If the First Avenger’s WWII outing was a little twee for some, then The Winter Soldier catapults Captain America explosively into the 21st century. Co-helmers Anthony and Joe Russo bring their small-screen comedic flair to impressive big-screen boom.Master of secrets Nick Fury (Jackson) suspects nefarious goings on within S.H.I.E.L.D. When his suspicions are confirmed it's up to Captain Steve Rogers (Evans) to investigate further and expose this unseen enemy. What stands out right away in Cap’s second solo outing is the shift in tone from his first. Joe Johnston’s old fashioned Rocketeer-a-like origin story has been replaced with a slick, witty and superbly action-packed sequel that’s right at home in the post-Avengers world.
One of the biggest challenges for these stand-alone sequels is having a plot hefty enough for their respective hero, but not so much that audiences wonder why the rest of The Avengers aren’t suiting up too. It’s an issue handled brilliantly in Iron Man 3 (less so in Thor: The Dark World), with Shane Black and Drew Pearce choosing to focus on Tony Stark's personal battles, and it's done well here. Writers Markus and McFeely deliver a S.H.I.E.L.D-centric story that keeps the action well within the Captain’s jurisdiction but with enough at stake to keep it exciting — and leave room for new faces.
Standing in for one of Steve's super chums is Sam Wilson (Mackie), a retired veteran who Rogers calls to action. Wilson fits in nicely as Falcon and proves himself a more than capable addition during the impressive final act, while Alexander Pierce (Redford), the tough-talking political arm of S.H.I.E.L.D, ensures Fury is not the only seasoned character on show.
There are familiar faces, too. Agent Hill (Smulders) gets more screentime, with some nice ass-kicking moments, plus there are a few romantic sparks between the Cap and Black Widow (Johansson), who has loosened the cat-suit a little this time out (down boys). It’s the most we’ve seen of the Russian agent so far, her ambiguous motivations and murky history perfectly countering Rogers’ total transparency and idealism. The only S.H.I.E.L.D face missing from proceedings is Hawkeye.
As for the Captain, while he may have plenty of catching up to do when it comes to pop culture (there’s a delightful gag about this near the start), he’s now every bit the modern day hero. The fight scenes are emphatic, the stunt sequences are sensational, the one-liners fully loaded and the star-spangled superhero gets the absolute most out of his iconic shield. Since being frozen in the '40s, he’s now very much Bourne again.
The trademark Redford double-take being brought to the Marvel Universe is wonderful to see, and along with Michael Douglas being cast in the upcoming Ant-Man, it shows how highly regarded the Marvel franchise has become that it can draw such respected names. However, here the Hollywood titan's character is somewhat under-used which on occasion does make his heavyweight presence a tad out of place. There are a couple of other little dinks in the Captain's armour too. While for the most part the special effects are spectacular, an attempt to digitally age Peggy Carter (Atwell) will leave some viewers more interested in her fidgety face than what she has to say. There’s also a reveal later on that falls rather flat as it’s only a shock to the Captain.
In terms of entertainment though, The Winter Soldier gives plenty of blockbuster bang for your buck and more than a few laughs to boot. It's rife with Whedon-esque wit that's handled perfectly by the Russos. Not only a fantastic follow up to both the First Avenger and The Avengers, it’s also a mouth-watering set up for Avengers: Age of Ultron and has raised the bar for Captain America's third instalment due in 2016.
EXTRAS ★★½ Disappointingly, there is no Marvel One Shot on this release, unlike with previous marvel films on Blu-ray. What you do get are: an audio commentary with the Russo brothers (the directors), plus screenwriters Markus and McFeely; an amusing gag reel (2:37); four deleted and extended scenes, with an optional audio commentary (3:36); the featurette Steve Rogers' Notebook (2:26), which explains how Cap's "to-do list" was changed for the film's release in different territories; the featurette On Set With Anthony Mackie: Cut The Check! (1:55); and the featurette On The front Line: An Inside Look at Captain America's Battlegrounds (10:11).