Superhero films are all the rage these days, and this week’s biggest home video release continues that trend.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, digital download and on demand
It’s been quite a year for Marvel, the comic book giant that has slowly grown into a major player in the movie industry. Since the beginning of 2014, four films based on Marvel properties have entered the multiplex, and all have been good. In fact, if it weren’t for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which was decent but unremarkable, they would all qualify as great.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was the first of the four flicks to enter theaters, and it built high expectations with a smart script, strong acting and an abundance of beautifully executed action sequences. In short, the movie is a first-tier superhero picture that improves on the franchise’s already solid debut, “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
“The Winter Soldier” is set two years after events depicted in “The Avengers,” and Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is settling into life in the 21st century. Although he fondly remembers his days as a World War II hero, he realizes that his superhuman abilities are an asset to modern society, and he regularly accepts missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., the top-secret espionage agency under the direction of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). When an assignment goes awry because S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) ignores the primary objective in order to complete an assignment that Cap wasn’t briefed on, he confronts Fury. This ultimately leads to the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised, and Rogers finds himself battling a dangerous hidden enemy as well as the organization he once served.
Many action movies skimp on the plot, but “The Winter Soldier” is strong both in terms of structure and continuity. The movie also has a nice emotional undercurrent when Cap discovers an unexpected connection to his past. Evans, Johansson and Jackson are strong in their key roles, which is unsurprising since they established their characters in previous Marvel movies.
Writers Ed Brubaker, Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus add a new hero in the form of Sam Wilson (also known as Falcon), and actor Anthony Mackie gives the character a pleasing screen presence. Sebastian Stan is equally strong as the film’s chief baddie, and the always-great Robert Redford plays a key – albeit small – part in the plot.
Despite the significant star power, the true selling point of “Winter Soldier” is the fast-moving story and often-brilliant action scenes. The sibling directing team of Anthony and Joe Russo are relentless with the pacing, as they bring the story to a quick boil then allow it to roil into a terrific, special-effects filled finale.
Movies like “Winter Soldier” won’t find themselves in the Oscar race (in anything other than technical categories) because action films don’t have the awards-friendly cachet of more “serious” dramas. In some ways, that’s unfortunate because quality popcorn films play an important part in America’s entertainment culture, and “Winter Soldier” is about as good as a popcorn flick gets.
DVD extras are limited to a deleted scene and making-of feature. The Blu-ray releases include additional making-of featurettes, a blooper reel and a filmmakers’ commentary track.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – The Complete First Season: It makes sense for the folks at ABC to release this Marvel Comics TV series the same week as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” because the storylines cross. The show centers on Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was thought to die in Marvel’s “Avengers” movie. Coulson spends most of the first season trying to understand his mysterious resuscitation while leading a small team of agents through important missions.
“Brick Mansions”: In one of his final screen roles, Paul Walker plays Damien Collier, a police officer working in a dystopian version of future Detroit. In an attempt to prevent a plot that could destroy the city, Collier goes undercover in a neighborhood so dangerous a containment wall surrounds it. Helping him is an ex-convict played by David Belle. The film – directed by Camille Delamarre – is a remake of the 2004, French action movie “District 13.”
“Words & Pictures”: Romantic drama starring Clive Owen as Jack Marcus, a prep school English teacher who starts a friendly rivalry with his school’s new art instructor (Juliette Binoche). Marcus argues that words are more powerful than pictures, while Binoche’s character – a painter – takes the opposite side. Directed by Fred Schepisi (“Roxanne”).
“The Goldbergs” – The Complete First Season: This ABC sitcom will return for a second season Sept. 24. The show relates the adventures of an average family living in Pennsylvania during the late 1980s. Jeff Garlin, Wendi McLendon-Covey, George Segal, Hayley Orrantia and Troy Gentile star.
“Homeland” – The Complete Third Season: Showtime’s series about a CIA agent (Claire Danes) working to prevent terrorism in the United States won the 2012 Emmy for outstanding drama. This release contains the 12 most-recent episodes. Damian Lewis also stars.
“Supernatural” – The Complete Ninth Season: Twenty-three recent episodes of The CW’s long-running fantasy drama about brothers (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) who battle the forces of evil. Misha Collins also stars.
“Vampire Diaries” – The Complete Fifth Season: The 22 most-recent episodes of The CW series about a teenager who becomes infatuated with two ancient bloodsuckers. Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder, Steven R. McQueen and Kat Graham star.
“Blue Bloods” – The Fourth Season: The fifth season of this CBS police drama debuts late this month. To prepare, fans can check out the 22 episodes included with this set. Tom Selleck stars as Frank Reagan, patriarch of a family that takes pride in working in law enforcement. Reagan is the New York City police commissioner, his two sons (Donnie Wahlberg and Will Estes) are officers and his daughter (Bridget Moynahan) is an assistant district attorney.
“The World Wars”: Six-hour documentary that originally aired in three parts on the History Channel. The show, which combines dramatic re-enactments with vintage footage and interviews, focuses on Hitler, Mussolini, Patton, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, and it looks at the way their World War I experiences influenced their leadership decisions during World War II.
“The Curse of Oak Island” – Season 1: First five episodes of the History Channel reality series about two brothers searching for treasure alleged to be hidden on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia.
“Bee People”: Documentary film centered on a variety of people working to protect bees and assure that they are allowed to continue the vital role they play in the natural order of Earth. Directed by David G. Knappe.
“My Man is a Loser”: Comedy about two buddies (Michael Rapaport and Bryan Callen) who ask their playboy friend (John Stamos) for advice on reigniting their marriages. Tika Sumpter also stars. Written and directed by Mike Young.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.