Marvel Comics continues their quest to translate their comic book universe to the big screen. The most recent installment of their efforts is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
At the start of this film, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) demonstrates his superior physical characteristics by lapping another retired soldier, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) during his morning run. Recognizing in each other the kindred souls of former servicemen, the two strike up a conversation during which Rogers is called on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission.
Picked up by Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Rogers is sent on a mission with a strike team and Romanoff to rescue the crew of a pirated S.H.I.E.L.D. ship. As Captain America, Rogers is given the task of saving the crew without knowing that Romanoff has a mission of her own. Because Natasha fails to rendezvous as expected, Rogers goes to find her and discovers her backing up data from the secret vessel.
Enraged that he was unaware of Romanoff’s mission and the risk it caused the crew and the strike force, Rogers returns to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and confronts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about it. Fury explains the practical reasons no one knows everything and gives Rogers a glimpse of the secret project Insight, which is designed to eliminate specific targets before they are able to commit the crimes they are planning.
The idea of punishing people before the crime is distasteful to Rogers and he begins to question whether he’s fighting for freedom with S.H.I.E.L.D. or not and pays a visit to the Smithsonian Institution that houses a section dedicated to his work during World War II.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury discovers that the data contained on Romanoff’s download is encrypted beyond his own clearance. Suspecting that there is a deeper problem, he asks his friend and director Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) to request a delay deploying Project Insight from the World Security Council.
Fury leaves and calls for a trusted agent, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to meet him. Moments later, his truck is pinned in by fake police. Fury escapes the assassination attempt only to encounter a metal-armed assassin that manages to upend Fury’s armored vehicle with an explosive.
Rogers returns to his apartment building and asks a neighbor if she’ll have coffee with him. She politely refuses, but mentions that Rogers has left his stereo on all day. Rogers apologizes, realizing that the stereo shouldn’t be on. He enters his apartment expecting an intruder. The intruder is the injured Nick Fury who hands him the data recovered by Romanoff. The last thing Fury is able to say is “Trust no one.”
Pierce calls Captain America in to his office and asks why Fury was in his apartment. Rogers refuses to give Pierce any information, and finds himself hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D. Grudgingly accepting the aid of Romanoff and falling back on the only other person he feels he can trust, Sam Wilson.
After hearing their situation, Wilson divulges that he is more than a former pilot, as Rogers suspects, but he is also the only surviving person that can fly the suit from the Falcon project. Wilson offers his help, if they can get the last suit from its guarded location. Together, the three heroes try to uncover the plot that left Nick Fury dead and them hunted by the organization they used to trust: S.H.I.E.L.D.
Less about Earth-shattering power and more about intrigue and long-developing secret plots, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” might not provide the same level of CGI exposition as Thor or The Avengers movies. Plenty of action scenes keep the film from seeming too cerebral or emotional. Lots of broken glass and shattered technology move the action along well enough.
The Black Widow serves well as an anti-conscience for the admittedly idealistic Captain America. Throughout the film, she injects a bit of wit and a lot of violence whenever needed. Falcon, while not the original reformed criminal inspired by Captain America to go straight, provides a bit of extra grounding and a sympathetic understanding that keeps Rogers grounded and less isolated.
“The Winter Soldier” includes a fair number of recognizable names and unnamed characters that lead in to the next Avengers film, particularly in the mid and post credits clips. The technique, lifted straight from classic comics writing, is a welcome reminder as well as a compelling tease of things to come.
At over two hours, lengthened by watching through the end credits and extra material, I feared the film might drag on too long. While I’m not a Captain America super fan, this film left me enthralled and if another hour of film started right after, I would have happily stayed and watched it, too. So far I like Marvel Studios take on superhero films.