I often lament sequels, because more often than not they are unsatisfying. However, sometimes Hollywood manages to build effectively on an original movie by improving upon the protagonist in the sequel. Superhero movies are in a different realm right now, with The Dark Knight trilogy and Marvel’s The Avengers serving as the standard bearers for the genre. Whereas the Iron Man and Thor sequels have represented a slight decline in quality, I thought Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a marked improvement over its predecessor.
Chris Evans (most recently of Thor: The Dark World) reprises the role he established in 2011, but this time the storyline is significantly more entertaining. Evans has the interesting distinction of playing more than one superhero, having also portrayed Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four franchise. Steve Rogers/Captain America is a much more compelling character, though his straight-arrow persona lacks the texture of his fellow Avengers. The sequel finds our hero adjusting to life in the 21st century while still feeling like a fish out of water. Recall that he was cryogenically frozen during World War II, only to be thawed out in a completely different era.
The movie opens with a reintroduction to the super soldier Steve Rogers as he undertakes a routine mission for S.H.I.E.LD. It’s established relatively early that Captain America has a simple but unwavering way of doing things. He likes to deal in facts and strives to be truthful and straightforward in most aspects of life: what you see is what you get. So when he discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, RoboCop) is less than forthright about the mission at hand, he feels slightly betrayed.
Fury’s dishonesty makes Rogers mistrustful of him as well as friend and fellow Avenger Black Widow (Natalia Romanoff) (Scarlett Johansson, Don Jon), who was privy to the deception but doesn’t have the same inflexible “code” as Rogers. This movie differed from the other Marvel entrants in that Fury was featured much more prominently. When he inexplicably becomes the target of assassins, he reveals to Rogers that a splinter group has arisen within S.H.I.E.L.D. That rogue faction is known as Hydra, and they’ve been operating since S.H.I.E.L.D.’s inception. Fury ominously warns Rogers that he can’t trust anyone, and soon he too feels Hydra’s wrath. Robert Redford (All is Lost) is featured as S.H.I.E.L.D. higher-up Alexander Pierce, a questionable character in odd pursuit of Rogers after casting suspicion upon him regarding Director Fury.
The title of this sequel references The Winter Soldier, a soldier every bit as impressive as Captain America. He’s relentless and formidable, complete with a metal arm and seemingly indestructible exterior. His origin is unknown, but Black Widow explains to Captain America that his kills are the stuff of legend. Captain America must expose the Hydra agents within S.H.I.E.L.D., while uncovering their end-game goal. All the while he must contend with The Winter Soldier, a foe against whom he is evenly matched. I’ve tried to describe the movie in a way that is accurate but doesn’t reveal too much – so I’ve been intentionally cryptic about a few details.
I enjoyed the movie because it was entertaining and action-packed. The storyline was more interesting than the first movie, and Rogers’ character was fleshed out more. Additionally, the supporting characters proved to be worthy additions, including Anthony Mackie (Runner Runner) as Falcon, an affable sidekick who fits in nicely alongside Captain America and Black Widow. Men (and some women) will appreciate Scarlett Johansson’s assets, and I thought she more than held her own. All of the Avengers are well cast, and Chris Evans is well suited in the starring role. I don’t go for the “straight-arrow” superhero types, as I like my heroes with a darker side – but he didn’t disappoint. I thought Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 were recent Marvel missteps, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier has the studio back on track and is poised to crush the box office. Grade: A-