Scott Marks 3:30 p.m., Dec. 24
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Whoever heard of a timely, even necessary superhero movie? And yet here is Captain America, lending a measure of old-fashioned, flag-loving, liberty-defending, patriotic virtue to the very present issues of government surveillance and pre-emptive strikes based on that surveillance. The trouble begins with a factual bit of ignominy: Operation Paperclip, the government program that brought Nazi scientists (here grouped under the moniker of Hydra) into the bosom of the American military machine. The film supposes that, like Cap himself, this nest of nasties - unrepentant, unredeemed, but somehow still welcomed and nurtured by a nation suffering from Cold War sweats - survived World War II and found a way to flourish in the modern world. There's still plenty of blood, bullets, and bludgeoning - the titular Winter Soldier has a mechanical arm that matches up nicely against Cap's unbreakable shield (unstoppable force, meet immovable object) - but the bulk of the film uses the Captain as an Internal Affairs officer, searching for bad guys within the ranks, following clues, and trying to figure out who, if anyone, can be trusted. It's still a Marvel movie, heavy on humor and special effects, and bloated by a super-sized climax. But it has the courage and grace to take its star-spangled hero seriously. 2014.