MPW-92327Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).

D: Anthony & Joe Russo. DP: Trent Opaloch. W: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. (Based on the Marvel comic books by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.) Starring: Chris Evans/Samuel L. Jackson/ Scarlett Johansson/Robert Redford/Anthony Mackie/Sebastian Stan/Cobie Smulders/Emily VanCamp/Hayley Atwell/Toby Jones/Frank Grillo.

This will be a season of sequels, now to be expected from American movie studios. As comic book movies get bigger and louder and more expensive, is there really anything left to see?

Like with most sequels, comparisons to the first movie are inevitable. So when my younger brother got super pumped about watching a double feature of Captain America I went along. So not only would I compare the two movies, but was encouraged to do so. The verdict? I liked the second more.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up where The Avengers left off, sort of. Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers is acclimating to his life in Washington DC, working for Shield, and building a tense rapport with Natasha (aka Black Widow) played and pouted by Scarlett Johansson. Evans’ moral compass continues to wreck havoc on his relationship with Shield and his boss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Which ultimately becomes the driving question behind this movie, who is good and who is bad and the company you think is good may in fact be bad. Total snoozefest.

However, what saves this boring basic plot line is the silent, conflicted, and menacing presence of Sebastian Stan as the winter soldier. Without giving anything away that the promos haven’t, his relationship with Evans’ Captain America brings this action movie into a more personal space. What is boring about Steve Rogers is his lack of any sort of inner conflict or darkness. Even if something is morally grey, everything is processed externally for him and quantified. This makes him feel outdated and forces the script to fall back on silly fish out of water jokes to build his personality. Rather Stan’s performance is everything non existent in Evans and is not only the perfect foil for the hero, but much more fun to watch. Not nearly as creative or as fleshed out, the winter soldier is akin to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight in plot functionality and narrative dimension.

What is also very successful here is the hand to hand combat. Although there is far too much excessive violence, much like last summer’s Man of Steel, the non CGI fighting between Evans and Stan is tense, intricate, and masterful. Clearly the Russos knew that this story would have to be fought differently than its predecessor. There is one sequence in an elevator that is action movie fighting at its best and most fun. Thankfully Anthony Mackie’s Falcon was also there to bring some color and freshness to the world along with a impeccably wardrobed Robert Redford as a Shield big wig. I consider this an improvement over the first film and not a waste of time, so a win?

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