Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo (“You, Me and Dupree”)
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Thor: The Dark World”)
Of the stable of Marvel Comics superheroes that make up the cinematic version of The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the one tinged with the most melancholy. Originally a shrimpy wannabe World War II enlistee, Rogers was transformed into the super soldier Captain America, accidentally frozen for 70 years, and revived to fight for a cause he’s not so sure he believes in anymore. While he hasn’t aged a day, his best girl went on to marry someone else and grow old and gray. He’s a man out of time, working for an organization, SHIELD, that seems more about intimidation than securing freedom. But Cap is a soldier, and he does what a soldier does: follow orders.
Cap’s unease continues to grow as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” kicks off. Sent to rescue the crew of a SHIELD ship from Algerian pirates, Rogers’ trust in SHIELD is shaken when fellow team member Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) ignores his orders to covertly retrieve data from the ship’s computers. Back in Washington, D.C., Rogers confronts SHIELD leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about his suspicions. Fury comes clean, letting Rogers in on Operation: Insight, a system of satellites and helicarriers linked to eliminate threats before they happen. Cap isn’t reassured, and during a visit with his former love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), he laments what has become of the country he signed up to fight for. Meanwhile Fury, after visiting with SHIELD official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) about delaying Operation: Insight, Fury is attacked in the streets of D.C. by a mysterious assassin known as The Winter Solider.
A delicious mixture of superheroics and ‘70s-style political thrills, “The Winter Soldier” plants its flag firmly at the top of the Marvel cinematic universe alongside “The Avengers” and Cap’s first big-screen adventure. While “Iron Man 3” felt like it was laying the groundwork for Robert Downey Jr.’s eventual exit (presumably, anyway) and “Thor: The Dark World” kept most of its action in Asgard, “The Winter Soldier” feels like the first Marvel film since “The Avengers” dominated the box office to actually live in and shake up the world that film left behind. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo turn in a hard-hitting, exceedingly confident film that feels effortless, the same of which can’t be said for the latest adventures of Thor and Iron Man. Evans shines again as Captain America, playing it straight while not turning the part into a clichéd patriot/man from the past. Surprisingly, the veteran Redford comes to play as well, digging his teeth into the material instead of coasting on his decades of movie stardom. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” may not be flawless – once again, the standalone film conveniently ignores the fact that the hero has other super pals he could call on – but it’s close.