“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” attempts to introduce a conspiracy thriller edge into the comic book genre, and critics are hailing the sequel as a more mature and thoughtful brand of blockbuster entertainment.
The film finds the star-spangled Avenger fighting murky enemies, whose tendrils extend to the upper echelons of the American government. Directed by franchise newcomers Joe and Anthony Russo, the movie evokes paranoid pop culture landmarks such as “All the President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor,” and not just in its casting of Robert Redford in a pivotal role.
The sequel, which brings back Chris Evans as the shield-throwing defender of liberty and Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and introduces Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, is earning some of the strongest notices of any Marvel Studios release. The movie, which opens Friday, holds a 92 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes days before its debut. Some critics have yet to weigh in on the picture, but its current rating is well ahead of the first “Captain America” adventure’s 79 percent positive rating and in the same league as “The Avengers” and its 92 percent thumbs up mark.
In TheWrap, Alonso Duralde praised the film’s intelligence and said it raised the bar for the kinds of geopolitical issues that a superhero movie can tackle.
“If you’re just here to watch Cap (Chris Evans) beat up a bunch of well-trained tough guys in a tiny elevator, you’ll get that in spades, but if you prefer superhero movies that allow themselves to run a gamut wider than A to B, there’s that as well,” Duralde wrote.
“Captain America’s” look at government espionage and drone killings holds a mirror to the post-9/11 world order, Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News argued. Despite its heady subject matter, it remains vigorously entertaining, he wrote.
“A great international thriller, it engages the world at large yet stays focused as a sharp cast led by Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford support the star-spangled main man,” Neumaier wrote.
It’s pleasures are ephemeral, but ample, wrote the Associated Press’ Jake Coyle.
“So while ‘The Winter Soldier’ succeeds as finely engineered merchandise built to be crowd-pleasing entertainment, for moviegoers and shareholder alike, it has a shelf life that won’t last much past its running time,” Coyle wrote.
Randy Myers of the San Jose Mercury News echoed Neumaier and Duralde in praising the film’s willingness to take risks with a genre that usually traffics in white hat, black hat morality.
“The result is an intelligent and gripping conspiracy thriller that’s torn-from-the-headlines relevant,” Myers wrote. “In the best comic-book tradition, ‘Winter Soldier’ delivers a topical message, stressing the importance of freedom and cautioning us to not be so quick about handing it over when confronted with fear.”
Not everyone loved the detours into Realpolitik. In a generally laudatory review, Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger said he preferred his comic book films with a little more pow, zap and bam and a little less Edward Snowden-esque intrigue.
“So do see the latest ‘Captain America’ for its chase scenes (including a particularly spectacular one through D.C.), the saucy presence of Johansson, a few quick jokes (is that a bottle of Paul Newman spaghetti sauce in Redford’s fridge?) and new recruit Anthony Mackie, who adds some high-flying action,” he wrote.
Before adding, “But let’s just hope the Captain’s next adventure brings even more comic-book wonders — and fewer real-life reminders.”
Lou Lumenick of the New York Post was one of the film’s few detractors, comparing it unfavorably to the first installment. In this case, too much plot and too many characters gum up the works, he opined.
“New characters who will presumably have bigger roles in future ‘Captain America’ and ‘Avengers’ movies are introduced at regular intervals, which tends to slow down a rather talky movie that’s singularly lacking in any kind of suspense,” Lumenick wrote.