‘Winter Soldier’ more than just an appetizer for next ‘Avengers’

By Ian Flanagan / Staff Writer

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie

Grade: B

With “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” taking shape, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” does exactly what Marvel needs for its mega-franchise — it provides brawny, if forgettable, blockbuster entertainment to whet our appetites for the meatier and more massive spectacle to come.

Although Marvel has recently had difficulty making these smaller, post-“Avengers” films memorable and distinguishable from one another — released less than six month ago, “Thor: The Dark World” is still a strain to recall — Cap’n’s latest solo outing is a substantial and confident step in Marvel’s genius money-making ruse.

Since “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has been adapting to modern life in Washington, D.C., and assisting S.H.I.E.L.D. in its espionage endeavors. In his most recent assignment, Captain America must help rescue an ally ship under attack. During the mission, Rogers finds agent Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), secretly stealing information from the vessel’s computers. Back home, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to decrypt the information, but is unsuccessful. S.H.I.E.L.D. is later compromised by assassins led by the Winter Soldier, a stealthy and dangerous foe equipped with superhuman strength and a burnished metal arm.

Afterwards, executive Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) meets with Rogers, believing he is aware of what information Fury stole. When Rogers confesses his lack of knowledge, Pierce labels him a fugitive. With the help of Romanoff and Rogers’ friend, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Rogers must go undercover to unveil the corruption surrounding S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to prevent global disaster.

Needless to say, things get a tad convoluted, but the film is seldom uninteresting. While the story reaches for the grandiose, the importance of “The Winter Soldier” feels inevitably limited. But even though large portions of the Captain’s sequel are decidedly unremarkable, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo stimulate the film with startlingly adept direction, most exemplified in the handful of well-executed action sequences and the speedy pacing. Two hours and 15 minutes has rarely gone by so quickly.

The action should not be dismissed as mere childish fun — the Russo brothers have crafted an expert style of supplying comic book thrills. Teetering between cartoonish and gritty, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” blends harsh violence and the typically colorful visual scheme with unexpectedly tantalizing results, particularly in the hand-to-hand combat moments. In Marvel’s movie world, Captain America is about as real as it gets, free of the sillier fantasy and science fiction elements of our other beloved Avengers. So with a more prominent essence of realism, the fights are grainy, dizzying and brutal — the less CGI, the better.

Evans is appealingly straight-laced as usual, Johansson overcomes her occasionally mediocre dialogue and is as alluring as ever and charismatic Mackie as The Falcon makes for an excellent addition to the Marvel cinematic universe. The Winter Soldier is also a formidable villain — shrouded in mystery and genuinely intimidating. It is thrilling to see Captain America meet his physical match with this nearly silent nemesis.

At its worst, “The Winter Soldier” may be overly slick and manufactured, but on the whole, there is some brisk, exciting and serious fun to be had.

Enjoy the appetizers while they’re here — the main course is soon to come.

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