Captain America is in a post-Avengers world.
The surprise 2011 hit, Captain America: The First Avenger, succeeded because the iconic yet campy superhero received a modern injection of cinematic energy and solid storytelling. The main reason for the Captain’s successful re-emergence into mainstream pop culture was the charisma and multi-generational appeal of actor Chris Evans. Evans returns in his third stint as the star-spangled rescuer in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film with another solid plot extracted from the Marvel universe, a fantastic grip on character arcs and relationships, and an epic sense of scale that, obviously, takes place in a post-Avengers universe.
Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, dons a new suit but carries the same old-fashioned American swagger as he takes on covert missions as a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. Just like in The Avengers, the level of secrecy among the executive ranks within S.H.I.E.L.D. causes Captain Rogers unease. But things go haywire when S.H.I.E.L.D. is suddenly under attack by a mixture of enemy forces, led by a masked and metal-armed assassin, leaving Rogers on the lam with no one to trust, except maybe Natalia Romanova, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Meanwhile the head of the World Security Council, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), is now in place to decide the fate of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s operational power, including the deployment of a very powerful new mobilized weapon. The plot unfolds with a very provoking commentary on international politics, government power, and the ever-relevant conflicting notions of the ‘greater good’. Also within this story is the introduction to a character likely recognizable to the hardcore fan base but unknown to the casual audience member, Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie). With help from Falcon and some other familiar faces from The Avengers, Captain America fights to defend the world from baddies with an appetite for violent revolution.
The reason I pointed out the significance of the post-Avengers world in which the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier occur is because it has greatly affected the scale and handling of the film’s action sequences and story structure. It would be hard to return Captain America to a smaller and more intimate storyline due to the impact that The Avengers had on both the film’s characters and us, the audience. This is, of course, the sequel to a few separate but plot-connected movies — so expectations are high. There are a handful of very strong character scenes, and these are crucial to getting us on board with the Captain’s drive to do right, no matter what the cost. It also helps that the cast is filled with actors capable of handling a wide range of dialogue and situations, from action shouting to introspective observances. I mean, Robert Redford for god’s sake! While there is also plenty of Chris Evans, or his stunt double, performing amazing fight sequences that we can follow and simultaneously appreciate for their intense choreography, there’s also plenty of CGI-rendered crafts, explosions, gravity-defying leaps, etc. that aren’t as easy to follow. In these sequences, despite great special effects and pure adrenaline pumping excitement, we lose a little bit of that intimate and traditional action feel that Captain America: The First Avenger utilized so well…
…but to say that a movie captures the feel and scope of The Avengers is high praise 99.9% of the time. The other .1% belongs to people that probably didn’t like The Avengers to begin with. To everyone else, it just rocks! Captain America: The Winter Soldier maintains a strong sense of fun throughout. At 136 minutes, it’s no short stroll, but rather a long sprint. It never lags. Just watching the opening scene is enough to indicate the type of humor, playfulness, and pacing you’ll expect to experience for the rest of the movie’s running time.
One way that the Captain America series has separated itself from the rest of the Marvel movies is in its earthliness. Yes, I just used that word in reference to Captain America. Captain Rogers’ greatest superpower isn’t his strength, his speed, or his f–king cool shield, although these things help a ton. What makes all the difference is his unwavering convictions — his desire to defend America and all peace-loving people. For this reason, his spin-off movies, more-so than the others, haven’t involved many alien forces or anything too far into the science-fiction realm (this statement is a stretch, I know — considering Iron Man). However, his independent fights are with humans who are lacking humanity. Any infused extra strength, talents, or fictional weapons don’t change this fact. This is what keeps him relevant, entertaining, and different from the alien spectacles of Thor, Avengers, Green Lantern, and others. It’s refreshing to see a superhero who’s allegiance doesn’t stand a chance of being bent…so far. And sure, we’d love to watch him fight creatures from other worlds, as long as he’s accompanied by a giant green monster who likes to smash.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens Friday, April 4th.