Captain America: The Winter Soldier is filled — and I mean jam-packed — with genre-bending, action-heavy, sportily tense and relentlessly sinuous, sky-high-concept and maniacally bonkers stuff. Polygonal mayhem that aims, and impressively so, to top the Marvel lot in ideas, deconstructing every thriller staple from government corruption to talking computers to odd couple agents gone rogue. But oddly enough, the moment in the Cap sequel that I find most arresting several weeks after seeing the film is our peaceful reunion with Steve Rogers, trotting merrily around the Washington Monument as the sun rises on our nation's capital.
The scene is shot from far overhead, a low pulse/high spirits Chris Evans reduced to a shapeless blur as he repeatedly (but politely!) laps fellow jogger and veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)... and yet it might be the closest we feel to Cap throughout the movie.
The Winter Soldier has a lot to worry about in the delivery of its content. Managing a plot as ambitious and multifaceted as its own, with themes as grand as the scope of the American mentality — as represented by Steve Rogers, raised in the good old days of gee-golly-jingoism — it doesn't always have the faculties to devote to humanizing its central troupe. Cap isn't left hollow, but his battles with the dark cloud of contemporary skepticism play more like an intriguing Socratic discussion than an emotional arc. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, a character who ran circles around her Avengers co-players in flavor, feels a bit shortchanged in that department here (in her closest thing to a starring role yet, no less).
Mackie's Falcon, a regular joe who is roped into the calamity thanks largely to his willingness to chat with a fellow runner — a rare skill, honestly — is less of a problem. He doesn't have much to do, but he does it all well enough. Dynamic though he may be, Mackie keeps things bridled as Cap's ad-hoc sidekick, playing up the along-for-the-ride shtick rather than going full (or even half) superhero. We might want more from him, knowing just how fun he can be, but it's a sating dose. The real hunger is for more in the way of Black Widow, Cap, and — perhaps most of all — the titular villain.
Still, these palpable holes pierce through a film that gets plenty right. As elegantly as Joe Johnston did the Spielberg thing back in 2011, Joe and Anthony Russo take on the ballots of post-innocence. They aren't afraid to get wild and weird, taking The Winter Soldier through valleys that feel unprecedented in superhero cinema. We're grateful for the invention here — for Robert Redford's buttoned-up Tom Clancy villain, for the directors' aggressive tunneling through a wide underworld of subterranean corruption, and especially for one scene in an army bunker that amounts to the most charmingly bats**t crazy reveal in any Marvel movie yet. We might be most grateful, though, for a new take on Nick Fury; here, the franchise gives Samuel L. Jackson his best material by a mile.
But in the absence of definitive work done in our heroing couple, a pair rich in fibers but relegated to broad strokes and easy quips in this turn, most of it amounts to a fairly good spy thriller, not an ace-in-the-whole neo-superhero masterpiece... which, justly or otherwise, is what we've come to expect and demand from these things.
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Top Story: Oscar-Winning Actor Peter Ustinov Dies
Oscar-winning British actor and playwright Peter Ustinov died of heart failure Sunday night at a clinic near his home in Switzerland, Reuters reports. He was 82. Ustinov was hospitalized at the end of January after he came down with an undisclosed illness on his return from a holiday in Thailand and never recovered. "It was not a surprise, he was pretty ill. He had had a busy life and he was tired," his son Igor Ustinov told Reuters in a telephone interview. "But he certainly was not ready to go." An actor, writer and humorist, Ustinov, whose career spanned more than 60 years, won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars, for his clown in the 1960 epic Spartacus and his engaging con man in the 1964 actioner Topkapi. He also earned critical praise for his directorial efforts Romanoff and Juliet in 1962; a biting Cold War satire based on his own play, Billy Budd, in 1962; and the 1972 Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton comedy Hammersmith Is Out. Ustinov was knighted in 1990 by Britain's Queen Elizabeth but did not like to be known as "Sir Peter." He was also well known for charity work and continued to make public appearances until this last illness, raising money for the United Nations' Children Fund (UNICEF), for which he was an ambassador.
