The 2011 starter kit, also known as “Captain America: The First Avenger,” added little to the superhero canon beyond a protracted set up for “The Avengers.”
Instead, the franchise’s first sequel proved the most satisfying superhero romp in recent memory. And the competition for that crown is tighter than ever.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” on Blu-ray and DVD today (Sept. 9), rocked the box office for the following five reasons:
- They Picked the Right Man for the Job: Chris Evans didn’t seem an inspired pick to play Steve Rogers, the scrawny soldier reject who becomes Captain America. He previously played a jokey Human Torch, and his screen resume didn’t flash superhuman potential. He sure showed us. His aw, shucks spirit swiped whole scenes in “The Avengers,” and he continues his excellent work in “The Winter Soldier.” Captain America can be hopelessly square on paper. Evans finds the inner turmoil in the character to bring him to life.
- Politics and Superheroes Do Mix: Conservatives feared that First Avenger would be turned into Hollywood’s latest social justice icon. That hasn’t happened yet. Instead, the franchise’s brain trust dabbled in modern-day issues, like drone warfare, to give the new film a ripped from the headlines jolt.
- Fresh Faces, Fresh Franchise: Imagine the meeting where Marvel Studio executives pitched Joe and Anthony Russo as the franchise’s new directorial team. “But … but … they directed ‘You, Me and Dupree’ … and ‘Community.'” The brothers’ track record hardly seemed worthy of this kind of career perk. Someone clearly saw something in their vision, and their faith was justly rewarded. Not only is “The Winter Soldier” smart, its action sequences pop like few other films so far this year.
- All in the Family: Kudos to Team Marvel for creating a wealth of dependable characters to support these solo projects. “The Winter Soldier” wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) or The Falcon (Anthony Mackie). These aren’t glorified cameos. They’re flesh and blood creations who add texture and humor to the franchise.
- Good Guys Wear Red, White and Blue: “The Winter Soldier” doesn’t shy away from how murky the fight against evil is in modern times. Yet Captain America forges ahead, using his might to do the right thing. Some heroes can waver on the fence between good and evil. Others swing back and forth as the narrative demands. There’s something old-fashioned, in the best of ways, about watching Captain America rush into battle with a sense of purpose.