- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2014

Marvel Comic’s star-spangled Avenger returned to theaters this summer in a thoughtful blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Its arrival in the Blu-ray format (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated: PG-13, $32.99) allows fans to truly appreciate one of best superhero-themed movies of the year, if not one of the top 10 in the past decade.

The sequel’s story finds a 1940s kind of guy named Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), still trying to adapt to life in the 21st century, after he was recently thawed out from a frozen grave dug during the end of World War II. The action takes place two years after he fought alongside the Avengers to save New York City from an invasion of hostile extraterrestrials.

Headquartered in Washington D.C., the super soldier finds his world turned upside down when the organization he works for, S.H.I.E.L.D., falls under attack from within while an old friend returns with hostile intentions.

The combined might of directors Anthony and Joe Russo delivers not a typical superhero film but an exciting political thriller all gussied up by a welcomed set of comic book characters.

The result is a perfect mix of angst, humor, fantastic hand-to-hand-to shield combat, vehicle chases, firefights and cataclysmic destruction that will cause viewers to often grip the edge of their recliners.

The main cast shines throughout with Chris Evans firmly entrenched in the role of Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as a feisty and flirty assassin Black Widow, Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury, (a role he was born to play if you ever read The Ultimates comic) and even the mighty Robert Redford stops by to help add dramatic muscle to the ever-twisting conspiracy.

Captain America comic book readers will also delight by the appearance of Sam Wilson aka the Falcon (giddily played by Anthony Mackie), the mysterious Winter Soldier (wink, wink), Red Skull henchman Crossbones, famed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Maria Hill and Sharon Carter, evil biochemist Arnim Zola, French mercenary Baltroc the Leaper, and, you really need to watch the end credits, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch.

Watching the film in the current worldwide, terrorist climate even makes it more compelling as Captain tries to rationalize who to trust and how to protect humanity’s freedom against almost unstoppable evil while being part of an organization more intrusive and dangerous than Big Brother.

My only hiccup during the 136-minute spectacular effort occurs at the end during the most destructive of scenes. Where in the heck was Iron Man, and for that matter, where in the heck were the Avengers to help Captain America out of an explosive pickle?

Best extra: Considering the brilliance of the movie, the lack of bonus features really shocks. Captain America is one of the patriarchs of comic book superheroes and yet we get nothing as far as an origin documentary or even a way to tap into a digital comic highlighting any of his exploits over the past 73 years. Alas, only getting a smattering of promotional featurettes and some irrelevant deleted scenes is a bit insulting.

The only extra worth diving into is an optional commentary track with the directors and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

The Russos take the lead on the often serious discussion revealing their inspirations for the film from such movies as “Marathon Man,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “The French Connection” and “Rocky.” Topics include the density of filmmaking, narrative threads from other Marvel films, practical execution of stunts, Steve Rogers‘ emotional states, character conflict and film moments as they compare to real-life drone technology and the Edward Snowden saga.

Still, for a viewer to invest in the Blu-ray and not simply just rent a digital copy of the movie, I would near demand something much more special to make “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” a permanent part of one’s Blu-ray collection.

Play the movie (literally): The official game, based loosely on the movie, is called “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Gameloft, Rated 12+, free). It offers tactical-based action for iOS and Android smart phone and tablets as a player controls Marvel Comics’ First Avenger through over 100 missions.

Our hero and members of S.H.I.E.L.D. explore a very inspired, comic-book-looking New York City under attack by bad guys and their minions, all viewed in a three-quarter, over-the-top perspective.

A player can eventually call in Black Widow and the Falcon to aid the team and battle villains such as Winter Soldier, King Cobra, Taskmaster and the daughter of the Red Skull.

Read all about it: Purchase Marvel Comics’ voluminous trade paperback “Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection” ($24.99) — which compiles Captain America (Volume 5), issue Nos. 1 to 9 and 11 to 14 — to clearly understand the origins of the Winter Soldier and Captain America’s relationship with the supposed villain. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting deliver the brilliant story arc..

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