The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The second wave of the Marvel Universe films have shown a willingness to shake things up. I wouldn't have expected that, given how much is financially at stake with these things. Iron Man 3 set Tony Stark on a whole new course, and Captain America: The Winter Solder offers up several big surprises that make me curious where things are going to go next. Give the company credit: they're not entirely playing it safe. That fact, coupled with a tone that is heretofore new to the Marvel Universe, makes this a first-rate adventure.

The less said about the plot, the better. Here are just a few basics. Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, who is struggling to adapt to life in the modern world. A former Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier shows up, presenting a very serious threat to S.H.I.E.L.D. and, possibly, the entire world. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) informs Rogers that he should “trust no one” in investigating this. That includes fellow Avenger Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). One person Rogers does trust is new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Together, they uncover a wide-ranging conspiracy that rocks all the characters to the core.

I'm not getting more specific than that because I went into Captain America: The Winter Soldier as blind as is possible given its high profile and incessant promotion. There were at least six plot twists that I did not anticipate. What's really important here is that the movie doesn't play 100% like previous Marvel films. A big chunk of the story's first and second acts is devoted to the idea that a mysterious and covert plot is in place to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. It hides in plain sight. Each piece of the puzzle Rogers gets brings with it more dire implications. The Winter Soldier often has something akin to the tone of a 1970s-era paranoid conspiracy thriller. There is absolute perfect perfection in casting Robert Redford in the movie, given that he starred in two of the best “trust no one” conspiracy thrillers of that era (Three Days of the Condor and All the President's Men). Whereas the first Captain America occasionally felt a little scattered in its storytelling, the sequel is taut and focused. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have concocted a story that gives our star-spangled hero real threats to fight against, while also keeping you guessing about who is good and who is evil.

The action scenes everyone expects are here, too, and they're effectively woven into the conspiracy thriller. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me & Dupree) were not obvious choices to direct a Marvel flick; however, they bring a slick energy to the action sequences while simultaneously making certain that they serve the story. Captain America is fighting for something, and you feel that every time he picks up his shield. The grand finale, which has action taking place in several different locations at the same time, is a fine example of how skillful editing can heighten suspense. Marrying the slam-bang adventure of a comic book with something more cerebral was a brilliant idea, one that is very entertainingly executed.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has many other notable qualities, including excellent special effects and some ingenious hidden jokes. (Pay attention to the margins and the seemingly unimportant things!) But as clever and exciting as it is, everything really boils down to the fact that the characters are legitimately worth rooting for. And for that, credit goes to the actors. Chris Evans is a terrific Cap, not just because he looks the (buff) part, but because he subtly conveys Steve Rogers' gradual acceptance that the kind of evil he fought during WWII is still around today and made more powerful by technology. Scarlett Johansson gets to develop Black Widow in this film, so that she's not just a hot, butt-kicking chick in a tight leather outfit. Over the course of things, the actress projects her character's intelligence and vulnerability in ways we have not previously seen. Samuel L. Jackson once again brings his indispensable sense of gravitas to the Marvel Universe, while Robert Redford puts a spin on the calculating, inquisitive quality that marked many of his finest career performances.

Captain America: The Winter Solider doesn't end with a cliffhanger per se, yet it does point in a direction so unexpected that you can't wait to see where the road will lead for Cap and the rest of the Avengers. Marvel recently announced that they have stories for these characters mapped out until 2028. If the movies stay as strong as this one, it's going to be a magnificent ride.

( 1/2 out of four)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 16 minutes.

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