Film review: The latest from Marvel Comics is the best yet

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier combines a solid plot with action in a thrilling addition to the modern Marvel franchise. Captain America: The Winter Soldier combines a solid plot with action in a thrilling addition to the modern Marvel franchise.

One of the surprises about the glut of movies based on Marvel comics is their consistency. All of the movies are at least watchable—there are no duds like the Marvel movies from the 1980s (anyone remember 1989’s The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren?). Even the movies that aren’t great (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2 and the first Captain America flick) have solid production values, are well-acted, and feature excellent character actors in showy rolls.

Now there’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It blows its predecessor out of the water and rivals even The Avengers for slam-bang action and thrills. It may be the best Marvel movie thus far.

First and foremost, the screenwriting team of Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (who also wrote Captain America: The First Avenger), has given Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) more to work with. This time around, Rogers has a sense of humor, and Evans is growing nicely into the role, as are his trapezius, bicep, and tricep muscles.

Secondly, someone finally figured out what Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is doing here. Mainly that means kicking ass and not even bothering with the names. Johansson, like Evans, handles the humor as well as she handles the action.

Lastly, there’s Robert Redford, as Alexander Pierce, a maybe-ally of S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization for whom all the Avengers work. Redford’s natural good looks and guarded delivery make him an inspired choice for a government heavyweight, and it’s a joy to see him put his character skills to work as he parries with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

The plot—and there’s a lot of it—involves a shadow organization quietly infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. and developing a human weapon codenamed The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) as its muscle. There’s also a new weapon that S.H.I.E.L.D. is developing called the helicarrier, which can kill targets from thousands of miles away.

The problem, as Fury sees it, is that the helicarrier and its operators will be targeting people who haven’t actually committed any crimes. The idea is similar to the idea at the center of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report: Kill threats before they become threats by sifting through all their available information online.

It’s a scary idea, and let’s face it, plausible. We live so freely online and share so much information digitally that people could draw conclusions about us that aren’t necessarily accurate.

There’s a nifty anti-drone, anti-technology thread running through Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That may seem at odds with the very idea of a big budget movie that markets itself online and apparently pays tribute to the very technology it’s disparaging, but it all seems pretty sincere even if the end result is just another Avengers movie.

At times, the fights become rote, but there are big action set pieces that astound, including one for Jackson (finally), one for newcomer Anthony Mackie, a surprise or two from actor Emily VanCamp, and the moment when Captain America and The Winter Soldier meet face to face. Plus, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is so much fun that 136 minutes fly by. Make sure you stay through the entire closing credit sequence.

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