Soap Operas are alive and ticking in the Marvel Universe. In this adaptation of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Marvel superheroes and supervillains share their histories via flashbacks, and expository dialog augmented by family portraits hanging on the wall
Characters believed to be long dead return in reinvented forms, and some, such as Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), struggle to find a place in this brave new world.
That world is an alternative universe constructed from current ideology and somewhat futuristic technology. It speaks to us in a cautionary voice that questions whether hard-won freedoms ought be traded for feelings of enhanced security.
Whether we’ve grown ignorant or have simply evolved beyond revolting in response to excess taxation, this “Captain America” sequel scolds us for assuming that our nanny government also has our best interests at heart.
In this film, Marvel’s heroes sometimes resent risking their lives for the freedoms we no longer value. Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- an agency functioning as the CIA and U.S. Military Special Ops combined.
The film opens with a daring mission to seize a U.S. Government ship hijacked by terrorists. Rogers (reanimated following 70 years of cryo-sleep) signs on to keep a futuristic weapon from falling into evil hands, unaware that Natasha’s assignment is to gather intelligence from a computer housed aboard the ship, and unaware that evil has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.
Back on land, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director of operations Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), attempts to fend off assassins during a heart-stopping sequence. When it isn’t sandwiched between other vehicles, Fury’s smart car pilots itself to safety. As Fury and his car battle to escape a hail of gunfire, the car reports armor integrity falling to 35 percent, then thoughtfully informs him that the air conditioning system remains at 100 percent.
Behind the scenes at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, we see director Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) seeming to conspire with top U.S. Government officials, against his own agents. However, Pierce’s ambiguous actions may obscure his actual agenda.
Anthony Mackie appears as modern day war vet Sam Wilson, a caring hero who spots in Rogers a kindred soul worth putting his life on the line to repeatedly rescue. When S.H.I.E.L.D. turns against Rogers and Natasha, Wilson gladly gives them shelter, and when a monstrous assassin, code-named Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), has the agents on the ropes, Wilson arrives to save their bacon in his superhero form of the mechanically winged Falcon.
Sporting a mechanical arm and wearing a hodgepodge of protective armor, Winter Soldier is difficult to damage let alone defeat, especially for Rogers who recognizes the assassin as the brainwashed reincarnation of Roger’s best friend Bucky Barnes — thought killed during WWII.
Numerous twists, some surprising, others telegraphed, are entwined throughout this action-heavy exercise in skeptical thinking. Soap opera elements include a “will they or won’t they” attraction between Rogers/Captain America and Natasha. More melodrama is created from Captain America’s refusal to let go of his own past including the upright views that first “brung” Rogers to the superhero dance.
Whether tiptoeing through a museum dedicated to himself and the other Avengers, or using his martial arts prowess to even the odds in an uneven fight, Captain America stands for a special brand of patriotism. Love it or hate it — that’s good melodrama.