Judgments at 24 Frames per Second: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

When Marvel Studios released “Iron Man” in May 2008, beginning what has since been called the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comic book fanboy expectations shot through the roof.

Since then, Marvel Studios has released an additional eight feature-length films, five short films called one-shots and a weekly television series, all set within this fictional, shared universe and all moderately successful in both the critical and commercial sense.

It’s a cinematic accomplishment wholly unlike anything previously attempted, and the most recent entry in that universe, the sequel “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” is yet another successful but imperfect addition.

The film, directed with surprising skill by “Community” veterans Joe and Anthony Russo, picks up Captain America’s story sometime after the events of 2012’s “The Avengers.”

Right off the bat, this film is significantly different from its 2011 predecessor, “Captain America: The First Avenger.” While Captain America’s first outing was a period 1940s-set film, “The Winter Soldier” is set entirely in the present.

The modern setting both provides Captain America with a new aesthetic and allows more room for the exploration of what is Cap’s most interesting quality: his displacement in time.

Although the man-out-of-time aspect should inherently allow for a more character-based story, it is instead reduced to one scene of forced melodrama and, much like it was in “The Avengers,” a few mildly humorous jokes about Cap’s struggles with modern pop culture.

Before the film’s release, its producers promised audiences a political-thriller film, more in the vein of the dark, paranoia-based films of the 1970s than of the traditional comic book blockbuster.

While both the film’s promotion and its inspired casting of ’70s icon Robert Redford seemed to confirm this approach, the result is pretty much the same as audiences have come to expect from a superhero movie.

There are colorfully costumed heroes, slightly less colorfully costumed villains, fight scenes, chase scenes, scenes of forced sentimentality and explosions galore.

Granted, the “trust no one” theme is certainly present, but it loses its significance about halfway through the film when essentially every newly introduced character is revealed to be a villain in disguise.

A meme parodying it has already surfaced online. For hilariously varied examples of this, search #HailHydra on any social network.

The film’s biggest disappointments are brought on by the same thing that also brings some of its successes: its place in the previously mentioned cinematic universe.

The seemingly perpetual need to include Easter eggs and references to Marvel Studios’ previous films has an alienating, near-comical presence in “The Winter Soldier.”

In almost every scene, there’s some sort of in-joke for its fans. While this fan-friendly approach is certainly an admirable one on the producers’ parts, they should keep in mind that not every person buying a ticket has seen every Marvel film.

If the film had cut back on these types of references, there may have been more room to focus on the titular Winter Soldier, a character that, provided the producers followed the comic book storyline of the same name, could have been just as interesting as Captain America, himself.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is far from being a perfect movie, but does it really need to be anything more than what it is?