He’s masked and ridiculously buff, but, just like us, he has trouble fitting in with the life he was handed. Maybe that sounds like standard-issue comic-book agony, befitting every hero from Peter Parker to Howard the Duck, but this film tries and succeeds at extending the idea.
Captain America has been asleep since his heyday. He was the best of the greatest generation: a WWII superhero. The first resurrection movie located him in his own time zone; it was thick with gorgeous style, boogie-woogie musical numbers, and a war set within the bigger war. But now he’s here with no way home. The new film opens with a seemingly routine rescue of hostages on a pirated tanker. There are gymnastic battles and snappy banter between our hero and the fabulous Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but it all quickly grows more immersive. Converging plots reveal a nicely complicated Looking-Glass War pointing in all directions. Meanwhile, the good guys are undermined, and the audience is left to wonder whether Samuel L. Jackson or Robert Redford might be behind the comic-book-plausible plot to launch a Fourth Reich.
While The Winter Soldier lacks all that 1940s panache and fedora appeal, it’s beautifully set up and, more importantly, fraught with consequences — or at least the Marvel version thereof. (In comic books, nobody dies forever.) The film’s best scenes nod to the Captain’s past, like a touching reunion with his Army girlfriend Peggy Carter. (At least two villains return, too.) The worst parts take place when the filmmakers lose their narrative nerves and go all Star Wars on us. (For suspense to work, you can’t insulate a hero from harm — just look at boring Superman.) Luckily, this set of tights comes with some great moves, a requisite quotient of awe, and, best of all, a built-in sense of permanent loss. The credits are amazing, too.