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Chris Evans is exceptional here, reprising his role as wartime super soldier Steve Rogers trying to find balance between personally adapting to the modern world while dutifully smashing Nazis, uh, evildoers for S.H.I.E.L.D. as Captain America. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's screenplay serve up several wonderfully perceptive moments showing Rogers' alienation, from him keeping a handwritten to-do list of things to catch up on (the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the Moon landing, and Disco, for instance) to Rogers locking horns with Nick Fury over how to protect freedom versus preserve security after the alien invasion of New York two years ago. To that latter point, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is definitely a darker and more complex-minded movie than its WWII-based big screen predecessor, and Evans' portrayal of this bygone hero being summarily dismissed above the neck for (maybe) being too naive in a morally grey age is immensely captivating.

The film's story centres on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s upcoming Project Insight, three massively armed, flying aircraft carriers - called Helicarriers - to be launched as America's airborne pre-emptive anti-terrorism strike force commanded from the Triskelion, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Washington, DC headquarters. However, when Natasha Romanoff returns with inaccessible classified data from raiding a kidnapped S.H.I.E.L.D. transport ship, Fury suspects Project Insight has been compromised by an unknown threat and tells Triskelion senior executive Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) to delay the launch. Enter the Winter Soldier, dispatched by HYDRA to mercilessly eliminate Fury, leading this ghost from the past face-to-face with Captain America. Already disillusioned and considered a liability by Pierce, Cap turns to tracking down the Winter Soldier and ends up enlisting Romanoff and Sam Wilson, a befriended former Air Force pararescueman coincidentally armed with the military's EXO-7 FALCON winged flight suit, in stopping a diabolical conspiracy to usurp S.H.I.E.L.D. technology towards tyrannical world domination.

Frankly, it was a blast seeing Oscar-winning director and legendary actor Robert Redford in this flick. Perfectly cast and immediately believable as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s personable yet hard line politico, Redford brings an intellectually sharp edge to this homeland security agency that until now seemed like a secretarial pool of on-call gun-toting extras sent in to support The Avengers. It's also a treat seeing Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury enjoy more prominence in the story arc this time, with Jackson seeing a lot more action and being able to fully flesh out his re-occurring role as more than a grumpy, monotone task master with a fetish for leather. Yes, Samuel L. Jackson still essentially plays the same Samuel L. Jackson character seen in the majority of recent Samuel L. Jackson movies, but it works. He also uses some incredible gadgets. Another enjoyable surprise is how Scarlett Johansson takes the opportunity to bring a deeper personality to her returning stint as Natasha Romanoff. It took a handful of movies to finally get Romanoff out of the supporting prop department, but her on-going banter opposite Steve Rogers here is worth the wait. Toby Jones also has a memorably choice moment, reprising the Red Skull's former scientist Dr. Arnim Zola from Captain America: The First Avenger.

Unfortunately, the remaining key players in Captain America: The Winter Soldier are so ineptly written that they barely add anything to the enjoyment of this picture. For instance, Anthony Mackie's character Sam Wilson is a PTSD counsellor and ex-U.S. Air Force Para-Rescue veteran who just so-happens to possess a limited edition EXO-7 FALCON winged rocket pack and flight suit in mint working condition. Wait. What? How? Did the base have a yard sale? Jet packs with retractable 30-foot wingspans are too Cirque du Soleil for the Military-Industrial Complex, I guess. Sam doesn't say he build it, which would have made sense in a Tony Stark world of amateur inventors. He says he used it while serving in the military. Meaning it's Air Force issued gear. So... Did Sam just accidentally forget on purpose to change back into civilian dungarees on his last day? Flights home weren't cheap enough so, yoinks and away, see ya later chumps? It's awesome The Falcon comes to life on the big screen, but his story is ridiculous. It's truly a shame, because Mackie does an impressive job leading up to Sam strapping on the suit. Strangely lazy writing clips this on-screen talent's wings, once he becomes The Falcon.

The bigger problem is the Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan. He's predominantly shown as being little more than a stock cartoon goon blessed with rock star camera angles. The script's handling of Stan's character is easily the biggest blunder of this sequel, because expectations were high after his identity was revealed months before this movie's opening weekend. This friend-turned-fiend's return should have been an epic continuation of Captain America's story from the first film. It's not. The Winter Soldier is a hugely disappointing, boring villain for the most part. Not because of Stan's performance - he wasn't given anything above the neck to work with, beyond his swishy Beatnik hair and one short scene of actual acting halfway through this screening. As with The Falcon, the writing just gets lazy all of a sudden. Sure, I get that he's been HYDRA's blanked, blunt killing machine for decades. However, there's nothing written into this character that encourages a paying audience to particularly care whether he finds later redemption or dies on a big spike. A couple of clever lines of dialogue pinned to his assassin's swagger would have clinched it, frankly. Pretty well all hints of the Winter Soldier's humanity are back-loaded into the last few minutes - when the story has long since moved on and far more interesting mayhem has broken loose - as well as during a short, futile scene seen after the closing credits. Too little, too late.

Not as well-crafted as this Marvel comic book hero's rip-roaring cinematic debut in 2011, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still an over-all great game changer for this cross-over Avengers franchise. Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson definitely take full advantage of more fully developing their individual characters, but that comes at the expense of this script amateurishly undermining Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan's performances in the final cut. Check it out as a fun cheap seat matinee while waiting for Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and watch out for mutants in the first of two closing credits stingers. Reviewed 04/14, © Stephen Bourne, moviequips.ca, excluding the quote from Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is rated PG by the Ontario Film Review Board, citing use of expletives, scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear, limited embracing and kissing, and restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence, and is rated G by la Régie du Cinéma in Québec.

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Website: http://marvel.com/captainamerica
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SlILk2WMTI
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1843866/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_America:_The_Winter_Soldier
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CaptainAmerica
Plus: http://marvel.com/universe/Captain_America_(Steve_Rogers)

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