The opinions on Captain America: The First Avenger are mixed. Some found it cheesy and boring. Others basked in the nostalgic feel and endearing story. As my list of the Top 15 superhero movies will tell you, I lean heavily to the latter. But even I can admit that there was something lacking from Cap Part One. After watching Disney/Marvel’s latest venture (I say Disney/Marvel because X-Men, Spider-man, and Fantastic Four are not owned by the same studio), I now know what that missing link was, because Part Two was fully injected with it as if it were the super soldier serum itself.
First off, as with all superhero movie sequels, it helps if you’ve seen the previous outings. So don’t sit and watch this film without at least viewing Captain America (2011) and Avengers (2012). Unlike Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, this film deals more directly with the aftermath of Avengers, with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, now working directly with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (the visually flawless Scarlett Johannson), Maria Hill (Colbie Smoulders) and the secret agency organization, S.H.I.E.L.D. Series newcomer Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) also plays an effective Robin to Steve Rogers’ Batman.
While Cap is no longer a social fish out-of-water, emotionally he is as conflicted as ever, because in today’s day and age the bad guys are no longer so clearly defined as much as the Hitlers and Red Skulls of his old days. In today’s world, the “good guys” can be just as twisted and corrupt as the terrorists they strike. “This isn’t freedom,” Cap says in the film, “This is fear.”
Winter Soldier takes that concept and runs with it as the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. turns on our hero led by organization head Alexander Pierce (Roebrt Redford) and his secret weapon The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). The result is an action packed thrill ride that is every bit James Bond and Mission: Impossible as much as it is a comic book fantasy. The fight choreography is better than anything Marvel has ever done, but the movie also manages to maintain just enough heart to be more than just a comic book Expendables. There are plot turns and surprises that should satisfy diehard fans and newbies while also setting up changes that will ripple throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Make no mistake. The game has thoroughly changed. And Disney/Marvel are the ones who changed it. The recent announcement of Spider-Man movie spinoffs, X-Men movie spinoffs, and Batman vs. Superman are all Sony, Fox, and Warner Bros. attempts to catch up to what Disney/Marvel Studios is already running to perfection. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and S.H.I.E.L.D.) is more than a collection of movies. It’s a live action look into the comic books and cartoons we grew up loving, but on a larger, bigger-budgeted, and more cohesive scale. And if Winter Soldier is a sign of things to come, then Disney/Marvel might as well surgically strap the Box Office Championship Belt to their figurative torso.
FINAL GRADE: A
P.S.: As always, stay after the credits to get a cool look at two new characters coming to Avengers: Age of Ultron next summer.