on television.   

 These quibbles aside, it’s hard to image a more successfully achieved marriage of cinematography, technical wizardry and disquieting observations about the world we seem hell bent on racing into. In capturing a sense of unease about just where we’re headed, Winter Soldier becomes a cautionary tale for the acne and popcorn set.

 The result? A brawny confection that can be enjoyed as sheer visual spectacle and/or as interesting marriage of style and content more serious than that typically found in this type of escapist entertainment. Noteworthy it isn’t, but at least you’ll be “in the know” as its already phenomenal financial success becomes the stuff of pop culture.

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