BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps getting better and better. After the tempting mid-credits scene that followed “Thor: The Dark World,” it was difficult to wait for the following MCU installment, leaving viewers to wonder where this expansive film project will take its fans next. The places it takes us in the latest outing are some of the best ever.
Marvel Studios’ series of films now brings us back to their American-pride superhero. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” delivers the best MCU solo film since the original “Iron Man.” In a movie that’s both thrilling, action-packed and intricate, the film represents a high point for this massive MCU undertaking.
Two years after the events of “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is living in Washington, D.C. and working closely with secret organization SHIELD. After SHIELD Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) introduces Rogers to Project Insight, a program aimed to preemptively take out enemies, he’s attacked by an assailant known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Fury manages to escape and notifies Rogers that SHIELD has been compromised. It’s now up to Rogers and SHIELD spy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to put a stop to this new enemy and uncover a conspiracy that has been taking root within SHIELD for decades.
Just like Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans is an ideal fit as Captain America. With his all-American look and attitude, he’s a superhero to rally behind. What makes his character even more layered this time around is the fact that he now has to use his powers against someone who was once his friend, as well as others he didn’t think would turn on him. This all adds more to the dramatic side of his character, a side that needs to be, and is, displayed in these heightened stakes.
Sebastian Stan, who played Rogers’ friend, Bucky Barnes, in the first film, returns for the sequel as the Winter Soldier. In a mostly non-vocal performance, this character, without a doubt, is the best antagonist in the MCU since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the “Thor” films and “The Avengers.” The performance is mostly in the eyes that are filled with the relentless determination of an enemy who is intent on eliminating his targets. Just like Loki, the Winter Soldier comes with his share of complexity, and it’s this trait that allows the viewer to see the actor play out his character’s struggle in going from being an old friend of Captain America to being his new adversary.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have written the screenplays for “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” return for their third script with the MCU, their stories continuing to expand this universe in a considerable manner. The screenplay is terrifically paced between moments of character, moments of suspense and moments of action. It’s for this reason that their story is one of the most complex that has been told for these films because this entry does not only have the makings of a superhero movie, but also the elements of spy thrillers, all of it wrapped in a plot involving conspiracy.
Their story also presents some interesting new characters, such as Steve Rogers’ friend Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the mysterious Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). There’s also SHIELD operative Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo). Although he isn’t much of a character now, he’s someone who could possibly play a bigger part in future “Captain America” films if he comes back as the villain Crossbones.
As many people should know who are invested in the MCU films, many include a hugely enticing mid-credits scene and/or post-credits scene. Although this one has both, it’s the mid-credits scene that is sure to get viewers talking. It’s one of the best credits scenes yet for a Marvel film, and it introduces three very important supporting characters who will appear in next May’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which will conclude Phase Two.
Most of the Russo brothers’ directing experience comes from television sitcoms, such as “Community” and “Arrested Development,” and their biggest film before their dip into Marvel was 2006’s “You, Me and Dupree,” so it was a challenge to believe that the “Captain America” sequel would turn out as terrific as it did. These two bring some of the best action sequences that we have seen so far in these MCU films. From the fights in the streets to the climactic aerial fight involving the colossal Helicarriers, the Russos have a surprisingly skillful hand at creating coherent fight scenes, as well as a solid understanding of the characters. The street fight between Steve Rogers and the Winer Soldier is especially well-choreographed.
I don’t mind a bit of humor in superhero movies, but one thing I enjoyed most about the film was its darker tone, given that this film had more going for it than its superhero aspects. The jokes that were there, however, were funny without being dumb, and there wasn’t anything nearly as annoying as the Darcy Lewis nonsense from the “Thor” movies. Even though the Russos have mainly worked with comedic material in television and film in the past, they manage to create scenarios that are tense and exciting, which is exactly what a film from Marvel Studios should be.
The Russos have made one of the smartest and most fun Marvel films since the Avengers started to band together. It’s only going to keep building from here, and I’m very much anticipating whatever events may occur in the next MCU film, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which arrives in August. That will be the last solo film before “Age of Ultron.” Everything has been preparing us for the next round-up of Marvel’s famed group of superheroes, as the connections to the “Avengers” sequel become stronger with each installment of Phase Two.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will certainly tide fans over until he reenters for “Age of Ultron,” and when he and the others return, it’s going to be grand.
Final grade: A-