‘Murica!

Captain America (Chris Evans, Cellular) is just a regular 95-year-old man trying to make it in this topsy-turvy world.

As he settles into life as S.H.I.E.L.D’s most effective agent, Cap struggles to find his place. He’s only ever known life as a soldier fighting against a clearly defined enemy. In the 21st century, things are more complicated and the dicey nature of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) isn’t boosting his confidence.

When an attempt is made on Fury’s life, the battle lines become even more perplexing and suddenly Captain America is on the run, under fire from all sides, and light on friends. But he’ll always have his indestructible shield. And his jawline.

I enjoyed the first Captain America a good deal, but lamented that it ultimately regressed into Marvel formula. With the follow-up, the Russo brothers have directed a proper change-up. What Captain America: The Winter Soldier gives us is a Marvel movie that is the more daring of the lineup. It’s dark, violent, political and loaded with consequence. Granted, that last one has to be given the caveat as “Marvel consequence” in that the cost is never as permanent as it seems, but on balance this film takes the most chances of the Marvel portfolio.

Start with the subject matter, which tackles stuff like an open society vs. a police state, the lengths a country will go to in the name of security and the costs of war and spycraft. Rest assured, this is still a comic book movie and a) these themes are broadly dabbled in, and b) at the core there is still a bunch of unquestionably evil dinks that aren’t the CIA or the Old White Man Cabal (sort of). I’m easily agitated by preachy action movies, and though the film seemed to have caused a bit of a stir online (I read some barbs calling it an Edward Snowden comic book movie), I didn’t find anything noticeably in-your-face. At the end of the day, this is about a man with a big-ass shield destroying helicopters.

On that front, Captain America: The Winter Solider served up the most interesting and satisfying action pieces of the Marvel entries. The ending was reliably bombastic, but I was more engaged with the mayhem that preceded it: street-level hand-to-hand combat and a surprising amount of gunfire dropping extras left and right. Not lying: I was actually jarred a bit by the body count here, versus, say, the non-existent casualties during the utter destruction of New York City in Marvel’s The Avengers. But I digress.

The best part of all of this is that I actually had a vested interest in the characters, giving the explosions a fair amount of weight. I owe most of that to the introduction of Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), who injects energy and heart into the proceedings. I’m not kidding: the friendship that Falcon and Cap forge — in limited screen time — represents one of the best relationships I’ve seen in any comic book film. So much so, that I can’t wait for the third film, which promises even more Falcon/Cap action. Just great chemistry between these two actors.

That’s it: just a tight, cool, kick-ass action movie that succeeds because of strong character work, a plot with enough surprises to keep things trucking, and some marvelously executed action. With this, Cap solidifies his place on top of the Marvel food chain.

Disney’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Blu-ray) is a raucous beast of a disc that serves up a gorgeous, vibrant, super-detailed 2.40:1/1080p transfer and a blast-you-out-of-your-seat DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix. Top marks all around for the A/V. Extras are okay: commentary from the directors and screenwriters, a brief on-set featurette about Mackie, an in-depth look at the action sequences, a fun but disposable bit about Steve Rogers’ pop culture to-do list, a few so-so deleted scenes, a gag reel, DVD copy, and digital copy.

THE VERDICT
Captain’s orders: Not guilty.

 

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