Fury was eyeing up Black Widow's wind machine. If only he has the locks to flow.This weekend, the Marvel Cinematic Universe became the highest grossing film franchise in domestic U.S. history. This was helped in no small way by the $96 million opening weekend of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The latest adventure for Cap was by no means guaranteed that level of success. While Avengers Assemble hit the huge numbers, the first outing for Cap (Captain America: The First Avenger) was only a modest success, with very few people admitting to liking both the film and the character all that much. I, personally, found Joe Johnston’s film to be the strongest in Marvel’s Phase One, establishing my favourite Avenger (yeah, I said it) with style, warmth, and old-fashioned Hollywood charm. Cap’s next solo outing simply had to show the versatility of his character, in regards to the multitudes of genre’s he can work in, and what an interesting individual he truly is. I am happy to report that  The Winter Soldier is up to the challenge, rising to and beyond the call of duty.

Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is busy adjusting to his new found life in the 21st Century. Working as a SHIELD operative, the Captain soon begins to become somewhat unsatisfied with the work that he is being asked to do, believing that this arm of Global Security and Intelligence cares little for the values he fought for during World War Two. He is soon forced to question his loyalties even further with the arrival of the mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), an assassin of unknown origin and motive. With it becoming clear that no one can be trusted, Cap goes AWOL in order to discover who is pulling the strings and simply do what he has always done; fight for what is right.

Foreshadowing much?

The Winter Soldier takes aspects of the much-beloved Ed Brubaker material and origins of character who is ‘The Winter Solider’, while also managing to construct a superhero movie that is very much coloured in the shades of a 1970’s conspiracy thriller. Further enforced by the presence of one Robert Redford in the cast, the script laces mysterious characters, issues of loyalty and government corruption into the superhero hijinks, positioning Cap in a genre well known but rarely seen in this current climate of cinema. Focusing its concern on the involvement of government agencies in surveillance and the private lives of normal everyday citizens, the film also carries with it an acute social awareness that has been lacking somewhat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the ‘war on terror’ heavy Iron Man. It amounts to a film that feels intelligent, well conceived, and thoroughly thought out through every step of production, a quality lacking in the last Marvel effort, Thor: The Dark World.

Cap 2, then, is an entirely different beast in regards to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, above all else, a genre picture that just so happens to have a character called Captain America in it. But with the inclusion of The Winter Solider subplot, the film manages to provide both comic-book fans and casual film-goers with enough thrills to satisfy both comic and action cinema needs. The Winter Soldier himself may not have much to do with the proceedings come the twist in the third act, but he supplies dramatic heft to the story of Captain Steve Rogers, allowing for more emotional investment and a vast sense of jeopardy within the action. What is also exciting is that the writer’s do not try to bloat the movie by exploring too much about the character of The Winter Soldier, avoiding the pratfalls of a two-dimensional comic-book villain. There is enough here to make him intriguing, but it is the teasing of what the character’s future in this franchise could be that makes him and his potential truly exciting.

CAPTAIN-AMERICA-75Directing duo Anthony & Joe Russo are most famous for directing a great many episodes of Community, as well as the Owen Wilson comedy You, Me, and Dupree. Perhaps not the first people you’d expect to be called up for a socially aware superhero flick. But Marvel have always enjoyed taking risks with their directors, and you can mark the Russo Brothers as another success. Much of the humour you feel is as a result of their contribution, but it is their surprising skill at mounting action that truly astounds. The fights and action sequences within The Winter Soldier stand as some of the best seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cap’s combat is slick, brutal, and fist-pumpingly awesome, while their more grandiose set-pieces feature excellent visual effects, with some of their key action scenes refreshingly opting for the use of practical effects over the convenience of CGI. Their action scenes are tense, well-paced, thoughtfully placed, and high in terms of the emotional and narrative stakes.

The impressive cast are also a great deal of fun, with both new and old characters proving themselves able to craft memorable characters amongst the sensational action. Chris Evans is impeccable as Cap; earnest, dependable, and emotionally complex, as well as thriving in the opportunity to engage in kick-ass combat. Scarlett Johansson proves easy on the eyes once more, but also emerges to be one of the film’s funniest characters in her third turn as super assassin Black Widow. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is given much more to do this time around, even having an action scene to call all his own. New additions to the cast include Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon (famous in comic history as being the first African-American superhero), who is simply spot on as Cap’s new ally and friend, while Redford provides gravitas and an old-school vibe as SHIELD Senior Leader Alexander Pierce. captain-america-winter-soldier-scarlett-johansson-2

The Winter Soldier is a five-star superhero movie. This does not mean I think it is as good as the like of 12 Years a Slave. It simply means, as a genre picture, I find it to be near-perfect. It manages to succeed where many superhero movies fail. It provides enough to satisfy fans of both comics and cinema, while sporting the smartest screenplay yet seen in the MCU. Marvel have proven here that they are still capable of surprising their audience, as the climax of this movie is bound to have huge ramifications as to the very fabric of their expertly conceived universe. At a time where some doubt may have been beginning to seep into our minds, The Winter Soldier has come to re-install faith in a franchise that has quite literally no end in sight. It is the way it needed to be, and trust Captain America to be the one to do it.

5/5- The best Solo-Marvel outing to date, The Winter Soldier boasts a smart screenplay, exhilarating action, a charming cast, and plenty of surprises to boot. If any other blockbuster can match these heights this Summer then, boy, are we in for one hell of a season.