Captain America: The Winter Soldier            
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo     
Starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders       
136 minutes     

While trying to fit into the 21st century, Captain America works for the SHIELD (a military and counterintelligence organization created to protect the world) as sidekick of director Nick Fury. He is still Steve Rogers (his civilian identity), though, and his rigid, old-fashioned moral code leads him to contest Fury’s methods. When Fury suffers a fatal attack at the hand of the mysterious Winter Soldier, Steve starts investigating with the Black Widow, the only person that he can trust… His enemy has taken possession of SHIELD and Captain America is now public enemy number one….

Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) runs marathon distances around the Lincoln Monument with the pace of the runner Usain Bolt, takes notes on a pad to keep up with the new century, saves ships from pirates as easily as sorting the mail, complains to director Fury for caring too much about intelligence and blunts the attempts of Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanov) to find him a girlfriend.

His love life couldn’t be less exciting: the woman of his heart, Peggy Carter, looks like his grandma and she treats him accordingly. Unlike him she shows her 95 years and her brain power has even started sputtering.

There is enough to give depth to the existential dilemmas of Captain America, the most attractive of Marvel’s band of Merry Men. However the movie takes soon the direction of a 70s spy story, yet with clear cross-references to our times. The good news is that the pace of the storytelling gets frantic without losing depth and intelligence.

Car chases, land and air battles and fire-fights alternate with moments of tense intellectual confrontation on issues such as security and freedom (and how much of the latter should be sacrificed to preserve the former). Old enemies pop out of the most unexpected places; old friends reveal unfamiliar dimensions of their personalities. Captain America’s loyalty is severely tested.

The dialogue between Steve Rogers and the unscrupulous Natasha contains jewels of comedy and romance. There is a new ally, too, a former paratrooper with mechanical wings, Falcon, with whom Rogers can share his “survival trauma”.

All of this is the sign of a success, a success which consists in managing to frame the most conservative and traditional superhero of all as a rebel against the system (with a nod to Wikileaks) without making him lose his idealism and his hope of finding himself.

Although The Winter Soldier exploits contemporary angst about government snooping through the internet, it is a deeply nostalgic film. Not just Steve’s nostalgia, but our own for a time when choosing between right and wrong was easier, a time when an Army uniform was not an embarrassment, a time when moral codes were carved in stone, not written in the water.

The introduction of a cult comics character as the mysterious Winter Soldier allows the film to delve into a past that might be less perfect than its mythologized version and throw out some future challenges (just keep watching until the end of the credits and you’ll see).

The casting for the Marvel films is getting better and better. In The Winter Soldier, veteran Robert Redford plays a former diplomat who runs SHIELD’s contacts with the World Council, a blundering organization which closely resembles the United Nations.

Even critics who do not like comics found Captain America: The Winter Soldier a delightful romp. It is possible to make an intelligent blockbuster.

Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to several magazines and websites about cinema and television. 

Laura Cotta Ramosino works for Cattleya, an Italian production company, as a creative producer and story editor for several television shows. She is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri...