You can’t fault this high-energy/high-drama follow-up for being unambitious.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” ups the ante on the franchise debut three years ago and arguably on superhero adventures in general when it come to pure adrenaline-pumping action and on attempts to incorporate weighty contemporary moral, ethical and socio-political issues onto the plot. Ultimately, it goes a bit too far and bogs down in both areas, but if you can factor that out it’s as impressive as it is entertaining.
The new “Captain America” was directed by comedy specialists Anthony and Joe Russo, a brother team whose resume includes TV’s “Community” and “Arrested Development” and the 2006 Owen Wilson vehicle “You, Me and Dupree.” So the film is at its best when they’re content to demonstrate a light touch — with the humorous content and the fast-paced, extremely athletic action set-pieces.
After being frozen in ice for 70 years following the World War II adventures of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and thawed just in time to participate in “The Avengers,” Cap (Chris Evans) is adjusting reasonably well to life in the 21st century. Though his old-fashioned, black-and-white values occasionally put him into conflict in a modern world that’s no longer quite so simple. He resists the attempts of Avengers cohort Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to hook him up with various ladies in the D.C. headquarters of the national security agency S.H.I.E.L.D. And, more significantly, he’s opposed to the plan of S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, fabulous as usual) to launch three enormous heli-carriers designed to maintain perpetual surveillance on everyone, everywhere, and capable of wiping out thousands, instantly, without benefit of trial.
And, of course, it would be a terrible thing if they fell into the hands of the wrong people — for example the supposedly wiped out world-domination outfit Hydra.
There’s nothing wrong with tapping into the modern ethical conundrums such as blanket government surveillance and drone warfare for thematic substance, of course. (Especially since that involves Robert Redford making his action-blockbuster debut as the head of the World Security Council.) Or with serving up some deep-dish personal drama when Cap uncovers a disturbing revelation about the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a Cold War-era super assassin with abilities rivaling his own. It’s not a good thing, though, when your super-mega-spectacular-slambang action finale has to wedge in so much political philosophy and emotional angst that you’re checking your watch and hoping it’ll be over soon.
Even so, there’s more to like here than to dislike and the stuff that works works wonderfully well. It’s worth sitting through almost anything to see Captain America adding Marvin Gaye’s 1972 soundtrack to “Trouble Man” to the list of things he needs to catch up on.