I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that of all the film franchises currently orbiting the world of Marvel Comics that Captain America would turn out to be the most exciting one. He’s a superhero but with no superpowers outside of great hand-to-hand combat skills and his only protection being a round shield. And look at his red, white, and blue costume, for pity’s sake. Not the coolest thing around by any means. Yet both the 2011 installment Captain America: The First Avenger and this post-Avengers sequel have been fantastically entertaining, updating the “gee whiz” spirit of the original comics to our modern CGI age with few hiccups.
With this new installment, much of the success stems from the fact that, according to press reports, directors Anthony and Joe Russo insisted on using as little CGI as possible. I can’t be sure how much of that is true (the climactic scenes that took place flying above the Potomac River certainly need some computerized help) but it was obvious that each big action sequence had a little extra oomph to it. This is especially true of the opening sequence, which finds Cap, Black Widow, and a cadre of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents storming a container ship that has been taken over by Algerian pirates. The scene bristles with energy, each punch and kick and small explosion meted out by the Captain feeling almost like you could taste the sweat and metal in the air.
This being a comic book movie, though, the scene must move forward with a big, potentially world-altering plot. Captain America reveals that the ship siege was really set up to protect a zip drive of information that could prove dangerous for S.H.I.E.L.D. and its associates. The crucial piece of data is the existence of Operation: Insight, a fleet of super-sized flying aircraft carriers meant to protect mankind from threats before they happen. It’s a not-so-subtle commentary on the drone culture and surveillance state we live in, and makes its point as bluntly as the fight scenes. For a blockbuster though, it’s nice to see a little political commentary squeezed in between the explosions.
The world of S.H.I.E.L.D. is further threatened when Nick Fury’s SUV is attacked by bunch of bad guys and, using his wiles and technology built into the system, he fights his way to freedom. It’s a thrilling segment with Fury narrowly escaping his attackers in dramatic fashion. And it introduces the enemy’s secret weapon, the Winter Soldier, a robot-arm-wielding tyrant who looks like he should be fronting a 30 Seconds To Mars cover band. That he bears a more than passing resemblance to a character from the first Captain America movie is something that I should probably keep quiet about until you see this sequel.
Suffice it to say, the shit is about to hit the fan in the world of S.H.I.E.L.D., with forces from within and without trying to take it (and society as a whole) down. Is it Alexander Pierce, the senior official (played with the coy grace that only Robert Redford possesses) whose interrogation of the Captain following the attack on Fury seemed a little too pointed? Is it the Black Widow reverting back to her Cold War ways? Is there some other super villain waiting in the wings to be revealed? As Francis Underwood might say of all these theories, “You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”
I don’t mean to be cagey with this. It’s not a terribly knotty plot, but for those folks who haven’t absorbed the Ed Brubaker storyline that this film is adapted from, I’d feel bad giving away the big reveals and the little secrets peppered throughout the 2.5 hour running time. What I can tell you is that both real comics fans and folks who just like good escapist action fare will not be disappointed by this one.