Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Laudable liberator

Far sturdier than “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the spy thriller sequel “The Winter Soldier” continues the patriotic superhero’s solo saga post-“Avengers,” although he gets by with a little help from his combat-ready friends.

The freedom-fighter Cap (Chris Evans), his Avenger teammate Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and a new ally codenamed Falcon (Anthony Mackie) face the combined forces of corrupt SHIELD agents, old foes, and the enigmatic assassin Winter Soldier.

While this sequel, directed by Joe and Tony Russo, veers away from the humor and generally flippant dialogue and atmosphere of “Avengers,” its serious, slightly darker tone works well, especially since Captain America’s “man out of time” conceit can be worked quite effectively into a more espionage-themed story. Joining SHIELD on a rescue mission, he gets close enough to question the organization’s operations, suspecting that something is amiss. He is proven right almost immediately, of course, forcing him to go rogue.

However unoriginal that may sound, as it’s basically an overused spy flick/novel plot, it is translated excellently, just the same. Now that the origin story is out of the way, “Winter Soldier” also gradually realizes the Captain America character’s potential; in the contemporary setting, he stays unwaveringly and staunchly devoted to fighting for universal liberty. He’s seen the perversion of ideals before, and armed with that unique insight, he has a clearer view of the chaotic present than most.

Tightly executed and edited action choreography result in credible stunts; the tense fisticuffs between the heroes and their hordes of adversaries are incredible. (The short Batroc versus Cap fight is especially exciting. And oh, yes, cool live-action Batroc!) Costumes- and visuals-wise, Cap gets to wear the cool “stealth” uniform inspired by his Super-Soldier iteration from the comic books, while Falcon, inspired by his more soldier-y Ultimate version, glides smoothly and figures in some amusing aerial battles. Winter Soldier is also an ominous presence, his metal arm blending in and actually looking menacing, thankfully!

Evans is given more opportunities to be more human and relatable—the actor’s grown into the role quite well, his Steve Rogers/Captain America a somewhat more nuanced and respectable figure this time. Also, while a less flashy character than many comic-to-screen brethren, Cap performs feats that are heroic but “attainable,” a costumed adventurer concerned with serving and protecting civilians, which is refreshing.

Major changes introduced here will affect the SHIELD TV series, and it’s good that a character that debuted there gets some screen time, if briefly. “Winter Soldier” also has two extra scenes, one during the mid-end credits (wow!) and at the very end (that one’s okay), capping the film satisfyingly. 

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