Super heroes have become awfully dark and brooding these days, so it’s refreshing to have a Captain America (Chris Evans) who is squeaky clean and patriotic and earnest. It’s also clever to put him in a complex world where no one can be trusted and politics are acted out in murky shades of gray.
In case you’d forgotten where we last left off, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, was a 98-pound weakling who was turned into a spandex-wearing, shield-wielding super-soldier. He was fossilized after WWII and has now been awakened in the year 2014.
Amusingly, Steve walks around with a notepad of pop culture events he needs to catch up on: Nirvana is on the list and so is Rocky. (“Rocky 2?” is written parenthetically. Skip it, Steve.). He’ll fearlessly carry out all orders from S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) but don’t ask him to do something against his conscience. He’s incorruptible.
That’s where Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsen) comes in. She’s a former KGB agent, now trying to amend for past sins by being a true American loyalist. (We first met her and her guilty conscience in The Avengers). But since she has a better grasp of that shadowy world, she’s needed to do some of the dirty work—say, steal the classified plans for Helicarriers, spy satellite weapons that can kill targeted subjects by the millions.
When leading S.H.I.E.L.D agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) explains the secret mission to Rogers, he’s dubious. But Fury is merely following orders from his superior, director Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).
Then, in one of the film’s many witty and exciting sequences, Fury is attacked by a fleet of armed men. He’s driving a S.H.I.E.L.D-issued car—bullet-proof and equipped with an ejector button—but its high-tech systems keep breaking down, one-by-one.
“What does work?” he finally bellows.
“The air conditioning unit is operational,” the car’s robot-voice responds.
Now bloodied and near death, Fury makes his way to Rogers’ house where he hands him the plans to the Helicarriers. “Trust no one,” he says, before blacking out.
Like all the Avenger movies, including the two Thor films and the Iron Man series, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a near seamless blend of action, mythology, wit, and genuine character development. (The Winter Soldier of the title is Steve’s dark counterpart, a super soldier dressed in black who was programmed by the bad guys. But what is his connection to Rogers?).
Rogers and Natasha aren’t a romantic pair, per se, but they have charming banter and good chemistry. (Plus, more collective beauty than any two people should legally be allowed to possess.) The always welcome Anthony Mackie is around as Sam, Rogers’ only friend—a former soldier who says, of his sidekick status: “I go everywhere he goes; only slower.” Of course, like everyone else in the film, there’s more to Sam than meets the eye. (Hint: His imdb.com character name is Sam Wilson/Falcon.)
Is it going too far to say that the decency and moral clarity of Captain America makes him the perfect hero for our own ethically murky times? (He would never approve of drone strikes, for example.) Perhaps. So I’ll just leave you with this: Cool shield, bro.