By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Think of him as an analog operative in a digital universe, an old-fashioned superhero in a new-fashioned world, a square peg in a roundup of the usual suspects.
He was a courageous, shield-wielding World War II era super-soldier, born in the Marvel Comics universe, having left the civilian life he lived as one scrawny Steve Rogers, in a straight-faced and straight-laced superhero fantasy.
Now he’s a retro, red-white-and-blue patriot, played once again by Chris Evans, who finds himself in a new world trying to adjust to life in contemporary Washington, DC, where black and white values have turned into a grey area, and where privacy and liberty and trust seem like things of the geopolitical past as opposed to widespread conspiracy and extravagant surveillance, which would appear to dominate the present.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was a spirited mix of action, science fiction, fantasy, humor, nostalgia, and romance that stopped us from feeling superheroed out.
This followup, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has the same mix but isn’t quite as spirited, kicking off with the recently defrosted Captain America trying to rescue a group of hostages.
Scarlett Johansson plays the former Soviet operative “Black Widow,” also known as Natasha Romanoff, who joins forces with captain America to stop a covert enemy and save S.H.I.E.L.D. from itself.
The film’s subtitle refers to the deadly and familiar assassin standing in their way.
Anthony Mackie is ex-paratrooper Sam Wilson, otherwise known as the Falcon. Look for him to help out in the clutch.
And they’re working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Meanwhile, Robert Redford plays Fury’s mentor, State Department honcho Alexander Pierce.
Unfortunately but not disastrously, both thrills and smiles are in shorter supply this time out as the past intrudes on the present.
One of the reasons why this sequel doesn’t equal is that, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the protagonist is no longer an undersized underdog instantly worthy of our rooting interest.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree; Welcome to Collinwood) work from a script by the same screenwriters who wrote the original, Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely. Their second excursion into superhero territory is more topical if no less shallow than its predecessor, but leans far too heavily on an almost ridiculously extended action climax.
Even more bothersome: with all the thematic and comedic possibilities offered by a fish-out-of-water premise in which a World War II hero finds himself in the modern world, the north-of-two-hours Captain America: The Winter Soldier script barely acknowledges the concept. Wasted opportunity, that.
As for the numerous action sequences, they’re technically polished but edited with such whiplash-frenetic speed, they lose a large measure of credibility as they begin to resemble virtual animation.
Evans (who also played a Marvels Comics character, the Human Torch, in two Fantastic Four flicks) doesn’t embarrass himself, but he comes up a bit short in the charisma department. You could almost describe his Captain America as retiring.
Nothing retiring these days about the array of Marvel Comics characters on movie screens, of course. But in this instance, been-there-done-that fatigue and enough-already reservations set in long before the Marvelous dust settles.
So we’ll shield 2 stars out of 4 for a comic-book-come-to-life sequel, the second Captain America action-adventure thriller. Call it the Winter Soldier of our discontent.