Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t just a good film; it’s a pretty terrific one. Are you surprised? Because I certainly was. Let’s face it, Captain America is by far the dullest fella in the Marvel canon, blessed with neither the wit and charm of Iron Man, nor plagued with the angst of Spider-Man, nor grappling with anger issues like The Hulk. He’s basically a goody-two-shoes who wears a patriotic skin-tight suit and carries around a shield.
Still, the skilled folks at Marvel Studios delivered a compelling origin story in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and then, in The Avengers in 2012, put him front and center with the other guys, trading wisecracks, and joining forces to dispatch the villains. But there’s more at stake in The Winter Soldier than in any Marvel film previously. Saving the world from the clutches of evil has become a recurring theme in superhero films, and while this sequel certainly hits familiar notes, the battles here have deeper consequences.
Set after the events of The Avengers, this film sees our protagonist (Chris Evans) not only having to face off against a mysterious hard-hitting mercenary, The Winter Soldier, but also expose a vast political conspiracy threatening to take down SHIELD. His ally in this mission is the tough-as-nails super-agent Black Widow (a sexy wise-cracking, ass-kicking Scarlett Johansson), and together they must figure out whether to trust SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) or his boss Alexander Pierce (a nicely ominous Robert Redford).
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo skillfully blend topical political themes with a treatment that’s classic 70s conspiracy thriller, even if the script itself doesn’t fully exploit these ideas. The action too has an urgent feel to it, particularly a sequence in which Nick Fury is ambushed in a supposedly bulletproof car, or one in which Cap finds himself trapped in an elevator full of enemies. For fans of Avengers-style mass destruction, there is that overblown but enjoyable climax in which our titular hero makes a final bid to foil the launch of an armed jet plane programmed to wreak havoc. Also expect to be overcome by sheer boyish excitement as war veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) takes the role of Captain America’s winged sidekick Falcon.
In keeping with Marvel tradition, there’s a steady stream of clever one-liners and witticisms, including Black Widow’s repeated teasing of our earnest superhero. But the film’s real strength is Chris Evans’ robust performance as Captain America, who finally emerges a fully realized character, worthy of his place in the Marvel universe.
I’m going with four out of five for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It delivers enough bang for your buck, and then some.