Thursday, April 3, 2014

Another helping of 'Captain America'

The Winter Soldier adds a bit of grown-up flavor.
Let's start with the conclusion: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a mostly welcome addition to the apparently endless stream of movies derived from Marvel Comics.

Winter Soldier, which follows 2011's The First Avenger, boasts abundant action, some amazingly vertiginous special-effects sequences and a conspiratorial plot that gives this massive comic-book movie a bit of an adult tilt.

Fans already know that a buffed Chris Evans makes a stalwart Captain America, the clean-cut World War II soldier transported into superhero status in the present.

As one-time KGB agent Natasha Romanoff -- a.k.a. Black Widow -- Scarlett Johansson breathes additional life into the proceedings. Same goes for Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon, a veteran of recent wars who flies with pop-up metal wings. More importantly, Falcon recommends that Captain America familiarize himself with the music of Marvin Gaye.

More about that later.

Samuel Jackson does reliable duty as Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the spy agency that uses its real-world savvy to keep America safe.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo -- known for TV's Arrested Development -- handle the major action set pieces well, giving them body-slam impact: The finale -- though typically protracted -- doesn't skimp on thrills.

Others have made this point, but it's worth reinforcing: Over-editing can ruin fight sequences by substituting frenzied cutting for a clear view of the combat, a sin Winter Soldier too often commits.

Some scenes, though, are more driven by dialogue than CGI, which brings us to Robert Redford, who appears as Alexander Price, a S.H.I.E.L.D. official so virtuous he once turned down the Nobel Peace Prize. Price also heads the World Security Council, a group devoted to maintaining global security.

Can we let Winter Soldier pass without at least wondering about Redford's presence? What exactly is the man behind the Sundance Film Festival, which each year supports the independent spirit in film, doing in a mega-budget, comic-book blockbuster?

I leave it to Redford to answer the question, which is provocation enough for the moment. Maybe he just wanted to play against his image as a liberal savior.

The screenplay tries for complexity by creating confusion about the motivations of Price and Nick Fury, but Winter Soldier isn't exactly over-flowing with edge-of-the-seat suspense.

And, of course, there's the Winter Soldier of the title, an unstoppable warrior played by Sebastian Stan. Not surprisingly, the Winter Soldier is employed by HYDRA, the organization that opposes S.H.I.E.LD. and which happily would sacrifice human lives to maintain order.

But back to Marvin Gaye.

I don't know if the late Gaye ever imagined that his music would find its way into a comic-book movie, but can there be any doubt that the world would be a better place if all comic-book heroes spent more time listening to Gaye and less time kicking butt?

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