RATING: 2.5 stars (out of 4)
Sometimes Captain America just doesn’t get it. Virtually indestructible and blessed with super strength, he happily free-falls from choppers to aircraft carriers, plunges off skyscraper elevators through plate glass windows, and takes down mobs of 10 taser-equipped SWAT teamers with ease.
Then, for some reason, he gets all scared when he thinks someone has snuck into his apartment and slinks around through the back as though he’s Nancy Drew. One minute he’s shield-bashing his way through the fiery carnage of flying fortresses; the next, he’s struggling to take down a single, underpowered ninja assassin.
There is a point in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when he steps up to a fighter jet and smacks it around like it’s Duke in the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament. And then he’s slumped in a desk chair, getting bullied by his de facto boss Nick Fury.
While Cap may not be able to decide whether he’s a badass or sadass, at least Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Sam Wilson) are around to pick up the slack. Johansson continues to evolves as a formidable action heroine to rival Uma Thurman in her Kill Bill days–no doubt warming up for her Nikita-like turn in the upcoming Lucy–and Wilson adds a sense of humor and indomitability as Cap’s winged equivalent of Robin.
And there’s a story–which, par for the course in recent Marvel movies, is a convoluted mess. You’ve got organizations within organizations backstabbing backstabbers while getting stabbed in the back, characters “dying” only to pop back up as though they suffered nothing harsher than hangnails, and smarmy banter by a grandstanding and not-so-secret villain.
The entire saga, which runs nearly two and a half hours, could have been boiled down to a 30-minute, old-school Captain America cartoon. Instead, there is so much dizzying exposition, including pointless flashbacks to Cap’s pre-superpowered days as a scrawny enlisted man, that it takes a Captain America-level superpowered bladder to be able to endure the 136-minute beast without barging out for a bathroom break.
Despite the gripes, this is no washout like a Thor or Iron Man sequel. The overall story that began with the first wave of Marvel hero origin stories and reached a crescendo in The Avengers continues to evolve and stretch in fascinating directions. Instead of focusing on Cap’s fish-out-of-water silliness as he adapts to modern society after spending 60 years in deep freeze, it spreads its wings and shows the implications of S.H.I.E.L.D. power gone berserk. Cap must decide whether to obey orders or stick to his own moral code. Not that it’s much of a choice for the Boy Scout-ish character, but there is difficulty in sorting out lesser evils from outright sinister forces.
Credit Chris Evans for not only taking the corniness out of the cheesiest of heroes, but making him genuinely relatable and unafraid to get weird–such as when he has a disturbingly romantic moment with his former fling, who is now a granny on her death bed.
All in all, Winter Soldier is a decent summer popcorn-style action flick, but nothing close to a must-see. There are no moments here that people will be jawing about in the weeks ahead, making you feel guilty for waiting to Redbox it in a few months. Home, in fact, will be the best place to see this thing. Better to be able to rewind and watch the cool parts again and fast-forward through the crap that’s reminiscent of that awful Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.
Starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Redford. Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen Feely, based on a story by Ed Brubaker, which is based on a comic book by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, with the post-credit scene directed by Joss Whedon. PG-13. 136 minutes.