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Rated PG-13 · 135 min. · 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (PG-13) More consistent than the clunky Captain America: The First Avenger without quite scaling the heights of the best (nor plumbing the depths of the worst) of Marvel Studios’ ever-fattening oeuvre, Captain America: The Winter Soldier works as solid, big-budget entertainment. Despite surface-level attempts to include timely political commentary, this movie — deep down in its big, noisy heart — wants nothing more than to be a high-priced spectacle. To that end, the movie is mostly successful. Shorn of the first film’s tedious origin story, the sequel feels leaner and jumps straight into the action. The plot roams around a bit, but that isn’t a huge problem. After all, the storyline is simply a mode for transitioning from one explosion to another. The idea here is that Captain America (Chris Evans) — a WWII supersoldier bred by the military and accidentally frozen and thawed out decades later — is embroiled in a confusing and short-sighted plot to to dismantle S.H.I.E.L.D. and murder a ton of Americans. All of this seems to center on a mysterious masked assassin with a metal arm called The Winter Soldier. There are lots of fights along the way (for a PG-13 rating, the visceral nature of the violence is unexpected), a dumpster fire in an amateurish car chase, and plenty of CGI explosions and property damage. It’s the kind of sound and fury that has become so commonplace that the value of its spectacle has been totally lost. Captain America himself is a more interesting character outside of his origin story and placed inside this hero-outside-of-time scenario. It’s not only the culture shock (which is mostly played for laughs but is never quite overdone) but the greater issue of a wholly old-fashioned American superhero finding himself in a world with ethical shades of gray he never imagined. Here, the movie becomes critical of the current surveillance state and drone warfare, with a heavy dose paranoia. In theory, the simple inclusion of political commentary is commendable, but it doesn’t go anywhere or ultimately say much.
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Director: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo
Writer: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley
Producer: Kevin Feige
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson

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