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Star-spangled hero is a Marvel

The comic-book house takes control of its stars' movies, and by so doing honors Captain America

By Burl Burlingame

Special to the Star-Advertiser


Putting creation into the hands of the creators is generally a pretty good idea, but that's heresy in Hollywood. Nonetheless, after Hollywood studios did pretty good with Spider-Man and then failed miserably with every other character in the Marvel Universe canon — including a couple of truly awful Fantastic Four movies — Marvel bit the bullet and created its own production studio. The results have been awesome, even by the standards of comic-book awesome. And I speak as a preteen member of Stan Lee's M.M.M.S., and you older nerds know whereof I write.

The key, of course, is that they take their product seriously, which, at the same time, doesn't mean they can't have fun with it. Hollywood thinks of the Mighty Thor as a product to be sold like Sugar Smacks, whilst Marvel thinks of Thor as a character in an ongoing drama — a player in the Marvel Universe. He's a real guy, albeit a guy with a day job as a thunder god.

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That means everything in the Marvel Universe is interconnected, rather like the real universe. The verisimilitude makes for a richer entertainment experience, particularly when the Marvel Universe holds up a mirror to our real universe, the way good science fiction is supposed to.

Captain America ought to be among the angstiest of the Marvel "super" heroes, a 98-pound weakling transformed into a super soldier during World War II and thrown against the Nazis, only to survive being frozen for seven decades and being thawed into the no-easily-identifiable- enemies world of the present. There are no battle lines any more. Luckily, "Cap" manages to survive with a rueful sense of humor and a diamond-hard sense of honor — both of which are tested by modern times.

Here, he's drafted into Nick Fury's quickly expanding SHIELD empire — comparisons to out-of-control governmental "homeland security" divisions are right on the nut — and Cap begins to smell something rotten at the core. That's pretty paranoid, and paranoia is such a 1970s thing. But being paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has many quiet, insightful moments that lend gravity to the situation, as well as some clever fish-out-of-water character definition. These moments are ripped up by some exceedingly tense action sequences, only one of which is an over-the-top CGI extravaganza. It's brutally efficient old-school mayhem with some real stakes, but then Cap isn't so much a "super" hero as a pumped-up hero. Although he does amazing things, there is a physical cost. Just so long as he doesn't turn into Barry Bonds.

It's worth the price of admission just to hear Robert Redford croak "Hail, Hydra!"

There's a nifty subtext about psychological entropy and the cost of change, particularly among those you thought you knew. Anyone who's befriended a long-lost high school pal on Facebook and discovered this formerly cool person has turned into a wacko knows what I mean. Sigh.

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