Critical Mass: Is 'Captain America' the hero we deserve?

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Image Credit: Zade Rosenthal

Summer doesn’t begin until June 21, but blockbuster season begins today with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This time around, Chris Evans’ 1940s super-soldier finds himself in a 1970s paranoid political thriller set in post-9/11 Washington, D.C. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first superhero film since the terrorist-inflected The Dark Knight that plugs you right into what’s happening now,” writes EW’s Owen Gleiberman.

S.H.I.E.L.D. might have a mole, and a mysterious assassin seems to be more than an equal match for Captain America. The Winter Soldier features many familiar faces from the Avengers franchise, most notably Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but some new faces present surprising mutations to the conventional Marvel DNA. Robert Redford, he of the iconic 1970s thrillers that directors Anthony and Joe Russo clearly revere, plays Fury’s mysterious boss, a man whose principles have evolved after decades of relentless zero-sum spy-games. Anthony Mackie comes aboard as a scarred Iraq-War veteran who’s earned his wings and might be the rare man Cap can trust.

Audiences seem poised to make The Winter Soldier one of April’s biggest hits ever, but what are the critics saying? See Gleiberman’s review, as well as a round-up of other notable critics, below.

Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly)
“The film is too long, and its token ­references to the other Avengers are just a forced attempt to join it to a ”larger” story. Yet Captain America: The Winter Soldier has the zing and purpose that last summer’s Man of Steel lacked, with a sky-high climax that’s a real dazzler. What works here is setting up Captain America in a ­battle against… America. That’s the way to turn a super-square into an awesome antihero.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) ▼
“[Captain America] is a product of the highest quality, but at the end of the day that’s what it is: a machine-made, assembly-line product whose strengths tend to feel like items checked off a master list rather than being the result of any kind of individual creative touch.”

David Edelstein (New York — Vulture)
“Beneath the expensive, computer-generated busyness of this second Captain America installment is a bracing, old-style conspiracy thriller made extra-scary by new technology and the increasingly ugly trade-offs of a post-9/11 world.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲
“The more screen time Chris Evans accrues as Captain America, the more engaging the performance. He’s terrific here. Scarlett Johansson looks like she’s having as much fun as she’s ever had onscreen. … And Robert Redford plays his role as seriously and as thoughtfully as if this was 1978 and he was in a thriller directed by Sydney Pollack.”

Manhola Dargis (New York Times)
“However appealing, Mr. Evans remains a recessive screen presence, and while it may be a relief that Captain America isn’t angst-ridden, he’s blandly well adjusted for a guy who, in his last movie, emerged from a decades-long deep freeze. … But what if he’s kind of dull?”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)
The Winter Soldier is a comic-book movie only in its provenance. (The character was created by Marvel back in 1941.) In its relentless violence and dark political subtext, this might be the most grown-up Avengers episode yet.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“Cars flip, soar, and burn, buildings collapse, and doomsday clocks tick down. Again. It feels like more ammunition is expended than in our last three wars combined. This is what the modern marketplace calls entertainment — take it or leave it — but while the thrills are there, I wouldn’t exactly call the movie fun.”

Wesley Morris (Grantland)
“No audience will revolt because The Winter Soldier looks as if it were made in a food processor. I had fun. But I could have had more. I’m not demanding filmmaking or visionary talent, per se. I’m demanding competence. … Steve Rogers would get it. Artisanal is just another way of saying, “This is how people used to do their jobs.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“One action scene gets so confusing and jumbled that the question has to be written into the script: ‘How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?’ The answer: ‘If they’re shooting at us, they’re the bad guys.’ Maybe. Or maybe those are the real heroes, trying to end the movie. For all of us.”

Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter)
“The greatest interest lies with Jackson and Redford, two great veterans whose presence lends weight to the fantastical proceedings and whose characters take some interesting twists and turns before it’s all over. Their roles are hardly demanding or multidimensional, but both actors seems invested in what they’re doing and are fun to watch.”

Scott Foundas (Variety)
“Johansson similarly brings a real wistfulness to Natasha … and Redford seems to be having a blast blasting ICBM-sized holes in his well-worn persona of the unimpeachable liberal crusader.”

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 69
Rotten Tomatoes: 87 percent

Rated: PG-13
Length: 136 minutes
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford
Distributor: Walt Disney

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