Does the 21st Century Need a Hero Like Captain America?

Steve Rogers is a fish out of a water in his second solo effort.

I was a sucker for the retro 1940s charms of Captain America’s big-screen solo foray in 2011. The visual appeal of the World War II era sets and uniforms allowed Steve Rogers’ golly-gee-whiz brand of heroism — bleeding red, white, and blue out of every pore — to fizz and pop pleasantly.

I worried that, outside of those environs, Captain America’s squeaky-clean do-gooding wouldn’t play as well. We are, after all, living in the age of the anti-hero, which favors brooding, flawed figures. Wouldn’t his act look hokey now that’s he’s been thawed out after years in deep-freeze to find his way in the 21st century?

The answer is, yes, sort of. But that fortunately doesn’t prove to be a fatal flaw in the workmanlike sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Following the events of The Avengers, Capt. Rogers (Chris Evans) is back at work for SHIELD, though he finds himself disagreeing mightily with director Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) plans to launch a set of perpetually flying “heli-carriers” to target America’s enemies from above before they have a chance to strike. It’s the same freedom vs. security argument that’s become a common trope in post-9/11 superhero stories.

There’s nothing particularly original about this movie. It’s a straight-down-the-middle piece of blockbuster entertainment elevated a bit by a playful script that makes nice use of Captain America as a fish-out-of-water trying to catch up on the almost 70 years of pop culture he’s missed out on. A reference to WarGames and a subtle nod to Pulp Fiction fans were particularly delightful.

After a splinter faction of SHIELD led by Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) makes an attempt on the life of Fury, Rogers must team up with fellow agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and new pal Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to expose and stop a conspiracy by long-dormant super-villain conglomerate HYDRA to impose its own ruthless brand of order onto the world. Lots of stuff get blown up in the process.

One downside to having linked together the stories of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk into the “Marvel Universe” is that it raises the nagging question as to why, in his darkest hour, as he faces off against the mysterious super-soldier (Sebastian Stan) deployed by HYDRA to prevent him from saving the world, Captain America doesn’t just call in his super-buddies for backup?

Never you mind that. Just chow down another fistful of popcorn, and count your blessings that Avengers 2 is only a year away.