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Two or three decades ago, while Marvel Comics under different ownership battled it out with artist Jack Kirby over creator royalties for many of its 1960s characters, writer Stan Lee was wheeled out to give the company line: that many different creative teams work to create comics over the years; that it is impossible to give "created by" credits. In this case: The Falcon was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan; The Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, rebooting a character long thought dead . . . (hint hint he "died" in Captain America: The First Avenger) . . . who, like the Star Spangled Avenger was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. We only know Joe Simon as the creator of some very strange stuff back in the 1970s. We also know that, without Jack Kirby, there would be no comic book industry to build comic book movies upon. That's the end of this year's lesson in Comic Books 101.
Except that Marvel is now owned by Disney and each Marvel movie has a proper "created by" tag on it. I don't know if that means any money goes to the estates of the creators, as only Stan Lee is left and he works in each Marvel film. That doesn't affect my criticism of any of their films. So, on to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
IN SHORT: The return of the "who can you trust?" spy movie. [Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout. 136 minutes]
We have long written that "you shouldn't need to know the source material to understand a movie..." which usually refers to novels and television shows long gone. It also applies to comics, whose story arcs can literally take years to reveal themselves. If you've seen Captain America: The First Avenger, you're all set for the sequel. If you haven't seen the first film, all the important background storypoints are written into dialog that passes like laser fire.. When push comes to shove, there isn't very much anyone needs to know about Captain America other than what is obvious from Chris Evans' portrayal of the character.
Captain America is a soldier for "good" and "good" comes from a time when there was a definitive line between wrong and right. Which means Cap is close to fifty years out of date. Captain Steve Rogers (Evans) takes orders from one of the few men he trusts, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) head of SHIELD, a worldwide security agency that developed in reaction to the menace of HYDRA, as seen in the first Cap movie. He works out each morning with SHIELD agent Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).
In the first few minutes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, pirates in the Indian Ocean hijack a deep sea cargo boat called the Lemurian Star. Held hostage are a number of passengers, one of whom happens to be Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández), Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The terrorists somehow know of this connection. They demand a billion dollar ransom. Nick Fury sends his own team to take down the bad guys. Captain America is partnered with Avengers teammate The Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsen) to liberate the ship and take out the terrorists. Fury wants to see how teaming the now 95 years old Cap with a hot redhead works out . . . and the leader of the terrorists, one Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), a master of the savate (kicking) fighting style, wants proof that the American super-soldier can put up a good fight without the benefit of weapons, like his shield.
Batroc the Leaper was an idiot in the comics, too. What is more bothersome to the Captain is that the Black Widow apparently has a secret mission of her own to undertake, while Cap and Batroc battle on deck. She is making copies of confidential SHIELD files held in the computers of the ship under direct, secret orders from Fury. This breach of the chain of command causes Cap problems . . . Fury doesn't have to explain shades of grey to a man from a black and white world. He has his own problems with something called the World Security Council to deal with. That Council, under the leadership of Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is ready to push SHIELD into position as a World Police Force (or Army, depending on your point of view). Three state of the art helicarriers are nearing completion. They will circle the earth, bearing enough firepower to level cities like New York in a handful of minutes. Not that they would ever do such a thing, of course . . . but Fury can see a bigger picture.
Which brings us to The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a Soviet era assassin who, if rumors were fact, his story would rival the Captain's; a killer of 22 persons of importance over a period of fifty years. You do the math. It is nearly impossible for one man to do such things. The Winter Soldier, though, kills and then vanishes for five or ten years. He then reappears, not having aged a day, to kill again. In this movie, his target is Nick Fury. That means Captain America will defend and/or avenge the one friend he has in this new universe called the 21st Century
While the true identity of The Winter Soldier is perhaps the worst kept secret in the american movie-verse, Yours Cranky has already dropped the one clue you're going to get. I won't explain any of it, as the film manages to do that sort of well enough. While Marvel gears up its other properties to go to war off the surface of this planet, the Captain America franchise is sticking strictly to human blood and guts action wrapped in all sorts of political intrigue set at a level far above the governments of the world. And, of course, Marvel provides two endings to its films now, the most important of which puts the Winter Soldier into the Smithsonian Institute's exhibition on the history of Captain America. So, wait for it.
Between the beginning and the ending of that last paragraph, there is more than enough action and surprises and double crosses to keep any viewer -- well, male viewers for sure -- very happy. Fanboys will not be disappointed and those ignorant of the Marvel Universe will get more than enough battle to keep them happy.
For the ladies seeking a human element, Cap finally catches up with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), the one who got away thanks to the events of WWII and after. He also gets hit on by a nurse neighbor called Kate, whose real name is Sharon (Emily VanCamp) and ... nope, there's one surprise to come about her in this movie . . . Fanboys know the monster shocker about her which is to come in another movie down the line, assuming Cap survives Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. Or survives his face off with the Winter Soldier for that matter. It could happened . . . . . and we wouldn't tell you if it did.
We will say that The Winter Soldier is not the full story. That what might be coming in Part 2 requires a story twist so delightful it makes this aging Marvel fanboy giggle. I don't know if it will happen. It just gives me a reason to live. <vbg> This movie is a set-up for things to come. It manages to be complete all by itself, which is a remarkable accomplishment given how each Marvel movie tends to drive some other film coming down the line. Honestly? There are elements in the surprise endings that we wouldn't explain even if we knew what they meant, which we didn't. We just sit back and hope we enjoy the movie.
And we did.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he would have paid . . .
Lemuria, by the way, is a Marvel Universe continent invented by Jack Kirby, home to a pre-human race called Deviants. Only in retrospect did I recognize (this) for the deeply hidden easter egg bit of foreshadowing that it is. It is almost as brilliant as (leaving out) a character called Redwing was stupid. None of this has anything to do with the events of the movie, but fanboys will be screaming about this stuff on the 'net.
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