Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger and the latest product of Marvel's amazingly prolific movie machine. The first Captain America was my fourth-favorite film of its year, and I expect the second will end near the top as well. Marvel has done an incredible job of producing a consistently high-quality product across the Avengers franchises.
Side note for those who don't know: Marvel directly produces the Avengers films, including Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Cap, but only co-produces most other Marvel properties due to pre-existing deals with other studios. Guardians of the Galaxy is the only non-Avengers property straight from Marvel. Columbia has Spider-Man, and Fox has X-Men and Fantastic Four. This is why Wolverine and Spidey will not show up in an Avengers movie in the foreseeable future.
The Winter Soldier is a fantastic film. It has great action sequences plus the humor we expect from Marvel movies, and a nice dose of political commentary too. It has well-developed, believable characters and a coherent plot. Above all, though, it's fun.
The First Avenger was set during World War II, with the Captain frozen then awakened in the present time at the end of the film. The Captain America we saw in The Avengers was a fish out of water, with much of his portion of the film dealing with his struggle to come up to date. The Captain America of The Winter Soldier is less clueless, more comfortable, but still old-fashioned. He is the Boy Scout, and the moral compass. Chris Evans does a lovely job making the character both believable and endearing.
In Winter Soldier, the Captain shares substantial screen time with the Black Widow, once again played by Scarlett Johansson. I liked her very much in The Avengers - tough, smart, able to hold her own in the company of gods and superheroes. In The Winter Soldier, she is once again competent and strong. She is in the sidekick role, but is her own person, with her own agenda. I very much like what Johansson and Marvel are doing with this character.
The other returning character with increased screen time is Nick Fury, again played by Sam Jackson. This is the best performance I've seen from him in a Marvel movie, and Fury is actually an interesting character here.
Notable new characters include Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a member of the World Security Council; Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, who has a neat toy; and Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier himself. Redford is of course a wonderful actor. Mackie is quite enjoyable, and easily slips into the sidekick role that The Black Widow doesn't quite occupy. Stan has very few lines, and spends most of the movie with his face covered. Still, the acting he does get to do is quite good.
The action sequences are excellently choreographed. My one quibble with the film is that the camera is a bit too shaky in many of the action scenes, which makes it difficult to see the lovely choreography. Despite that, the camera work is excellent as well, as are the effects.
The movie is full of little details and moments that move it from good to great. The Captain's notebook (which has different items depending on the localization of the film print), the WarGames reference - the movie even has a Pulp Fiction reference.
See it in 2D - the extra depth on the flight scenes is not worth the murkiness on the hand-fighting scenes.
Mako Mori: Pass
What are these?
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2. Lone Survivor
3. The Wind Rises
4. The Lego Movie
5. Lust For Love
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
8. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
9. I, Frankenstein
10. Monuments Men
11. Knights of Badassdom
13. 300: Rise of an Empire
15. Winter's Tale
17. The Legend of Hercules
18. Need For Speed
19. 3 Days to Kill