Watching “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Captain America is a throwback.
At a time when comic book superheroes tend to be edgy and brooding, Captain America is cheerful and friendly, patriotic and loyal. He wants to do what is right. He isn’t consumed by self-doubt or tormented by the burden of being a hero. He’s not Batman, or even the more serious Superman of last year’s big comic reboot, “Man of Steel.” He’s just an ordinary guy who believes in America, and has extraordinary physical powers.
I liked the first “Captain America” film well enough, and I was perfectly happy to see Captain America pop up in “The Avengers.” But it’s tough to get too excited about him, mainly because he’s such a square — not nearly as fun or charismatic as Iron Man or even Thor. What makes “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” interesting is that it depicts Captain American’s growing disillusionment with government secrecy and modern-day surveillance. For the first time, he seems like a man who is capable of thinking for himself and taking matters into his own hands.
The Marvel comic book movies have a lightness of tone that’s really appealing, even during the big climatic fights, and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is no different. At times, the banter between Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, and the superspy Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, sounds like something out of an old screwball comedy, which, come to think about it, is how much of “The Avengers” and “Iron Man” films sounds, too. Like most comic book adaptations, the interactions between the main characters is the best thing about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” while the explosions, car chases and battles eventually grow tiresome. It’s fun to watch Samuel L. Jackson return as Nick Fury, and it’s a real kick to watch Robert Redford as the duplicitous Alexander Pierce. And Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, is a nice addition to the cast. But it’s the stars — Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson — who really carry this film.
In most comic book films, the women are sidekicks. But in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Black Widow emerges as an interesting character in her own right. She does more than her share of butt-kicking, saves the day on more than one occasion and has almost as much screen time as Captain America. In fact, a more accurate title for this film might be “Captain America and Black Widow Defeat the Surveillance State.” Because Johansson is beautiful, people often dismiss her acting skills. But she’s actually very talented, and she’s terrific in this film — equally adept at tossing off one-liners and battling bad guys. I have no idea whether she’ll ever get to headline her own comic book film, but she really should. And she isn’t the only woman who distinguishes herself in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — Cobie Smulders, as Maria Hill, and Emily VanCamp, as Sharon Carter, also have their moments.
As for the plot, it was supposedly inspired by President Obama’s “kill list.” Set two years after the apocalyptic New York City battle seen in “The Avengers,” the film depicts a world where a massive counter-terrorism system, called Project Insight, is in development: three giant aircrafts, linked to spy satellites, would be capable of pre-emptively eliminating terrorist threats anywhere on Earth. The idea, of course, is to defeat the bad guys before they commit their evil deeds. But Captain America doesn’t see it that way, and begins to question the secrecy and unchecked power of his superiors. If some of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because Steven Spielberg toyed with similar ideas in his 2002 film “Minority Report.”
“Captain America” isn’t perfect — it’s too long, and I could have done without the subplot about Steve Rogers’ childhood friend, Bucky — but it is a film that’s perfectly suited for a post-Edward Snowden America, where revelations about the breadth and scope of the NSA’s spying apparatus have made many people very uneasy. By the end of “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” Steve Rogers has become one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel universe. He’s not quite as interesting as Black Widow, but maybe he will be one day.
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