‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ keeps the Marvel movie train rolling full steam ahead

Captain America Winter Soldier shield

Captain America is back, and he’s better than ever. In just a few short days, audiences have rewarded Marvel’s latest effort with cash — lots of it.

The Hollywood Reporter tallied the numbers:

Continuing Marvel and Disney’s enviable winning streak, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is making history at the global box office, debuting to a record-breaking $96.2 million in North America for an early worldwide total of $303.3 million.

Reviewing ‘Captain America: The Winter Solider’ is tough to do without adding spoilers. How do you critique an espionage tale without giving away the best parts? I’ll give it a shot.

Long story short: Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) find themselves in a situation where it’s essentially them against the world as they try and unravel the mystery behind an attack on Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. They handle the situation with wit, intelligence, strength, speed, and agility. The chemistry between each of them was great, and Marvel would be wise to continue keeping the three of them together moving forward.

At one point in the film, Cap manages to find a way to directly address agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He wants them to disobey a direct order — one that may end up costing them their lives — and in doing so he tells the audience what the film is essentially about.

Attention all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, this is Steve Rogers. You’ve heard a lot about me over the last few days. Some of you were even ordered to hunt me down. But I think it’s time you know the truth. S.H.I.E.L.D is not what we thought it was. … They almost have what they want: absolute control. … I know I’m asking a lot. The price of freedom is high. It always has been. That’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it — but I’m willing to bet I’m not.

What is the price of freedom? If you’re a wise guy who enjoyed ‘Team America: World Police,’ you might say “freedom costs a buck-o-five.” If you’re a serious person, you might say that it’s a tough call because those in positions of power have to find a way to maximize both individual liberty and security.

Winter Soldier

How do you protect a nation when there are individuals and organizations tirelessly plotting ways to take down free societies? When you’re facing down enemies who see no difference between civilian and military targets — when you’re up against an opponent who has erased any notion of the traditional battlefield and replaced it with one where everything is fair game, how much power are you willing to grant your protectors? As Captain America says to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s agents: our leaders want “absolute control.” But then the question becomes: Who watches the watchmen? What happens when the ones who protect us lose their way?

Captain America

Director Joe Russo fills in the details during an interview with Mother Jones:

“[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller. […] So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience. … That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president’s kill list, preemptive technology. [etc.]”

While I’m actually rather shocked that a Hollywood director had the guts to say that concerns over President Obama’s “Terror Tuesday Kill List” helped inspire a top-notch Marvel movie, on some level it’s no surprise given that the industry’s old-reliable when it comes to political thrillers is to blame America.

As I said in October when the first trailer came out:

The trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier is finally here. The good news is that it looks like it has all the makings of solid espionage fare: Robert Redford? Check. Russian spies? Check. Shady spy agencies? Check.

The bad news? It has all the makings of a blame-America espionage flick. …

Mullah nuts in the Middle East who deny the Holocaust and call for pushing the Jews “into the sea”? Eh. Chinese Communist intelligence agencies who have never met a U.S. business or defense contractor they wouldn’t hack? Eh. Nebulous terrorist organizations that don’t fly under a flag, even as they plot and plan to kill military and civilian targets on a massive scale? Eh. CIA attempts to “connect the dots” and “neutralize” threats before thousands of Americans die on their way to work on a Tuesday morning? Now there’s a movie!

Is it annoying that Marvel went for the easy layup by once again putting America in the cross hairs? Yes, slightly. Was the movie entertaining? Of course. In fact, I highly recommend it. It’s just odd that critics of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ would have a point if they said it would have been better off going with ‘Captain America: Disillusioned with America.’ The movie has an assassin with a big red Soviet star on his metallic arm but no one talks about Communism, except for a passing reference? If the next installment doesn’t get into KGB agents and the world-wide espionage perpetrated by the Evil Empire, then Marvel should just openly admit that its favorite movie bad guys are aliens and Americans.

At the end of the day, there isn’t much to really complain about regarding Cap’s second solo outing. If Marvel continues churning out quality products like this, then Phase II, III, IV and V should roll along quite nicely. If you get a chance to see ‘Winter Soldier’ in theaters, check it out. You’ll be glad you did.