Alynda Wheat and Alicia Dennis
April 07, 2014 12:00 PM

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford | PG-13 |

ACTION

Somewhere in the dark Indian Ocean, Captain America (Evans) sets out to rescue hostages aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel hijacked by pirates. But Agent Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) needs to address a matter even more urgent than this tricky op: Has the captain considered dating the cute nurse in his building? Because even in an accomplished, action-heavy sequel that pits security against liberty and again puts the fate of the world in their hands, those devilishly insouciant Avengers have their priorities.

To Natasha’s point, Capt. Steve Rogers is adjusting after a 70-year deep freeze. He’s catching up on pop culture, will ask that neighbor out and even has a new friend, former paratrooper Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Allies will prove crucial, as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Jackson) and the agency itself fall prey to a metal-armed assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), sending Steve and Natasha on the run from their own government.

The strength of this franchise is that it relies as much on the charm of its characters as it does on cool toys and effects. The undersung Evans and Johansson are as funny and likable as ever, while Redford adds intrigue as militaristic Agent Pierce. Granted, even casual fans will see some of the twists coming, and for all its efforts, the film never does humanize the villain. But it deserves kudos for grounding the conflict—and the camaraderie—in the real world.

BLOOD TIES

Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis, Zoë Saldana | R |

CRIME DRAMA

Like an interminable chess match between strong players, Blood Ties will leave you admiring the moves but puzzled why they took so long. Cop Frank (Crudup) spars with his thug brother Chris (Owen), who can’t put the ex in ex-con. Tension weakly mounts until a fiery climax … that still leaves the film with 40 minutes to go. Crudup and Owen capably explore what family means on either side of the thin blue line, but the ladies (including Kunis as Chris’s squeeze) are largely wasted as dutiful paramours.

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