'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' review: Hero who earns the label

RedEye's Matt Pais and Ernest Wilkins discuss the sequel that again suggests Captain America is the best Avenger and makes the best "Avengers" movies.

*** (out of four)

Some reasons “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a stupid name for a movie:

—After the awful season we just had, all Chicagoans deserve to be called Winter Soldiers.

—It’s spring.

—The title makes it look like Captain America is the Winter Soldier. He isn’t. Would a movie ever be called “Batman: The Joker”? No.

Whatever. Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), remains my favorite Marvel superhero. The strong, speedy guy may not have the power of Thor or the Hulk (and thus has less to do when fighting alongside them), but that’s what I like about him. His straightforward, human determination made 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” the best of the Avengers origin stories. “The Winter Soldier,” the best Marvel sequel, shows the guy’s still got it.

Still adjusting to post-”Avengers” life in the modern era (if I have that franchise-within-a-franchise chronology right), the recently unfrozen Rogers, who’s now roughly 95 years old but looks like he’s in his mid-30s, makes no time for dating—to the chagrin of Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). He’s all business but still has a sense of humor, and Evans’ effortless banter with both Johansson and Anthony Mackie, as Sam Wilson/The Falcon, is part of what makes this Captain America work. “The Winter Soldier” doesn’t try harder than it needs to for laughs (like the irritating Kat Dennings in the “Thor” movies), better blending those moments with “Whoa!”-inducing action that takes place among people on Earth, not gods in the sky or whatever.

Because this is a Marvel movie, “The Winter Soldier,” co-starring Robert Redford and helmed by Anthony and Joe Russo (“You, Me and Dupree”), takes too long establishing a central villain. The titular assassin’s hair and mask look like Jared Leto showed up at his kid’s “Dress like ‘Mortal Kombat’ “ day at school. (If that exists, it shouldn’t. ) A long running time and abundance of explanatory dialogue zap what is otherwise a crackling good time.

Yet it’s no small feat to make a conspiracy-related plotline valid again or to walk away from a 136-minute movie feeling like the story mostly was clean and efficient, with technological developments never dipping into techno-speak overkill. After all, this is Captain America. His square jaw isn’t the only square thing about him, and he’s more about action than words.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.

 

CHICAGO

More