I don’t think this movie’s logical antecedent is actually the first Captain America. That movie was an Indiana Jones style throwback with some good action, a lot of jokes, a little bit of corniness and a lot of Nazis. It was pretty light hearted for a movie about a skull faced maniac that was trying to commit worldwide genocide. Captain America 2 is way too grim to seem like it is related to that movie.
No, I think the more logical antecedent is actually The Dark Knight. Both movies feature plots about digital spying in a way that feels shoehorned in, and both make being a superhero look like an exhausting nightmare that you can’t escape from once you’ve signed up. They both focus on the hero as icon, as a symbol for inspiration, and then show how that symbol can be corrupted by external manipulation. But there is one key difference: The Dark Knight had Heath Ledger’s amazing turn as the Joker, and the titular Winter Soldier is a mostly silent guy who looks so 1995 they might as well have called his character Gavin Rossdale.
The Joker’s presence in the Dark Knight helped that movie so much, because he was such a jolt of electricity whenever he was onscreen that he kept the movie from feeling too ponderous, even though it had a lot of pretentious elements to it. Captain America 2, on the other hand, really ground me down because the villain was so generic and unexciting that he didn’t do anything to elevate the movie over it’s many unnecessarily politically-minded scenes.
On paper I think Captain America 2 sounds like a good movie. I like government conspiracy movies well enough, and I’m not automatically against superhero movies trying to be a bit more serious and to create an allegory about what’s going on right now. I think the Captain America character is a good vehicle to examine who we want America to be. But the risk in trying to do that is that you will create a gulf of irony – of having there be a massive gap in between how earnest you are about your messaging and how inherently goofy it is to watch a guy in a face mask jump off a building while chasing Jordan Catalano with a cyborg arm. But even that irony didn’t present nearly enough juice to keep me interested in this overly serious mess.
Winner: the Cat