captain_america__the_winter_soldier_poster_fanmade_by_timetravel6000v2-d5b9but-582x800Remember the good old days? You know, when every movie didn’t need to be a comic-book tie-in? Yeah, so do I.

Anyway. Marching on.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible stream of Marvel comic-book translations, which judging from the accompanying trailers (Guardians of the Galaxy, and the unbearably pretentious sounding X-Men: Days of Futures Past) is being mined for all its worth. Surprisingly, for me at least, this outing isn’t all that bad. It has a strong story and is well enough acted by a cast who have no qualms at some of the ridiculous lines the team of writers insists they say.

Set a couple of years after the Battle of New York, Captain America aka Steve Rogers (a ridiculously buff Chris Evans) is settling quite nicely into contemporary life with his wee notebook of pop culture things he needs to look up on the internets. Along with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson), he’s sent off to rescue hostages, including members of SHIELD from a ship in the Indian Ocean. Once there, it seems like head good guy, Nick Storm (Samuel L. Jackson) has given Romanoff a sub-mission of her own — to steal some data on a USB stick from the ship’s computer that will eventually prove that some members of SHIELD aren’t perhaps the good guys we’ve been led to believe. All this happens with a backdrop of surveillance and approved drone strikes as SHIELD plans to launch three really, really big helicarriers (innocuously titled Operation Insight) into the air that can read a terrorist’s DNA remotely and so has a capability of taking out anyone on the planet it deems to be a target. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a storyline very much of the age and asks the question if a society can ever be free once it’s surrendered its liberty. “Trust no one,” Cap is instructed once the bad guys start coming out of the woodwork and while Cap and Romanoff run around trying to decrypt the data on the USB stick, it maintains a very credible level of paranoia while not taking itself so seriously that it can’t laugh at itself. The cameo from Stan Lee is great and there’s a grave stone inscription that pleasingly nods its head to an indirectly related movie that will surely coax a smile from those who spot it. Visually as well, it’s very strong. Those helicarriers really are exceptionally big indeed and when one of them is accidentally backs into a skyscraper, it’s difficult not to be impressed before thinking about the insurance costs.

It’s not all good news, though.

Robert Redford is oddly distracting as the head bad guy, his wrinkled face now providing a shocking counterpoint to a head of hair that would be quite at home in One Direction.

It’s also very, very long. Not in terms of the whole — it tips the scales at 136 minutes, which isn’t all that extravagant these days — but in its component parts. Pretty much every scene feels a good minute or two longer than it needs to be. The opening movement where SHIELD storms the ship in the Indian Ocean goes on for so long that I developed scurvy. The scene where Cap is sitting at an old friend’s bedside felt like visiting hour at the hospital. And do we really need to see a thousand nameless evil henchmen shooting at the shield (rather than Captain America’s kneecaps, for example) every time a fight scene breaks out? Wouldn’t nine hundred do?

Perhaps most damning, for a movie which seems to be based around freedom and due process, it’s a little contradictory that one of the characters who bestows these values shoots a bad guy through the heart when surely he could’ve been arrested and tried, essentially stamping on the moral compass that had guided the movie up to that point. Did I say “little”? I meant “entirely”.

But for yet another comic book movie, it’s entertaining enough to get pass marks, even if it does insist you sit through to the end of the credits for a ten second scene that isn’t worth the wait but will have fanboys and girls squeeing in delight because it’s the done thing.

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