Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Redford. Rated PG. Now playing
What makes a man put on a flag costume and carry a shield?
For Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), it is his humility as a former nerd, his unquestionable albeit chemically enhanced leadership skills, and his fervent martial spirit, which arose from a selfless desire to share the burdens of friends going off to fight the Second World War.
As shown in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Rogers was transformed by comic-book science into a superhuman specimen, issued with stretchy uniforms and sent by the army (and, later, ominous wetwork agency SHIELD) to fight… who exactly? These and similar questions are raised by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which the hero grapples with his service and Marvel Entertainment attempts the paranoid-thriller genre.
The movie opens with Steve Rogers undergoing yet more drastic transformation. He and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are first seen as part of a SHIELD strike team, eliminating a shipload of kidnappers with ninjalike élan. While this lifestyle is acceptable to Black Widow, the honourable Cap cannot fail to consider the scope and effect of his orders, and their propriety.
So Cap is troubled even before he meets the Winter Soldier, a legendary assassin. His poetic handle recalls the Winter Soldier Investigation into Vietnam-era atrocities, which in turn referenced Thomas Paine’s conception of “the summer soldier”, who serves when it is easy to do so.
And yet it is not a heavy movie, thanks to a hectic pace established by directing brothers Anthony and Joseph Russo. While the major effects are saved for the end (in whatever sense an episode of an ongoing fantasy epic can be said to end), there are considerable human effects provided by Robert Redford, as SHIELD’s wise political overseer, and by Evans, whose performance as Cap suggests that the spangliest of the Marvel superheroes is also its most genial, wistful, and radical.