Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
With the epic battle in New York in the rear view mirror, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) himself, is working for SHIELD. He takes on countless missions around the world, anything and everything that threatens national and international security, often with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) working with him. Captain America and the Black Widow pull off one dangerous mission in the Indian Ocean, but it has dangerous repercussions. It actually exposes a breach within Shield and now Captain America is made to look like a traitor to everything he has defended for all these years. With all of SHIELD's resources on his trail, he's now on his own as he tries to stop a diabolical plan that could kill millions while also proving his innocence. His biggest obstacle? A mysterious, seemingly in destructible assassin dubbed the Winter Soldier.
A plot description for an Avengers movie is pretty unnecessary. Without hearing a word about the story, you either know you will or won't be seeing this flick. From directors Anthony and Joe Russo, 'Soldier' is another gem, another worthy addition to the Avengers franchise. Apparently I'm not the only one who thought so as the most recent Captain America earned over $700 million internationally at the box office. All the ingredients are there -- great cast, epic action, well-written script, some well-placed humor -- but there's a reason the Captain movies are my favorite. They're big, giant blockbusters, but they're more than that. These are genuinely smart movies. I don't know if I can say the same for either Iron Man or Thor entries.
It all starts with Chris Evans reprising his role as Captain America. He's long been one of my favorite actors, and this is obviously his biggest and most recognizable role. I love how they've developed the Steve Rogers character. It's been a couple years since the Avengers, and Steve/Captain is still adjusting to the 21st Century after six-plus decades being frozen in a glacier. His chemistry with Johansson's Black Widow/Natasha is evident in all their scenes together, and it's definitely cool to see individuals among the Avengers get some time to themselves, not just as part of the group. Also cool? Like you needed to know, but Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, SHIELD's tough, efficient leader. Throw these three epically cool characters together, and you've got quite a lot of heroes to lead the way.
Also returning with varying amounts of screentime are Cobie Smulders as SHIELD agent Hill, Toby Jones, and Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Steve's possible love interest from the 1940s, now a grandma struggling with health issues.
How about some fresh blood too?!? When I saw that Robert Redford was part of the cast, I almost lost my mind. Robert REDFORD?!? Here he plays Alexander Pierce, a powerful senator backing the defensive efforts of SHIELD who has a long history working with Fury. It's a cool part, one that adds another dimension to the already enjoyable story. Anthony Mackie is a welcome addition to as Sam Wilson, a para-rescue vet who forms a quick friendship with Steve when things hit the fan. Frank Grillo and Callan Mulvey play members of a strike force working with SHIELD while Emily VanCamp plays Steve's neighbor holding a key secret. Some cool parts to add to an already very talented cast.
So go figure, but this Captain America movie has some pretty cool action sequences. Crazy, right? I don't want to give away too much because the various twists and turns should come as a surprise and not be spoiled in a review. The action though is pretty solid, from a smaller scale scene early on where Captain, Widow and a Strike force team take out a group of commandos holding hostages to chases sprinkled throughout the story. I thought the coolest was Jackson's Fury trying to evade an ambush on the streets of Washington D.C., just an effortlessly smooth extended sequence that some cool tricks up its sleeve. And the finale? Yeah, pretty nuts, a gigantic battle in scale and size in the skies in and around Washington. The finale in The Avengers set the bar pretty high in that department, and 'Soldier' does its best to reach those heights.
Just a good movie with a lot to recommend. This is a blockbuster -- $700 million!!! -- that's got a brain. Even the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) isn't an out-and-out villain, but a tortured baddie forced into something he had no control over. There's a pretty major twist near the halfway point that I didn't love, but it does work when all things are considered, both for this movie and the Captain America and Avengers franchise going forward. Highly recommended, an easy flick to sit back, watch and appreciate.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): *** 1/2 /****