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Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • Movie review: ‘Captain America’ sequel will leave you cold

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  • When a funny Stan Lee cameo is the highlight, it’s clear your superhero movie is in trouble. But it could be worse. It could be “Hulk.” Still, there’s not nearly enough to marvel at in Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the sequel to 2011’s vastly superior “The First Avenger.” It’s lumbering, generic and gasping for fresh air. Then there’s Chris Evans, the hunky, uncharismatic star of this fish-out-of-water contraption in which writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely lamely attempt to turn genetically enhanced super-soldier Steve Rogers into a kick-butt Edward Snowden. Evans certainly possesses the physical heft, but struggles to add emotional bulk to the Cap’s latest adventure in which the freeze-dried World War II relic is labeled a traitor after discovering a nefarious attempt by S.H.I.E.L.D. to infiltrate our privacy – and worse.
    The homeland spying is for the good of the people, agency head Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assures Cap, who isn’t so sure about that or his boss’s new fleet of drone-like killing machines. He thinks it’s an attempt to rule by fear, not laws.
    And before you can say NSA, every government black op is looking to put a cap in Cap’s arse. It’s a rote “trust-no-one” shtick that’s as old as “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of the Condor,” the latter a film directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (TV’s “Community”) delusionally believe they are emanating.
    In truth, the only thing their forgettable popcorn flick has in common with “Condor” is the presence of Robert Redford, who sleepwalks through his first trek into superhero terrain. As shady S.H.I.E.L.D. bigwig Alexander Pierce, Redford speaks every line in a staid monotone, rendering Pierce the most vanilla villain in the Marvel universe. The novelty of seeing Redford cross over into the comics genre is intriguing as far as it goes, especially watching him and Jackson debate the fate of the world. But by the time the fire-and-brimstone finale arrives, that bridge is thoroughly burned. And not even a sight gag in which Redford keeps a jar of Newman’s Own spaghetti sauce in his fridge is going to redeem him.
    Besides, there’s a far more appetizing sauce around in the saucy Scarlett Johansson, reprising her role as the sexy, venerable Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff. Her character is about as Russian as a sheleighly, but provides plenty of punch as the Cap’s acrobatic sidekick. In fact, the movie doesn’t register a pulse until the two connect about an hour in and join forces with Cap’s new best friend, Sam Wilson (a terrific Anthony Mackie) aka The Falcon, to right what’s wrong with S.H.I.E.L.D. But first they’ll need to get through Cap’s old best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who it turns out didn’t die in that fall from the train in “First Avenger.” He was somehow revived, brainwashed and fitted with a powerful metal arm. He’s also apparently been granted eternal youth because like Cap, the newly minted Winter Soldier shows zero signs of mileage on his chassis despite being in his 90s.
    Page 2 of 2 - He and Cap have several violent, bullet-filled encounters over the course of the movie, but none of them have the firepower of the action scenes the now-departed director Joe Johnston brought to the original “Captain America,” which, with a few exceptions, kept things relatively realistic. In the sequel, it’s purely cartoon violence, the proverbial weakness of most superhero movies. There are spectacular freeway crashes, multiple explosions and enough mindless dialogue to make you think they mixed up some “Fast and Furious” footage during editing. The fight scenes are even worse, with the Russo brothers shooting everything with handheld cameras so shaky you can never be sure who is fighting whom.
    Yet, despite all the flaws, “The Winter Soldier” is never less than marginally watchable, even occasionally exciting. But you crave a more vibrant sense of humor. Superhero movies are supposed to be fun. This one is largely dour and severely lacking in heart. The only real emotion comes when Cap pays a visit to old flame Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who he’s somewhat shocked to learn is now a ninety-something invalid confined to a hospital bed. There’s also a nice moment when the Winter Soldier begins to remember his old buddy Steve Rogers and takes mercy on him.
    The film’s chief asset, though, is the Cap-Black Widow dynamic. They make the most of their love-hate relationship, emitting loads of sexual energy that they thankfully never act upon. Better to let it simmer for future installments, which I look forward to seeing. I also can’t get enough of those Stan Lee cameos, here bringing down the house as a museum guard who fires off a hilarious one-liner after discovering the Cap’s original red-white-and-blue uniform stolen. But the rest of what goes on is the same old same old we’ve come to expect from comic- book movies. That’s particularly disappointing for “Captain America,” which takes a sizable step down from the original, which featured a more cohesive story and made terrific use of its period WWII trappings. Where that film was like a credible Indiana Jones knockoff, “The Winter Soldier” feels more like a ruse to hold our attention until the writers devise something profound to propel “Captain America 3.” Here’s hoping they do.
    CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
    (PG-13 for intense sequence of violence, gunplay and action throughout.) Cast includes Chris Evans, Robert Redford, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Grade: C+

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