For the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" directors Anthony and Joe Russo looked to spice things up by dropping Chris Evans' shield-toting superhero into his own political-conspiracy thriller.
The decision was a canny one, judging by the many film critics praising the film's mix of bone-crunching action and cloak-and-dagger intrigue.
One of the few dissenting voices is The Times' Kenneth Turan, who says he's "suffering from Marvel fatigue." Although "Winter Soldier" is one of the better Marvel movies "by any rational measure," Turan says, "What is frustrating about this 'Captain America' is that it's saddled with the defects of its virtues. It's a product of the highest quality, but at the end of the day that's what it is: a machine-made, assembly-line product whose strengths tend to feel like items checked off a master list rather than being the result of any kind of individual creative touch."
He adds, "'Captain America' is everything a big budget superhero film should be — except inspired."
A number of other reviewers, however, have been impressed by the film. USA Today's Claudia Puig writes, "what distinguishes this Marvel Comics-based movie is the ingenious complexity of the plot and dimension of the characters."
She adds, "Evans is ideally suited to the role, as dashing and imposing a physical specimen as a hero named Captain America ought to be. [Anthony] Mackie and [Robert] Redford, newcomers to the universe, are topnotch in this twist-laden sequel." Evans also has a "winning chemistry" with costar Scarlett Johansson, who plays fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Black Widow.
In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman writes, "'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' is the first superhero film since the terrorist-inflected 'The Dark Knight' that plugs you right into what's happening now. Told in enjoyably blunt, heavy-duty strokes, the movie doesn't try for the artistry of 'The Dark Knight' — it's action-fantasy prose, not poetry. Yet there's a hell-bent vitality to its paranoia."
He also agrees with Puig that Evans "makes our hero a compellingly pensive, furrowed-browed demigod."
LA Weekly's Amy Nicholson wonders if the Russo brothers, first-time Marvel directors who are best known for their TV work on shows such as "Arrested Development" and "Community," might be "operat[ing] as if their necks are still under a network's guillotine" and says their work can feel as if it's "anxious to get in, get the job done, and get out." But she ultimately concludes that "the script is solid, and the fight scenes are excellent.
"'The Winter Soldier,'" she says, "is the first Marvel film in forever that doesn't climax with our heroes mowing down a generic horde of non-human nobodies."
And yet, Turan might not be alone is his Marvel fatigue. The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, for example, gives "Winter Soldier" a positive reivew: "The movie does its duty. It's a reliable commodity, delivered efficiently and well, like pizza," he writes. But, he adds, "Something about even a good Marvel movie is starting to feel a little bit enough-already."
Similarly, Jake Coyle of the Associated Press says the pieces are all there: "New character introductions: Smooth. Action sequences: Excellent if sometimes lacking finesse. Viewer satisfaction: Likely high. Box-office prospects: Bankable. Teasers for future Marvel installments: Yes, two."
But while the movie "succeeds as finely engineered merchandise built to be crowd-pleasing entertainment, for moviegoers and shareholder alike, it has a shelf life that won't last much past its running time."
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