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Steven Rogers (Chris Evans) is having a hard time being Captain America in the 21st century. After spending the past 70 years in frozen animation, Steve realizes he needs to catch up with society. He keeps a list of political events he missed (Berlin Wall: Up and Down), key figures he needs to know (Steve Jobs: Apple), and movies he needs to see (Star Wars, scratch that; Star Trek,next).

But the former WWII hero has a harder time catching up with contemporary politics and warfare. Allies and enemies are hard to distinguish. He can’t trust anyone.

Ever the brave soldier, Steve keeps busy by participating in special operations directed by Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., a worldwide security organization. He realizes, however, that Fury and fellow agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) are keeping him in the dark about questionable missions.

Fury soon explains, in a patronizing fashion, that the Greatest Generation has long had its day. In a complex world faced by multiple threats, only comprehensive electronic surveillance can protect freedom.

In other words, Big Data will reveal if someone intends on doing harm. Based on that intention, S.H.I.E.L.D. would then act preemptively and rid the world of potential evildoers. When hearing of this project, Steve objects: “This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”

And what if this technology enters into the wrong hands? Enter the Winter Soldier, a mysterious assassin whose metal arm might be a match for Captain America’s mighty pecs.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo cleverly situate the Marvel comic book universe within recent concerns about NSA surveillance as well as data mining by large corporations.

But like Captain America himself, the film is also pleasantly old-fashioned for a big-budget action movie. In the way that the 2011 feature Captain America: The First Avenger imitated 1940s war movies, this sequel plays on political thrillers of the 1970s.

In a clear nod to films such as All the President’s Men (1976), Robert Redford is cast as Alexander Price, a presidential character on the World Security Council. Instead of robots or aliens crashing into buildings, the movie builds its suspense out of old-school car chase scenes and showdowns between heroes and villains.

As this is an action film, cars crash spectacularly and the hero dodges showers of bullets while anonymous secondary characters perish left and right. If there is a computer, the good guys are somehow able to do incredible things at the touch of a keyboard or with a simple voice command. In terms of product placement, almost every car appears as if part of a Chevrolet ad. Those blockbuster conventions aside, the film is tightly made and includes some surprising plot twists that will hold your attention.

This Captain America also distinguishes itself by introducing Marvel’s first African-American superhero, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a veteran whose true grit mirrors the Captain’s. At first, Sam seems like a convenient minor character, but he actually gets his chance to soar. Scarlett Johansson offers a prominent female role as Romanoff. Under the influence of Sam and Captain America, she shows she is more than just the “Black Widow,” a ruthless femme fatale.

So far, the film has done very, very well at the box office, a success no doubt tied to its smart blend of politics, action, and good-looking actors like Evans and Johansson. But I suspect the main reason for the film’s popularity is the likeable character of Captain America himself.

While the red, white, and blue patriotism of his costume may be over the top, Captain America is at heart a down-to-earth guy trying to do the right thing in a messy world. Beyond his superhuman strength, Captain America’s greatest asset is his noble courage and his ability to draw that courage out of others. In short, he’s the sort of hero we all hope for—and want to be. (Disney)

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