If you go around with a name like Captain America, it helps if the world is a simple place. Coming of age during World War II, the original Captain America only had to know one thing really well: Nazis = bad! And that was enough.
But thanks to a convenient quirk of Hollywood science, this latest incarnation of Captain America, the very embodiment of 1940’s American values, finds himself grappling with life in the 21st century. Not surprisingly, he’s plenty confused. Cap, as he’s affectionately called, certainly wants to do the right thing but this representative of the “greatest generation” has a hard time figuring out what exactly that is.
At the end of the first “Captain America” movie, Steve Rogers, aka Cap, is revived from a cryogenic state (after 70 years under ice) and gets recruited by the secret intelligence agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. When this sequel, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” opens, he’s been working with S.H.I.E.L.D. for a couple of years.
But he’s started to notice that his colleagues aren’t all being straight with him. When his boss tells him to trust no one, shortly before getting gunned down by an unknown enemy, Cap is thrown into a world of uncertainty where betrayal and double-cross is the norm. He finds himself not only mistrusting everyone but actually second-uessing SHIELD’S very policies. For a straight arrow like Captain America, that’s definitely out of character.
Early in the movie, for instance, SHIELD is perfecting a system of super-drones called “helicarriers” that can take out countless enemy targets in one fell swoop long before they actually do anything wrong. When Cap naively observes, “I thought punishment usually came after the crime,” he’s told that SHIELD takes the world as it is, not as it would like it to be. To which Captain America has an uncharacteristically sharp retort, “This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”
The film even has the nerve to challenge the very concept of SHIELD itself, strongly suggesting that revealing all of SHIELD’s secrets to the world via the Internet would quite possibly make for a better and safer world. Edward Snowden somewhere must be smiling.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” deserves major kudos for cleverly working contemporary issues into what could easily have been the most creaky and outdated of superheroes.
But let’s be honest, none of this would matter if the film wasn’t also an excellent action movie, which it most definitely is. Almost half the movie is high-level, non-stop action set pieces – lots of tightly edited aerial assaults, high-speed chases, one-on-one combat, even one-on-12 combat (in an elevator, no less.) Throw in dozens of explosions and crashes, and a pounding soundtrack and you have a surefire blockbuster.
And thanks to the screenplay’s smart contemporary gloss, you also have one of the best Marvel movies ever.