In new film, Captain America shows a more thoughtful side

San Francisco ChronicleApril 3, 2014 

Film Review Captain America The Winter Soldier

Chris Evans, left, and Scarlett Johansson return as Captain America and Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.


BEVERLY HILLS — Tony Stark is a genius, but he's also a narcissist who doesn't play well with others. Thor Odinson is a freebooting chap who would rather contemplate a flagon of ale than his place in the scheme of things. And Bruce Banner is a pioneer in his field but Hulk SMASH! Then there's Steve Rogers.

"There are really nice trajectories between his life and mine," says Chris Evans, deflated to human size in this Beverly Hilton suite to promote his third full outing as the star-spangled superhero in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

"He's a celebrity, he is. Everyone knows his face; everyone knows who Steve Rogers is. That type of exposure might not be exactly what he's looking for. His conflict with who he's working for right now, with S.H.I.E.L.D., (raises) questions of what he wants and what is the goal — how to achieve happiness.

"You do things that you feel are your responsibility; you're given an opportunity to do something. But at a certain point, it may not bring you the happiness — peace — you want, and it makes you question why you do these things."

Popular misconceptions of Cap as jingoistic, fighting flag aside, he's actually one of the more thoughtful Avengers. He resisted the government's "Superhuman Registration Act" in the comics' famous "Civil War" arc (a thinly veiled security-versus-freedom metaphor). In a 1970s, Watergate-inspired story line, when he saw corruption run all the way to the top, he renounced his colors and briefly became "Nomad."

So yes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has the most action and best combat of any Marvel movie thus far, and yes, it retains the humor that has kept the other entries buoyant. But it's also the studio's most grown-up effort.

"Even if we took the superhero element out, I still think it would be a good movie," says Evans. "I think the plot could still captivate an audience. I don't fly, I don't shoot missiles, I don't call down lightning. They really leaned on plot and how things work from a character standpoint."

That might sound like junket-speak, but in this case it's true. The Winter Soldier features expertly executed action sequences with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and the newly introduced Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap's sidekick in the '70s comics. But more to the point, Cap uncovers a massive conspiracy that rattles the foundations of his mission.

Toward that end, the series shifted its tone from the rah-rah, 1940s-style propaganda of Captain America: The First Avenger to the paranoid political thrillers of the '70s, such as Three Days of the Condor. Robert Redford is even on hand as an official who knows S.H.I.E.L.D.'s dirty secrets.

To get there, Marvel took a typically unusual path: They chose Joe and Anthony Russo of two of television's smartest sitcoms, Arrested Development and Community, to direct.

"When I first heard their names, I'd be lying if I said I thought they were the perfect fit for the job," Evans says. "When I read their résumé, I didn't see many parallels. But that goes to show you can't trust the résumé. This is why (president of production and Grand Pooh-Bah of the Marvel Universe) Kevin Feige is a special man; because he's able to see people for their potential and not for their past."

The Russos' film takes a matter-of-fact tone despite moments of humor, and even sometimes uses hand-held cinematography to create a more immersive, immediate feeling. One thing directors and star agreed on was updating Cap's combat style.

"In the first couple movies, it's very meat-and-potatoes: Punch, punch, kick, kick. But this guy can't just be a human who can fight. We need to see the superhero element. We need to know why he's earned a spot on the Avengers team. The movie they referenced was The Raid, and I said," Evans flashes a huge smile, " 'This is perfect!'"

"I brought up the Captain America video game; his fight style is so acrobatic, there's this aerial fluidity to everything he does. 'Why doesn't Cap move like this?'"

The film also generates moments of earned emotion, especially in a brief flashback to Rogers' prewar days and a present-day visit with a character from the first film. Evans agrees that building on the stories already told is a major advantage.

"That's the best thing about being part of the Marvel Universe. It's one continuous story. It's why TV works so well. Anyone who watches Breaking Bad — you get this long journey of story. With Marvel, you don't have to wrap up your entire story in two hours, because in about six months, we're gonna have another installment."

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