Poor Captain America. Of all the superheroes that Marvel have thrown onto the silver screen, The First Avenger felt like the last concern and it showed. It also didn’t help matters when the time came for him to lead Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, struggling for the spotlight with a fully fleshed out Tony Stark, a Norse god with family issues and a scene stealing rage monster. What an absolute relief then that his second outing on his own fittingly makes up for lost time and is not only stronger than his first but possibly the best of Marvel’s films to date.

Following his wake up call and thwarting of an alien invasion, Steve Rogers is back to doing what he does best and stopping threats from around the world, rather than outer space. Unfortunately whilst the soldier hasn’t changed, his battlefield has. Gone are the days of armies led by evil red-faced dictators, now the enemy is hidden in the shadows across the globe causing Steve’s new employers SHIELD to prep an immense strategic defence against an unknown enemy. This immediately rubs Cap up the wrong way pegging this new tactic as one he’s seen before, ‘this isn’t freedom, it’s fear’. He’s not wrong as after one of SHIELD’s key members is threatened and Cap is made the next target, the super soldier must go on the run to thwart great military powers all the while looking over his shoulder for an unknown assassin; the titular Winter Soldier.

Kicking things off with a midnight siege, directors Anthony and Joe Russo waste no time in setting their instalment apart from Joe Johnston’s slightly campier affair. Cap is now a man of the modern age and he fights like one too, rushing about a terrorist-held craft like a star-spangled ninja and doing so with charm and gusto that Evans delivers wonderfully. It’s odd to remember him as the young Johnny Storm, the only highlight in the doomed Fantastic Four franchise. Now he’s cemented himself in the shoes of Steve Rogers and adapted just as well with the tonal shift in his adventures. Just as The First Avenger was a biproduct of old black and white serials, so too is The Winter Soldier one bred from 70s thrillers, where no one can be trusted and shady folk get even shadier. Heck, it makes a meta-reference simply by adding Robert Redford as a SHIELD suit who is too cool for his own good.

The man out of time isn’t alone though and that’s another great aspect of the sequel; where The First Avenger lacked giving attention to Cap’s cohorts, (Bucky, The Howling Commandos etc.) The Winter Soldier makes time to focus on his new allies. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury gets the most screen time he’s had in the entire series with all eyes on him in one explosive and heart-pumping chase sequence. There’s also flanter among the firefights between Cap and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who is given more depth to her character as the agent and her loathsome red-soaked ledger. In terms of new names to the roster, the most welcome arrival to the film comes with Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson; an iconic character from comic book history codenamed Falcon, who appears as a welcome sidekick to our shield wielding warrior and hopefully (if they were to follow current Marvel story lines) could be an important character somewhere down the line. So the heroes work but much like any Marvel villain outside of Tom Hiddleston, the titular terror of the piece struggles to be menacing.

It’s no jaw-dropping shocker that Sebastian Stan is in fact the Winter Soldier but the real surprise is the ill use of his character. The defected agent of the enemy has presence and holds his own against our hero when they cross paths but there’s really nothing else to him which is a shame. They really could have had some fun with the idea of a friend turned foe, almost the same way that Thor and Loki have in their chapter of this expanding universe but there’s nothing here. Fingers crossed then that with the now confirmed threequel on the cards, there’s a chance for Cap and The Winter Soldier to catch up once again in the next instalment of a series that is now beginning to earn its stars and stripes.

 

The Winter Soldier is a wonderful surprise; standing as one of the strongest chapters in the comic book movie franchise and following the adventures of a hero that struggled to find his feet. Evans avenges alone and does so brilliantly, finally appearing as the strong member of the super team as he should be, whilst also ending on a shocking note that will ripple out through the MCU. The Guardians might have stolen this year but Cap is still on top with Marvel's best film so far.
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