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"CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER"
(2014) (Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A superhero from the past uncovers a nefarious and wide-reaching plot within his own espionage agency to eradicate current and future terrorists and criminals before they act.
PLOT:
A one-time WWII hero who reemerged in the present after a 70-year stint in suspended animation, genetically enhanced superhero Steve Rogers (CHRIS EVANS), a.k.a. Captain America, is still trying to get used to this new world and time where he finds himself. After repeatedly lapping war veteran and current PTSD counselor Sam Wilson (ANTHONY MACKIE) on the National Mall, former KGB agent turned S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (SCARLETT JOHANSSON) picks up Steve, and both later end up onboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel that's been commandeered by pirates.

Yet, while Captain America is there to save the ship and its passengers, Natasha is there to extract data from the ship's computers, an act that rouses his suspicions. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) later informs Steve of a counter-terrorism program known as Operation: Insight that will use three massive helicarrier gunships to preemptively eliminate threats worldwide, including in America.

It's an idea supported by Fury's old friend and current senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official, Alexander Pierce (ROBERT REDFORD), but Fury is concerned when he can't access files that he reportedly locked himself. When he asks Pierce to hold back on deploying the operation, Nick twice ends up as the target of the masked and highly efficient assassin, the Winter Soldier (SEBASTIAN STAN), but not before handing Steve a flash drive and telling him to trust no one. Heeding that advice, Steve doesn't fully cooperate with Pierce, thus making him a fugitive within his own agency.

That causes the likes of steely S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Brock Rumlow (FRANK GRILLO) and others to try to capture or kill him, all while agents Maria Hill (COBIE SMULDERS) and Sharon Carter (EMILY VANCAMP) do their best to help the man from another time. With the helicarrier gunships set to lift off and enact their preemptive strike on scores of Americans, Captain America, along with the help of Natasha and Sam, sets out to prevent that from happening.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Ask just about any young comic book reader or movie fan who Robert Redford is and they'll likely shrug their shoulders or express an uninterested "dunno." Which isn't really that surprising considering the iconic American actor hasn't really appeared in any movies of recent that would interest younger viewers, and it's been four decades since his heyday in Hollywood appearing in classics such as "The Sting" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

He also appeared in films such as "Three Days of the Condor" and "All the President's Men" playing the "little guy" trying to bring down the powers that be. In a fun bit of role reversal, he's done a one-eighty in playing the power figure and now will likely be known to comic book fans for that role in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

It's the sequel to 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" that reintroduced the 90-pound weakling turned WWII hero to the big screen in a typical origins story fashion. With the title character now in the present (after awakening from a 70-year stint in suspended animation at the end of that pic) -- and having appeared as a team player in 2012's mega-hit "The Avengers," he gets to operate in a more traditional superhero mode, and in a film that's superior to and far more enjoyable than its predecessor.

While I found the first film to be passable and decently handled but nothing special, this sequel takes much of the same sort of material and tone that were present the first time around and enhances them to a highly entertaining degree. Granted, and notwithstanding some thematic material associated with Redford's S.H.I.E.L.D. character, the film isn't anywhere as complexly brilliant as Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," nor is it up there with Richard Donner's "Superman" in terms of perfectly capturing and portraying the essence of the comic book up on the big screen.

But pound for pound, I found it far better than the over-rated "The Avengers" and one of the better popcorn variety superhero movies of recent. And that not only stems from the obligatory, larger than life action sequences and related special effects, but also the film's use of humor; the chemistry between the leads; Redford's presence (that classes up the trappings of your standard superhero flick) and the related commentary on today's anti-terrorism policies; and Chris Evans' return of playing Cap.

The actor, now likely having shed much association with playing that other superhero character in the "Fantastic Four" flicks, is pretty much pitch perfect in the role, both physically (I covet his biceps and physique) and in terms of personality. Yes, it's all just acting, and not really heavy lifting in that regard, but Evans truly makes you believe he's a decent and upstanding man from another era who still believes in his country but questions how things have somewhat derailed during his long "hibernation."

That stems from Redford's character being behind a counter-terrorism program known as "Operation: Insight" where three massive helicarrier gunships are to be put in permanent semi-orbit around Earth to preemptively strike any known or future terrorists and criminals (based on predictive behavior stemming from data crunching). It's a not-so-veiled statement about similar but not as technologically advanced programs in place today, but thankfully doesn't ever feel preachy or heavy-handed. Instead, it all comes off as a variation of the old "the powers that be are corrupt and need to be stopped" storyline, and that plot serves the flick well.

Returning scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and new-to-the-fold brothers and co-directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (who took a long break since their last Hollywood film, 2006's "You, Me and Dupree") more than adequately throw that thematic material into the mix, with the directors -- along with cinematographer Trent Opaloch and editor Jeffrey Ford -- creating some high octane action sequences. While I initially believed I was going to dislike and maybe even hate the quick camera movement and edits during such moments, all of that surprised me in how effectively it raises the adrenaline of those watching all of that.

But it's the chemistry and fun and lively dialogue -- between Evans & Johansson, Evans & Antony Mackie and Redford & Samuel L. Jackson -- that lifts the offering above the rock 'em, sock 'em fisticuffs and extensive property damage that's sadly become the norm of recent for other such flicks. Simply put, we like these characters and thus get behind them and their quest.

While the main villain (Sebastian Stan) might be a tad underdeveloped (despite a later revelation that explains things) and thus not match up to them in terms of interest or engagement, that's just a small complaint in what's otherwise a fun and engaging superhero flick. Considering my lukewarm reaction to the first "Captain America," I'm happy to report I instantly warmed up to the sequel and found it far more entertaining and enjoyable than round one. And considering it might have today's kids looking up Redford and discovering some of his old classics, that's just icing on the cake. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" rates as a solid 7 out of 10.




Reviewed March 27, 2014 / Posted April 4, 2014


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