You should probably know right away that I love Marvel Studios. I think what they're doing with their cinematic universe (MCU) is the most interesting thing to happen to blockbuster cinema since Steven Spielberg first made dinosaurs with computers.
They aren't perfect, and neither are their films, but they have produced a near-constant stream of high quality adaptations that mix respect for the source material with risk-taking and great ideas. A number of studios are attempting to emulate them, but not one is succeeding.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier marks the third outing for Chris Evans' star-spangled man, and sadly his most tepid as a leading man. Both the character and actor are weak links in the Avengers line-up and The Winter Soldier proves it, but for its largely Cap-based faults the film still succeeds as a rip-roaring adventure.
Chris Evans proved in his first turn as Cap that with a sufficient character arc and plenty of opportunities to display his natural charisma, he can do perfectly fine as a superhero star. Then in Avengers Assemble he was aided by Joss Whedon's brilliant script, but here he is underserved and reduced to little more than a walking, talking, punching flag.
There are early signs of an arc for the character, and a potential love interest, but none of it goes anywhere – either being saved for the sequel or left on the cutting room floor. Fortunately what the film lacks in development for Cap it more than makes up for with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and the introductions of Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
Continuing on from Avengers Assemble, Black Widow gets a lot of screen-time to help build towards an increasingly-likely solo film for the character. Samuel L Jackson has usually only been required to "be Samuel L Jackson" in the films – and as a constant thread in the MCU that works – but here he's given more to do than ever before, and we get a glimpse at what goes on behind that eyepatch as well.
As Falcon, Mackie is a welcome, spritely addition to the team, who takes part in some standout set-pieces and looks set to be Cap's right-hand man in future films. Then there's Robert Redford, who thankfully gives the role his all and consequently shines. Certainly a stark contrast to fellow screen legend Anthony Hopkins, who seemed reluctant to spit even the simplest lines in Thors 1 and 2.
Surrounded by these characters and the great performances behind them, Evans' limits (either in ability or due to the script) turn into a forgivable and even forgettable problem. Forgettable, because The Winter Soldier is one very exciting film.
Brotherly pair Anthony and Joe Russo's first film as directors came about due to the skills showcased in TV sitcoms Arrested Development and Community. A sitcom doesn't strike as somewhere directors go to flaunt their abilities, but Marvel saw something in them and took a risk.
Risk is what Marvel's empire was built on and here it once again pays off. The pair have taken to big budget cinema like ducks to water, flies to the proverbial, or Tony Stark to a big pile of broken electronics. Supremely confident, the film offers up numerous pulsating action sequences, with the elevator sequence teased in trailers standing out in particular.
I have yet to mention the story or its titular Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), but to delve into either too far would be to spoil a plot that Marvel have done well to keep reasonably under wraps. It's no spoiler to say however that the Winter Solider is very cool.
The film is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller with plenty of fun action sequences, snappy dialogue and enough surprising twists and turns to offset the more obvious routes the plot takes. Despite all this however, there is a sense that this is Marvel on default - albeit a very good default.
For the most part it sticks to the existing Marvel mould, but it also goes out of its way to not just break that mould, but obliterate it. Seeing how future Earth-set Marvel films work from now on will certainly be interesting, and with Avengers sequel Age of Ultron next up that's entirely the point.
Cap 2 is a great addition to the Marvel family that builds on the existing world in numerous ways and admirably sets up future instalments. Most importantly however, it is damn good fun