April 5, 2014 at 6:11 AM ET
Get ready: It's going to be a superhero-filled summer, with "Amazing Spider-Man 2" crawling the walls May 2, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" mutating into theaters May 23 and the "Guardians of the Galaxy" team landing on Aug. 1.
Superhero movies haven't been just for Comic-Con attendees for a long time now. But there's something special about "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" that makes it especially approachable for everyone, not just those who'll get all of the film's inside Marvel Universe jokes (and there are plenty).
(Warning: Some spoilers follow.)
The hero started out as wimpy as the rest of us
Captain America (Chris Evans) started out as Steve Rogers, a weakling, puny type who desperately wanted to fight the Nazis along with the rest of his 1940s generation. He was 5'4" and 95 pounds before the super soldier serum turned him into a 6'2" 240-pound muscled hunk. He's well aware of his powers now, but he's still that regular guy inside, and it shows in his actions.
He's got Greatest Generation morality in a Millennial bod
As befits a World War II veteran and someone who carries the name "America" in his title, this is the hero who will open the door for you, carry Grandma's groceries to the car and swim through fire to save an innocent victim. In the new movie, he's even confronted about his history. "Greatest Generation?" scoffs Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). "You guys did some nasty stuff." ("Operation Paperclip" is later specifically referenced.) Captain America acknowledges that yes, compromises were made, but in his mind, they were done so "people could be free." He tries his best to fit in, even taking notes that he has to listen to Nirvana and Marvin Gaye, but at home, it's 1940s tunes that play from his record player. And he must constantly be confronted with the fact that almost all his dear friends are dead. Or are they?
Scarlett Johansson is the best actress in action movies today
Women in superhero movies often get short shrift, but if you saw Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow turn an interrogation where she seemed helpless into a one-woman smash-em-up fight, you know she's the exception. That's true again here, where she's neither a helpless pawn to be rescued (as if!) or a love interest. She's her own hero, and a smart script dictates that her goals don't always mesh with those of Captain America, which only lends a delicious complexity to the film.
The rest of the cast is stellar too
Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, in all his eye-patched coolness. He also gets many of the film's funniest lines, plus a dynamite "Pulp Fiction" shout-out. Anthony Mackie is introduced as Marvel hero Falcon, and while his wings are a little lame, he's a sharp war vet and a good pal for fellow military man Cap to have. And "Winter Soldier" surprises by casting Robert Redford as a S.H.I.E.L.D. leader who's got a plan that Captain America isn't sure he agrees with.
Superb action sequences
Even if you're not a superhero fan, a good action sequence is a thing to be marveled at, and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has more than one. But perhaps the best involves Jackson's Nick Fury trapped in his super-technological SUV. Numerous times it seems he'll have to give himself up, and numerous times he finds a way to move forward, with help from the most amazing car this side of the Batmobile.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is in theaters now.
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