Chris Evans and Scarlett Johanson bring depth to their characters with exciting performances.
Chris Evans and Scarlett Johanson bring depth to their characters with exciting performances.

I wasn’t particularly excited to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The first one was probably my least favorite of the Marvel Comic Universe films, and while Steve Rogers pulled his weight in “The Avengers,” I wasn’t sure that he could carry an entire film. Captain America is the definition of goodness! How could a film about him be interesting?

I was completely wrong.

How do you make a film about a good guy who’s dedicated to serving the government interesting? You question whether that government is doing the right thing. Then you’ve got a spy thriller that grabs your attention and never lets go.

Chris Evans steps up as our hero, bringing an emotional depth to the character that had been missing before. We empathize with him as he tries to make sense of the chaos around him. When Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury warns Rogers to trust no one, it sets him off on a paranoid journey to save himself — and, since this is a superhero movie, the world too.

That journey is a unique one for the genre. Captain America finds himself on the outside, trying to take down a governmental organization. There’s a lot in the film about the politics of government surveillance and how far we’re willing to go to be “safe.” Those are heavy questions for a summer — alright, late spring — blockbuster, but the film handles them deftly and with real gravitas.

Captain America is the perfect character to go on that journey, the World War 2 hero who would do anything to serve his country, only to find it unrecognizable decades later. Steve fought for liberty and his country’s safety when those values didn’t seem to contradict. Now that they do, he struggles to find balance.

But for all the seriousness, it’s still a Marvel film, which means it’s still funny and bright. Things get dark, but there’s none of Christopher Nolan’s self-important monologuing here.

The movie is also bolstered by a strong supporting cast. Scarlett Johansson proved yet again how badly we need a Black Widow movie as the mysterious Natasha Romanoff continues to be a highlight of the MCU films. She’s unlike most women we’ve seen on screen before: strong yet vulnerable, loyal yet untrusting and desperately running from a past we know very little about. Though the film’s marketing campaign tried to portray her as the “sexy one,” contorting her into strange poses, her character exists not for the male gaze, but for the story. She’s the second most important character in the film, and she balances Evans out perfectly.

Anthony Mackie also has a memorable turn as Sam Wilson, Falcon. He’s a former soldier who works at the VA with those suffering from PTSD; it’s obvious why he and Steve have a strong connection. The one sticking point in the film was the characters we didn’t see; since “The Avengers,” every time one of these super heroes handles a crisis, I can’t help but wonder why they don’t call the others in to help. The film is a little clumsy in explaining that away, and I couldn’t help but think about how Steve should’ve gotten some of Tony Stark’s tech savvy guidance.

The film was also refreshing because its action sequences were unique. Unlike others who rely on gadgets (Batman), guns (Iron Man) or flight (Superman), Captain America has his own two fists and an awesome shield, and he makes the most of them. When he goes punch for punch with the bad guys, tensions are high. More hand to hand combat would energize these films.

Lastly, the ending is bold, changing everything for these films (and the “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” television show) going forward. Just when you worried that they might get stuck in a rut, they flipped the script, putting all the characters into a completely different place. And I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

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