In theaters Friday, April 4
2 stars (out of 4 stars)
Here's a comic-book flick in which the audience has a superpower: the ability to anticipate every beat on screen!
It's not that this Captain America sequel is a disaster of Green Lantern proportions. Think a chuckle here, some slick fight choreography there. But fans of the franchise should expect more than a boilerplate action flick that brings absolutely nothing new to the genre.
Still, let's concede that Chris Evans — he of the square jaw and inflatable biceps — is perfectly cast as our wholesome hero (nee Steven Rogers). To recap, he was genetically enhanced World War II super soldier — then spent decades of his life frozen in a block of ice. Now that he’s thawed out, the Captain has a lot to catch up on. A fellow agent (Anthony Mackie) suggests he listen to a 1972-era Marvin Gaye album. The vet adds the recommendation to a handwritten list that also includes "Nirvana" and "Star Wars/Trek." Clever/clever.
But there's no time to discover pop culture milestones when the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency has been compromised. (Warning: mild spoiler ahead!!!). Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has been shot, but not before warning the Captain to "trust no one." Cut directly to Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce, a domineering honcho at the agency. He wears a tailored suit and appears to lack a soul, which means he’s the villain. Not a deliciously sinister villain like Thor's Loki or a rakish villain like Iron Man 3's Mandarin. Just another power-mongering corporate sleaze. It's baffling why an A-list actor like Redford would be given such B-grade material. (And, for that matter, why Garry Shandling agreed to ham it up as Pierce's chief political ally. Hey, now! You can do better!)
Redford is also saddled with a laughably convoluted and nefarious plan: Order a hit on the Captain and his frisky cohort Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), launch missiles to take out millions of would-be terrorists, dominate the globe. This is just an unnecessarily complicated way of saying that the entire world order is at stake. The elusive assassin behind the madness is known around the ranks as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). He's your standard-issue psycho with a tragic backstory, which doesn't get nearly the amount of explanation it warrants.
Indeed, a film that aspires to be a smart political conspiracy thriller just devolves into a Marvel checklist. Every gotcha twist leads to a bombastic explosion or extended combat scene. (No surprise that when the Captain is surrounded by henchmen in an elevator, he finds a way to get out of it. Then again, since these killers only seem to aim at his powerful shield, they deserve their fate.) Every bit of CGI-created violence leads to a groaner of a quip ("I guess he's the bad guy!"). For 136 minutes. Oh, and don't forget the obligatory Stan Lee cameo and cryptic end-credits teaser.
No point in shielding audiences from the simple truth: Captain America's latest adventure is pure filler until Avengers 2.