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Cinema Signal: One of the strongest sci-fi adventures of the year. Green light. MOBILE version |
. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

Back in Marvel-land, we're reminded that maximum enjoyment of comic book heroes and story lines calls for a quick adoption of the logic of the fantasy. You don't (or, can't) go along with that and you're wasting your time. With that adaptability in place, you're good to go on this journey: the second installment of Captain America. The short review on it is that it's better than most large-scale sci-fi adventures and pays off the fan base with clarity and well designed, superbly executed and self-logical super-violence. Which is pretty much a trademark of this particular series.

What is probably behind that carryover from Captain America's introductory film is the determination to spend some if its screen time treating its main characters with a degree of depth and humanity that helps get their hooks into us on an emotional level. Thus, we have Chris Evans as title character Steve Rogers in his mold of moral perfection as a counterterrorism S.H.I.E.L.D soldier who was given, when he was a wimpy but sweet wannabe, an experimental serum -- a sort of super juice that turned him into a super being who is now a muscular 95-years-old. If there were any detrimental side effects, they aren't detectable here.

What the CGI team does with this, under the guidance of directors Anthony and Joe Russo ("You, Me and Dupree") and their team of writers, can be counted as one of the marvels of seamless digitization. What they've imparted to our hero is body, muscle, strength, endless endurance and the smoothest skin outside an epidermal salon. In short, no imperfections.

Of course, he's not alone. Hot Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, "Her," "Don Jon"), aka the Black Widow, is a dynamo of explosive action and sidekick creds. But, since these two might seem like an ideal pair, it's pretty much a no-no at this level of superheroism for a romance to blossom. Hence, the running gag is her attempts to play matchmaker and get her ever-modest fellow-agent fixed-up with a girlfriend. The implication is that she doesn't think he's getting enough.

Nick Fury ("Django Unchained"), their gruff leader, becomes a more vital part of the storyline than before, introducing one of the tale's primary themes: the issue of trust. After he sends Cap and a team out to rescue one of their vessels from Algerian pirates, which they do with great dispatch, team leader Rogers discovers Natasha filling a flash drive with data from the ship's computer system, which to Cap was a mission he had no knowledge of.

Enraged at this breach of leadership protocol, Cap braces Fury in his office post-op. Fury explains it as compartmentalization, a sinister claim Cap isn't buying and isn't comfortable with. In part to make amends, Fury brings Rogers up to speed by showing him (and us) the secret Project Insight, with its top class weaponry of three massive heli-carriers, their air defense system against potential enemies.

Cap soon learns that his commander's word of caution is prophetic and that former compatriots are behaving differently. So, what do you do when you can no longer depend on your comrades?

Rogers and Romanoff decide they are on the same side and work together to find out why Fury disappears and the agency they've given their heart and soul to seems to be coming apart at the seams. Could it have something to do with smug, arch villain Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, "All Is Lost"), who is running a secret society called HYDRA under a corporation front? He holds board meetings with his unsuspecting far flung board members in holographic real time.

Finding one of S.H.I.E.L.D's original headquarters, they tap into its not-so- ancient computer system and discover the origins of a terrorist plot designed to achieve a new world order, by the treacherous and still digitally alive Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire").

Part of their weapon force is the Winter Soldier, a virtually indestructible semi-human whom he keeps in criogenic stasis until it's time to unleash him for a mission. Which is now under way.

Borrowing an idea from prior sci-fis ("Recall," "Paycheck"), the Russos employ the oft-used futuristic concept of memory replacement to have a former friend of Rogers, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, "Black Swan") memory-wiped and turned into the virtually undestructible Winter Soldier (based on a legendary, brainwashed Soviet Agent of comic lore). This cyborg has been purposed and outfitted to annihilate anyone who poses a threat to Pierce's mad scheme to ultimately achieve control over the planet through fear and physical annihilation.

As betrayals become as numerous and intense as battles, Cap needs one more ally he can trust. This turns out to be Sam Wilson (a very sharp Anthony Mackie, "Gangster Squad"), a runner he met one morning (planted for us in the opening sequence of the film). When push comes to shove, he's only too anxious to don wings for his combat role as Falcon, a slightly sub-super hero with speed and strength and no gravity issues so long as his suit remains intact.

For a film that runs only sixteen minutes over two hours, the sequel provides all the action and thrills its targetted audience pays to see. It packs a very high order of skill and invention with nothing missing for lovers of action thrills. It sets up the promise of a huge climax, it puts those we're rooting for in great peril in a steady beat of ultra violence, it thrills with hand to hand combat choreography which is a combo of speed, camera angle and editing.

But... If the logic gets stretched too thin even for the most willing fans to accept, it might be in the hero vs. villain clashes in which each fighter takes so many concussive poundings, bone-cracking batterings, potentially pulverizing thrashing -- without so much as a bruise. So you could ask yourself: if they're so impervious to harm in what purports to be ballets to the death, why bother?

Well, for one thing, "The Winter Soldier" may be the most thoughtful instance of character depth in a comic-born action extravaganza. With the near-ideal choice of Chris Evans for the central role, great ensemble acting for the genre, jaw-dropping cgi design, immensity of scale, narrative clarity, peril and humor (a large part of which is Natasha's contribution) add up to a 2014 milestone of movie entertainment. It's worth a few lapses of real-world logic.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Captain America and The Winter Soldier.
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