Nothing is more red, write and blue than political scandal, and Captain America uncovers a doozy in his sequel, The Winter Soldier. Not only is democracy's foundation shaken but an entire television series must also now be overhauled. Pray for our nation.
Captain America is a Marvel superhero at his best when working with one combat boot in the past, like his World War II exploits battling the forces of Hydra, who aren't just Nazis but rogue Nazis, so they're extra nasty. The Winter Soldier moves ahead a few decades in tone, to paranoid post-Watergate cinema in which anyone in power was likely hiding something.
Nobody will confuse this movie with Pollack and Pakula's airtight oeuvre in the '70s, although casting their go-to truth crusader Robert Redford in a key role is smart. The Winter Soldier features an unusually complex plot for a comic book flick, and a where-to-go-from-here conclusion bating fanboys' breath. Not everything's clockwork but ambition counts for something.
After being defrosted for the Avengers movie, Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is now stationed in present-day Washington, D.C., working for the ultra-secret agency SHIELD. His latest assignment is extracting hostages from a hijacked ship, the first thread in a tangled web of coverups and misdirections.
Suffice to say that these twists and turns invite comparisons to real-life political hot potatoes, including invaded privacy, assassination by drones and mistrusting Russians. It's a heady blend, at times requiring more speechifying than necessary. But it keeps one guessing between ill-staged and frenetically edited fight scenes. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo handle vehicular mayhem better, with two chase sequences providing clearer perspectives of who's being hurt by whom and how.
As usual in Marvel adventures, personality counts. Evans is both an impressive physical specimen and an amusingly stunted superhero clinging to outdated values and pop culture. He's a fun, straight-arrow contrast to sexy SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), prone to flirting while bullets fly. It's great seeing Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury more directly involved in the action, with a twist and denouement to catch viewers flat-footed.
In fact, the Russos and their screenwriters set up so much intrigue, or must justify the inclusion of certain characters, that the Winter Soldier of the title seems like an afterthought. I'm told the story arc is regarded as a jewel in Captain America's comic book pantheon but it's handled here as something to be cultivated late then continued later, as the second of two end-credits "Easter eggs" reveal.
We'll get the rest of the story in a sequel. That's the American way.