Another Marvel movie, another set of mixed reactions.
Like pretty much every other movie based on a comic book, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” indulges in forced plot devices and groan-inducing dialogue. On the other hand, this is the rare sequel that improves on the original and moves the Avengers universe into surprising new territory.
Even though it followed two “Iron Man” movies, “Captain America: The First Avenger” really launched the Avengers universe because it laid the groundwork for the overall story arc. In fact, “The First Avenger” suffered from too obviously being a prelude, and its full impact wasn’t felt until later movies in the franchise.
All of that setup pays off in “The Winter Soldier.” The exposition is behind us, and the story clips along at a taut pace.
Cap (Chris Evans) also comes into his own as a protagonist. He was still searching for an identity in the first “Captain America” film, and he was third fiddle to Iron Man and Thor in “The Avengers.”
At last, though, Cap figures out how to take command of his destiny in “The Winter Soldier.”
The scope of the story is small for most of the film, too, which was a wise choice. The entire world is never in peril, and the engine driving us from scene to scene is a mystery Cap and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) must solve.
That’s a refreshing approach after seeing Earth and its inhabitants reduced to collateral damage in “The Avengers” and the “Thor” movies.
My biggest problem with “The Winter Soldier” is the same problem I have with most Marvel and DC Comics movies. Writers and producers use the fact that the films are based on comic books as an excuse for formulaic, clumsy storytelling. Numerous story beats either don’t make sense or are only there to set up forced drama.
And after showing restraint with the scope of the story for most of the film, the third act deviates from that strategy. Suddenly the potential damage is catastrophic and the story resolution becomes achingly predictable — not to mention nonsensical.
The obligatory threat to humanity in “The Winter Soldier” is simply not physically possible. I’m not talking about plausibility. This is a story world built around a man turned into a super soldier by an experimental serum, after all.
I mean the big, devastating device Cap has to stop would have to defy the laws of thermodynamics to work. It is not possible in this or any other story world.
However, these weaknesses are overshadowed by the movie’s fearlessness.
The best quality of “The Winter Soldier” is its willingness to hit us with story developments and surprises with significant impact on all “Avengers” movies and television shows.
In “The Winter Soldier,” the ongoing arc of the Avengers universe experiences a massive upheaval, making it interesting to ponder the future of the Avengers universe.
“The Winter Soldier” shifts the center of the Avengers universe away from Iron Man — and even S.H.I.E.L.D. — and puts it squarely on Captain America. However, Evans has been blunt about his desire to quit playing superheroes after his current Marvel contract is fulfilled.
Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr. will play Tony Stark likely for the last time in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Who knows what will happen to Iron Man after that? One more “Thor” film is in the works, but the future of that franchise is also in doubt.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” might replace the Avengers as Marvel’s primary franchise, but they surely won’t abandon the Avengers altogether.
It’s no exaggeration to say “The Winter Soldier” throws the future of all Avengers properties into doubt, lending an unpredictability to these movies that has been missing for years.
Just as our enthusiasm for the Avengers was waning, this movie will rekindle the fire among current fans and draw newcomers into the fold.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.