"Captain America: The Winter Soldier," the action-packed second installment in the Captain America franchise, is now in theaters. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.
A superhero should always battle a foe as powerful as he is. Otherwise, there's no contest. Yet if you look at the history of superhero films, very few of them have villains who pop as memorably as their heroes.
In that light, the creators of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" have brought off something fresh and bold. They've taken Captain America, the engagingly square strongman from the flag-waving '40s, and planted him in the black-ops cynicism of the present day, where the villain isn't some over-the-top mastermind but, in fact, the very military-industrial complex he's out to defend. He now faces an ominously timely and faceless evil.
Early on, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, the embattled director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is attacked by shadow forces that want to militarize the world and make spying as common as breathing. Sound like anything you've read recently?
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is the first superhero film since the terrorist-inflected "The Dark Knight" that plugs you right into what's happening now. Told in enjoyably blunt, heavy duty strokes, the movie doesn't try for the artistry of "The Dark Knight." It's action-fantasy prose, not poetry. Yet there's a hellbent vitality to its paranoia. When the Captain is surrounded by government officials on an elevator, the fight scene that follows isn't just brutally exciting. It expresses the film's theme, that you can't trust anyone in a society that wants to control everyone.
Chris Evans once again makes our hero a compellingly pensive figure of action. He moves fast, like a Bruce Lee of bionically enhanced aggression, but Evans also lets us see how the forces Captain America is up against are weighing him down. It helps to have Robert Redford on hand, wittily cast as a CIA-spirited S.H.I.E.L.D. leader, a cutthroat in a three-piece suit who dryly understands the mathematics of power.
The movie is too long, yet "The Winter Soldier" has the zing and purpose that last summer's "Man of Steel" lacked, with a sky-high climax that's a real dazzler. What works here is setting up Captain America in a battle against America. That's the way to turn a super-square into an awesome antihero.