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Thursday, April 10, 2014 12:01 am

Cap 2: Sober reflection

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers in Captain America.

 

While it could be argued that Captain America is the least “super” of the superheroes in the Marvel Comics universe, there’s no question he carries the most symbolic weight. The character, having been created at the dawn of World War II, was an obvious propaganda symbol used to rally support for the growing threat in war-torn Europe. After all, the very first issue of his own comic book features him giving Hitler a great big roundhouse to the jaw. Patriotism was his and his creators’ strong suit – subtlety, not so much.

As the need for a symbol to rally around came and went, so did the character’s popularity. It should come as no surprise that after World War II and throughout the Cold War, the character ceased to be published with his ultimate return to comics predicated more by financial concerns than the need for a red, white and blue boy scout. However, since then the hero has had to question repeatedly, not so much what he stands for, but what the government he represents does. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement caused the character do a great deal of soul searching while the later part of the 20th century saw him adrift with little purpose.

All of which makes Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier all the more intriguing. They and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have wisely continued this method of questioning the validity of the symbol and the man by looking at how this paragon of patriotism fits into a world in which his ideals are woefully out of step with the ever changing geopolitical landscape of today. The answer is at once intriguing, sobering and exciting. The film surprisingly rivals Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in complexity and scope in the way it looks at real world issues through a deceptively simple comic book aesthetic.

While the movie wastes little time plunging our hero into action, it wisely starts with a more introspective moment as we see Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) still trying to fit in to a world he doesn’t know. Having been frozen for the better part of five decades, he’s a walking anachronism, yet as any good soldier would, he’s trying to adapt, keeping a list of watershed cultural moments and happenings (“I Love Lucy,” Thai food and the moon landing among them) that’s he determined to get caught up on. The music of Marvin Gaye is recommended by his new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) before the good captain is whisked off to take care of a case of piracy in the Atlantic with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in tow. While he’s there to neutralize the enemy and rescue hostages, she’s along to make sure some sensitive information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and is returned to S.H.E.I.L.D. headquarters and her superior Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, at his glowering best).

This seemingly routine mission sets off a chain reaction that none of the principal characters could anticipate, least of all the head of the organization Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), who’s stunned when Fury asks him to delay the launch of a top-secret project that will change the face of international security. This simple request triggers a series of events that leaves a significant player at death’s door and Captain America and the Black Widow on the run. S.H.E.I.L.D. itself has been compromised and they have no one to trust but each other.

Unlike the other Marvel movies, this plays less like a superhero epic and more like an espionage-based thriller from the 1970s. It’s no accident that Redford has been added to the cast. In addition to bringing a much needed sense of gravitas to ground the movie, his presence can’t help but remind viewers of a certain age of Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men, films that operate much like this one does where government agencies are seen as duplicitous, rogue organizations that threaten freedom rather than protect it.

As Cap and the Black Widow attempt to clear their name, car chases, gun battles and bouts of hand-to-hand combat become the order of the day, all of which are executed in a slick, exciting manner. However, the one theme that’s ever present is the conflict between the present and the past. Rogers is stuck between them and whenever he seems to be making strides toward acclimating to the world of today, something reminds him of yesterday, whether it be seeing an exhibit at the Smithsonian dedicated to his WW II exploits, visiting his old love Peggy (Hayley Atwell) on her deathbed or dealing with a new threat, the Winter Soldier, who has connections to his past that he can’t even begin to contemplate. The captain’s struggle is our struggle.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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