Captain America: The Winter Soldier ★★★★½

One of the strongest Marvel entries, "The Winter Soldier" treads new ground for Marvel. It still is first and foremost a superhero movie, but where the sub-genre for every other Marvel flick may be simply "Action-adventure," (save for Iron Man 3 where it might be "cop-buddy flick"), for The Winter Soldier it's "Thriller" - or more finely, "Conspiracy thriller."

We start with a great opening sequence deftly weaving the two genres. Flying in at night to a hijacked ship infested with hostage-holding terrorists, there are already undertones something's not right. The SHIELD ship is trespassing in foreign waters- it simply wasn't an innocent freighter taken over. Captain America notes this and says he's "getting tired of being Fury's janitor." Still though, like a true soldier he plunges in and we're treated to an awesome sequence showcasing Cap's strengths. Post-Avengers some may complain he's the weakest of the main four, but The Winter Soldier does an excellent job right out of the gate showing how fast and powerful he is, as he rips through hijacker after hijacker like a hot knife through butter. Some of the action scenes here also have a bit of an edge lacking in previous Marvel flicks- certainly the original Captain America. The smack down on the bad guys looks like it hurts.

In the rest of the opening act there are a few lulls, and in a movie that's two and a quarter hours, there are a couple of five-minute segments that could've been saved for the extended cut dvd. Once the film kicks into high gear in the second act though, it's essentially conspiracy-unravelling alternating with action set pieces. There are a few great ones too: more of a focus on clever gun-battles and vehicular mayhem than anything else, and they're all infused with some exciting, original twists.

The final climax is a bit more typical-Marvel: heavy-effects, large-scale mayhem. It's solid and of course had to be done, but feels more like a simple return to familiar territory. The rest of the flick is entertaining and mixed with the familiar good laughs that are found in all Marvel movies, but by focusing with a fresh lens on the non-superhero aspects, we get an exciting, superior superhero entry.

I'm waffling on a 4 or a 4.5, will stick with a 4 right now but a rewatch may bump.

Edit: Now watched three times- and the fact that I've watched it three times already this year told me something. It's a light 4.5 stars, but it's cleared the threshold for me to bump it up.