April 29, 2016

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Grade: 60/100

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie

What it's about. A sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and a prequel to Captain America: Civil War (2016). Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a World War II American soldier who has somehow been transformed by mad scientists into a virtual Superman.

This being a comic book adaptation, he needs somebody to fight. In this film, it is the Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a buddy of Rogers during the war. Barnes has underdone the same transformation into a superhuman, but he was less fortunate than Rogers. The Winter Soldier has been brainwashed into a hit man by Hydra, which is an evil organization within Shield, supposedly the good-guy organization that secretly controls the world.

Hydra seeks dictatorship control of the world through the slaughter of millions of innocents. Bad guy Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is the cunning leader who runs both Shield and Hydra and favors the latter. Pierce dispatches the Winter Soldier to kill Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a Shield subleader who is too close to learning about Hydra.

Fury's assassination brings Captain America into Shield's unwitting confrontation with Hydra. The Winter Soldier is tasked with killing Captain America, leading to a climactic battle.

But Captain America does not fight alone. On his side are the Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and the Falcon, a.k.a. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Romanoff is a butt-kicking Russian hacker with less certain ethics than Captain America. She is also a Shield employee who reported to Fury. Wilson is a thirtysomething former Air Force pararescuer who becomes the Falcon when he dons futuristic Icarus wings.

How others will see it. A global commercial success, the film confirmed that the Captain America franchise has surpassed Batman in terms of financial prowess. Critical response was mixed, and the film garnered only a single Oscar nomination, in the Best Visual Effects category. At the Saturn Awards, the movie had a whopping 11 nominations, but somehow managed to lose them all, even in the Best Comic-to-Film Motion Picture category.

But the popularity of The Winter Soldier is unquestionable. It has a huge 465K user votes at imdb.com, and a high user rating of 7.8 out of 10. Unsurprisingly, those under age 18 grade it highest (8.4), and U.S. voters push it higher (8.1) than non-U.S. voters (7.5). Otherwise, the grades are generally consistent across demographics.

Most viewers find the movie thrilling, even though it is certain that Captain America, like James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt, will return for his next sequel. In fact, all the well-known Marvel characters manage to survive, and that includes Nick Fury.

How I felt about it.

It's better than expected. The movie is well cast, in that even the bad guys are likable. The dialogue is above grade-school level. The special effects are well crafted. And it is time that we admit Scarlett Johansson is a good actress in addition to her status as an exceptionally beautiful woman.

But the plot is a mess. There's too much story, and it is too preposterous. It is also derivative. Hydra is effectively a terrorist organization with a mission to conquer and control the world. It's Spectre with another name. The twist is that Hydra is staffed by good guys following orders, who are too stupid to realize that they are murdering other good guys.

James Bond can be down to Earth, at least when he isn't posing as a womanizing, martini- drinking suit given expensive toys. But Captain America is bound to his shield and costume. He's a good guy with a high body count and an inability to distinguish between serial killers and childhood friends.