Marvel Studios continues to get it more right than wrong with its ninth film, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” At this point, Marvel has a better track record with their movies than with the comic books that inspired them.
Based on a story by Ed Brubaker, “Winter Soldier” picks up with Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America a.k.a. Chris Evans) adjusting to life in the 21st Century — living in Washington, D.C., and working for S.H.I.E.L.D. One morning while running laps around the city he meets and befriends a fellow veteran, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).
Before they can finish chatting, Rogers is whisked away by co-worker Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow a.k.a. Scarlett Johansson) for a mission to rescue a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship from pirates. The mission is a success but when Cap discovers Natasha is busy with her own secret agenda on the boat, he confronts S.H.I.E.L.D. chief Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Cap doesn’t like all the secrecy (which begs the question of why he went to work for a spy agency instead of going back to the army) at which point Fury reveals an even bigger project designed to give freedom-lovers the willies: three helicarriers linked to satellites with the capabilities to single out and eliminate hundreds of threats at once.
The next day, an attempt on Fury’s life by a mystery assassin known as The Winter Soldier (a.k.a. Sebastian Stan a.k.a. But That Would Be Telling) leads to even further division between Cap and S.H.I.E.L.D. Pretty soon it’s Captain America, Black Widow and Sam Wilson (who also happens to have a code name — The Falcon — which comes with a cool set of wings) against the world.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “The Winter Soldier” is much more action-packed, fast-paced and explosive than its predecessor, “The First Avenger.” While the first Captain America film was seeped in World War II nostalgia, the new film plays out more like a modern spy thriller.
Evans continues to prove why he’s such a fine choice for the straight-laced Steve Rogers; he’s earnest and committed without coming across as corny. Jackson’s Fury maintains that air of mystery so essential to his role as top spy. This is the biggest role yet for Black Widow in a Marvel film yet and Johansson continues to do the role proud.
As the newcomers, Mackie makes for a decent partner for the Captain; Robert Redford gives the film gravitas as Fury’s boss; and Emily VanCamp is brought in as a potential love interest but isn’t given enough screen time to develop her character.
The action is frenetic with intense and brutal fight scenes. The plot is a bit of a mess but I’m more interested in the characters than whatever bad guy scheme they have to put down. And like many good Captain America stories there’s a political issue raised for those who like those kinds of post-movie discussions.
While it’s not “The Avengers,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is one of the strongest entries in the Marvel series so far. As always, stick around for the post-credits scene and the other post-credits scene.