Movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Director: Anthony and Joe Russo; Studio: Walt Disney Studios; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 4 out of 5 stars.
The latest addition to the Marvel Universe film canon is easily one of the best and may interest even those, like me, who aren't immediately drawn to the superhero genre.
The film doesn't come even close to being as dark as the recent Batman films or even the most recent Spider-Man and Superman films, but it does have a certain gravitas that separates it from the more colorful entries in the recent Marvel movies.
This image released by Marvel shows Georges St-Pierre, left, and Chris Evans in a scene from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
That could be because the story is multifaceted and purposeful, with a veteran supporting cast that couldn't help but elevate the film to deeper and more entertaining levels.
It could also be that the plot is more freestanding than other entries and allows newcomers in on the fun without having to have previous understanding of the structure and character associations across the Marvel superhero universe.
In this movie's storyline, like many times before, nothing short of the American way of life is at stake.
There's no hero better to exemplify that way of life than Capt. Steven Rogers, also known as Captain America, played by Chris Evans. The World War II hero, resurrected in "Marvel's The Avengers," has become a contract mercenary for the multinational spy and general action-house that is S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Rogers still sees the world in lights of honor and freedom and shadows of communism. He's informed from all sides that those old ways of trusting one another and freedom above all else are in the past, and the world as it is today is far too dangerous and fast to continue in those ideals.
That's where the message takes a muddying turn that couldn't help but continue to bother me throughout the film. Captain America says some beautiful things about what makes the American way of life something great and worth preserving, but both the so-called "good guys" and what we later learn to be the "bad guys" both have their own visions of justice and preservation of balance. Those versions seem to my ears and eyes like slightly different hues of Stalin's purges of dissidents that so perfectly realized the differences between the superpowers during the Cold War.
It seems like Captain America recognizes that, too, since he became a man during that great age but he goes the way that we all do eventually, and fights for the lesser evil rather than staking a claim for the absolute freedom that he obviously holds dear.
It doesn't help him stick to his decency and ethical guns, either, when he learns that he should trust nobody in his life and mission.
To reveal any more would hurt the entertaining power of this adventure, though, especially for the initiated.
Just be sure that other favorites from the Marvel Universe are second-runners, make appearances or are alluded to, and that the brothers directing the film, Anthony and Joe Russo, don't miss a beat between quieter plot moments and full-scale action sequences.
Nor do they shy from allowing Evans to give his all as the smiling, good-hearted defender of freedom, Captain America. That's certainly a good thing since he announced recently that he hopes to retire from acting after his contract for the Marvel movies runs out.
Who can blame him, though, when you've made a name for yourself as the hero who frees us from statism and a one-world government. There's hardly any place farther up the ladder one can go.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)