‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
3 (out of 5) Globes
The interlocking Marvel Cinematic Universe is now nine titles in, and what does it have to show for itself? Is the new “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” all that different from “Thor: The Dark World,” much less “Captain America: The First Avenger”? Will you remember which goofy but sometimes hectic romp — with a groan-inducing Stan Lee cameo and multiple cryptic post-credit scenes referencing something you may have never heard of — had the end-of-the-world plot hatched by grim, angry aliens, and which one by Robert Redford?
There’s a wearying interchangeability to these contraptions that was charming at first. But when even the one by veteran smart aleck Shane Black (“Iron Man 3”) isn’t terribly distinguishable from the one by Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”), one wonders how much personality they really have.
The “Captain America” wing has another problem: Captain America is boring. That’s not to say Chris Evans, the actor playing him, is dull; especially in round two, he gives Steve Rogers a dry wit that makes him more than an invincible supersoldier who can almost certainly never be stopped. (Wicked shield though, and some patriots will freak that he briefly speaks French.) Here he gets a mighty foe: the mysterious Winter Soldier, a long-haired dreamboat with a metal arm whose masked face eventually reveals himself to be … a character you probably don’t remember. (Marvel assumes everyone’s watching its films all the time — because some of you probably are.)
But the best this baddie can do is be roughly Captain America’s equal, meaning our hero is still never really in harm’s way. This time it tries to give him some mostly under-explored doubt. Now firmly in the present, he’s a fish out of water (just like Thor!) who resists an agency that’s moving — in a bit of hesitant topicality — toward a surveillance state. (Its biggest cheerleader is embodied by Redford, playing oily for the first time since “Indecent Proposal.” He’s somehow even more charming issuing threats.) Circumstances orchestrate for Cap to go into hiding (just like Iron Man!). He’s aided by the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, fierce but mumbling her one-liners to death) and eventually Sam Wilson, aka the winged Falcon (Anthony Mackie, laidback and coolly competent).
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are “Community” veterans (and also vets of “Me, You and Dupree”). Apart from slipping in a Danny Pudi cameo, they keep things funny and character-driven. They even file gratuitous shout-outs to Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” soundtrack. But they’re still at the behest of a corporate beast. There’s a noisy, cross-cutting, muddled climax that’s passable, although surely not even the filmmakers believe in the beyond crusty cliche of whether Cap will disarm the big device at the last second.
There’s also a pair of intense action scenes that put major supporting characters in the line of actual, possible death (even though we know they’ll be fine, because one already has a possible solo film in the works). The whiff of danger, even one that will never come to fruition, adds enough spice to a series that should have crapped out by now. Instead it rattles across the finish line like a taped-up jalopy. We’ll do this dance all over again with “Guardians of the Galaxy” this summer. TTFN.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge