April 5, 2014 -- This latest installment in Disney's popular Marvel Universe series is heavy on conspiracy theories as well as the usual science fiction action-adventure elements and there's even a thought-provoking political element. There is something for everyone in this big, sprawling adventure film, but there is a lot less comedy than there was in “Thor: The Dark World,” for instance.
This particular series of films is put together a bit like a TV mini-series, so that it seems to be more than just a sequel. Each episode builds on the last installment. It also fits together into the “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” TV series, too. You have to hand it to these Marvel people. They do know how to tell a story.
This film builds on the first Captain America film: “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which was released in 2011, and it brings back some characters who appeared in that film, even though 70 years have passed since the main time line of that first story. Steve Rogers (Captain America, played by Chris Evans) and his boss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) discover that the government agency they work for, SHIELD, has been compromised. Shadowy conspirators from within SHIELD are trying to kill them.
Fury and Rogers are in the worst possible position. They are isolated and they don't know who to trust. Rogers finds himself further isolated and on the run. He has been targeted for death by a mysterious assassin known by the ironic name, “The Winter Soldier.” Ordinarily, the Winter Soldier is the name given to patriots, like those who served at Valley Forge, but this killer is no patriot. He serves an organization similar to that of The League of Shadows from the recent Batman movies.
Captain America must find allies he can trust to combat this new menace. One person he reaches out to is an acquaintance, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie of “The Adjustment Bureau”). Also in on the fun is the assassin The Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) also known as Natasha Romanoff (everybody's got two names in this movie). So the few must fight the many. People die, but sometimes they don't really die. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends. It's a complicated conspiracy.
Like some science fiction stories, there is a bit of political commentary in this related to National Security Agency data-mining used against ordinary American citizens, President Obama ordering the assassination of American citizens without due process, drone strikes, etc. We see this carried to its logical extreme in this film. In this sense, at least, this film is ambitious. There is even a reference to “Operation Paperclip” in which Nazi scientists were brought to America from Germany after World War II.
I have grown weary of grand, elaborate conspiracy theories, like those in this film. It seems to me that too many people have lost all sense when it comes to believing in such things. In real life, people aren't good at keeping secrets. The bigger the secret and the more people who know it, the faster it will get leaked, and it isn't a matter of if, it is a matter of when.
The grand conspiracy in this film is a doozy, involving thousands of loyal minions, trillions of dollars and lots of technology from the distant future. It is absurd, but the film is entertaining if you can put aside your disbelief. I don't think these enormous, absurd conspiracies make good movie plots, however. This film rates a B.
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