Captain America: The Winter Soldier ★★★★

Yet another potential victim of sequelitis saved! And not only that: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" turns out to be a significant improvement over "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011). By placing Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, who has grown into the role and made it his own), arguably one of Marvel’s least interesting superheroes, in a modern-day context, this movie makes him relevant in a way that the first installment didn’t—couldn’t, really—do.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo achieve a very good balance between the various aspects of the film. They combine action, character moments, humor, conspiracy-thriller elements, and thematic poignancy into a satisfying, very entertaining whole; one of the better movies in Marvel’s cinematic universe, in fact.

The plot provides timely commentary on several real-world issues. Is mass surveillance an effective and ethical tool in the fight against crime and terrorism? Should people be brought to justice for crimes or acts of terrorism that a computer analysis of collected data has revealed they may or may not commit in the future? "I thought the punishment usually came after the crime", as Rogers so eloquently puts it in one scene. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" also touches on the pertinent question of whether sacrificing some of our freedoms in exchange for increased security—real or not—is the right path to take.

I for one appreciate that Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, excellent) plays a rather big role in the film. She is a cool character and has a nice rapport with Rogers. Moreover, Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford are welcome additions to the cast, playing Sam Wilson/Falcon and Alexander Pierce, respectively.

For reasons I don’t want to spoil for anyone who doesn’t already know, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, solid) turns out to be a fairly interesting antagonist. Suffice it to say that the character is not simply a throwaway villain.

The expertly staged action setpieces are exciting and definitely get the adrenaline pumping, and the close-combat scenes feature first-rate choreography. One memorable scene in that regard is set in an elevator at the Triskelion, the headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Considering the generally high quality of everything leading up to it, the lazily written (screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) and uninspired denouement is a bit of a let-down. The other things that bugged me, such as Romanoff somehow being alerted to an incoming missile through her smartphone and a couple of instances of inelegant exposition, are minor in nature.

I am going to end this review of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" with a few words of advice. First of all, while the 3D effects are certainly noticeable and competently done, they don’t really add anything to the experience, so see the movie in 2D if possible. Secondly, be sure to stay for the mid-credits and post-credits scenes.