CBS Searches for Next Martha Stewart
CBS is looking for the next Martha Stewart and--lo and behold!--yet another reality TV show is born. According to Reuters, the network has teamed up with LMNO Productions to create a 10-episode reality show to discover the next lifestyle trendsetter. The program will feature 12 individuals living together and competing in the domestic arts such as interior decorating, cooking and party planning ,as producers throw them curves to test their imaginations and their grace under pressure. Casting will be open to both men and women, but a spokesman for LMNO told Reuters producers have not decided whether any men will necessarily make the cut.
Baywatch Star Discusses JFK, Jr.-Bessette Love Triangle
The A&E Network is set to air a special one-hour documentary and exclusive interview Monday night with former Baywatch star and Calvin Klein model Michael Bergin, in which he says he had an affair with Carolyn Bessette, John F. Kennedy Jr.'s wife. This marks the first time Bergin has spoken publicly in great detail about the Bergin-Bessette-Kennedy love triangle, which began when he dated Bessette for several years before her marriage. In The Other Man: JFK, Jr., Carolyn Bessette & Me, Bergin says their relationship rekindled in Los Angeles in 1997 after she was married, and at one point she spent 11 days with him when Kennedy was on a kayaking trip with his friends. Bergin was living in Hawaii in July 1999, when Kennedy and Bessette were killed in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.
Soprano Star De Matteo Joins Joey
The Sopranos star Drea De Matteo has landed the role of Joey Tribbiani's sister on NBC's upcoming Friends spinoff, Joey. According to The Hollywood Reporter, De Matteo will play Joey's (Matt LeBlanc) sister Gina, a hairdresser who lives in Los Angeles with her son. Like Joey, Gina is a strong person who isn't afraid to speak her mind and has a way with the opposite sex. And expect her to be a tad bit smarter than Joey, too.
Nick Lachey in ABC's Hot Mamma
Singer turned reality TV star Nick Lachey has been cast opposite Gina Gershon in the ABC comedy Hot Mamma, about a hip wedding planner and single mom (Gershon) and her more conservative daughter. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lachey will play a struggling actor who works odd jobs and runs errands for the women in exchange for boarding. The casting comes form Lachey's development/talent deal with ABC and its Disney-owned corporate sibling, Touchstone TV.
William Shatner Has Two Feet Back on Earth With The Practice Spinoff
Former Star Trek star William Shatner is expected to make a permanent return to primetime in David E. Kelley's spinoff to canceled legal drama The Practice, which is wrapping its eight-year run this season. Shatner has already appeared on The Practice as Danny Crane, the senior partner in the law firm that represents Alan Shore (James Spader) in his wrongful termination lawsuit against Young, Frutt & Berluti, the company around which The Practice revolved.
Singer Howie Day Arrested After Madison Gig
Singer Howie Day, who opened for the band Barenaked Ladies at a concert Wednesday in Madison, Wis., was charged Friday with two misdemeanor counts of criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct in connection with a post-concert incident on his tour bus, The Associated Press reports. According to a criminal complaint, Day was arrested Wednesday for allegedly locking a woman in a bathroom on the tour bus after she refused his sexual advances, broke the cell phone of another woman trying to call police and then poured beer on them. "That was probably wrong of me," Day said about breaking the phone. "But I felt violated."
Hagar Joins Van Halen for Summer Tour
After an eight-year split, singer Sammy Hagar is returning to rock band Van Halen-- just in time for a summer concert tour. The band will hit the road this summer for the first time in almost six years in a tour of indoor North American arenas, starting with a June 11 performance in Greensboro, N.C., Reuters reports. Hagar first joined Van Halen in 1985 after original vocalist David Lee Roth quit to launch a solo career. But Hagar left the group in early 1996 claiming that he was fired by his bandmates, who countered he had quit. Van Halen found itself a new singer--Gary Cherone--but the change didn't gel with fans and the band's popularity faded, as did their deal at Warner Bros. Records.
Role Call: Disney Mulls Toy Story 3
Walt Disney Co. studio chief Dick Cook said Friday he was leaning toward making the third installment of Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios Inc. 's 1995 hit, a feature film rather than a straight-to-video project. Although Disney and Pixar plan to part ways after two more films together, the Mouse House still retains