Steve Rogers was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe carrying a charming World War II flick that was largely his own, tonally and aesthetically. By the time he caught up in The Avengers, the canon was busily cross-pollinating. No surprise, then, that Captain America: The Winter Soldier slots much more easily into the MCU; unfortunately, with so many internal commitments to the franchise, this isn’t a Captain America movie as much as a slice of Marvel pie in which Steve appears.
It could read like a welcome smaller-scale ensemble piece except for the rushed, action-movie sameness. The anti-establishment spycraft foisted on Steve Rogers unfolds amid Jason Bourne beats that suit him, but moral quandaries are largely blasted out of his way by frenetic action scenes whose Michael Bay ballistics and quick-cut chaos could be from a dozen other flicks—a particularly sad circumstance for Sebastian Stan, whose standout, ruthless physicality as the Winter Soldier is underutilized. At first, SHIELD’s ultramodern, ironic transparency offers more real unease—its glass elevators and sweeping views don’t so much overlook as point at the capital in its shadow—and underscores the privacy-as-freedom debates within, but even those eventually become just another cut-to.
Chris Evans does a yeoman’s work (again) as Steve, giving this do-gooder necessary shadows and an old-soul stillness, carrying punishing action, quiet betrayal and nostalgic character beats with equal ease. It’s interesting, if increasingly crowded by a cast of Marvel familiars, as we hurtle toward the next battle. (Anthony Mackie’s welcome as Falcon, with Nick Fury and Black Widow splitting the sorry-you-didn’t-rate-your-own-flick share of screen time.) But if The Winter Soldier isn’t quite a Captain America movie, it doesn’t much care; the gang’s back together, and it’s all one big Marvel world, after all.