Buckle your seatbelts, Clevelanders, and prepare to witness superheroes fighting all over the downtown avenues you know and love. Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens Friday and should, with little trouble, be the first real mega-blockbuster of the year. We predict you'll want to see it at least once.
In this latest Marvel episode — and these movies increasingly are becoming more and more like TV episodes in a grand and frankly tiresome saga — Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) goes on the run when he learns that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised from within. With the help of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, in the best Marvel "sidekick" performance to date), Rogers orchestrates a plot to prevent Magneto-style genocide while uncovering a secret history of the organization that long ago enlisted his services to protect the world.
The Winter Soldier is Rogers' newest nemesis — you've seen his metal arm in the trailers — and he's been the subject of mucho Soviet experimentation. He's more robot than man at this point, and vacantly does the bidding of his masters. He's also much less a pure "villain" than a sparring mate for the Captain, with whom he most certainly spars, in exquisite choreography, throughout the Warehouse District.
The fighting in the film is actually worth dwelling on: With one or two exceptions, the effects and action sequences are less of the gaudy, explosive Michael Bay variety and more of the intense hand-to-hand combat that made the fights scenes in the otherwise abysmal Haywire so fresh. With whirling camerawork and multi-layered NEO-landscapes, there's a great deal of artistry and novelty on display. The one-upmanship in the action genre has recently compelled directors to go bigger and crazier with effects, in lieu of originality. Last year, audiences were pummeled with at least four films where entire metropolitan areas were straight up destroyed. The Russo brothers went a different route, and it's much appreciated. An opening stealth reconnaissance mission in the Indian Ocean is almost as exhilarating and as fun as the humongous climax.
Gone is the WWII-era production design that differentiated the first Captain America from its Marvel siblings. The sequel is totally contemporary, but the look and tone are both still spot-on. It relies on anxiety about big issues in today's politics — drone strikes, government interference in our personal lives, etc. — to reinforce the reality of what appears on its face to be an outrageous comic book plot.
And Cleveland really does look magnificent. The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Western Reserve Historical Society, Tower City, and several key intersections downtown and in Tremont are all lavishly deployed (as Washington D.C.) and should make for repeated moments of giddy recognition, adding a level of enjoyment for natives to an already highly enjoyable and successful production.