Steve Rogers continues to save a world he barely recognizes from the forces of evil. Meanwhile, those forces move closer and closer to home on multiple fronts, threatening the world through both the future and his past.
The film opens with Rogers (Chris Evans) trying to find some sort of life for himself outside of Captain America, largely with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Forces within SHIELD have their eyes on controlling the future, however, and are sacrificing their heroes to make that happen. After they turn on Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Captain America and Black Widow must go underground, recruiting what help they can in the form of a new superhero, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), learning the extent of the threat and its roots in SHIELD’s past – all while an enemy from Captain America’s past stalks them.
Having done away with the “setup” of the first film, this film goes straight for the action and delivers a punch which the first film sadly lacked. The tension builds steadily and well throughout as the SHIELD infiltrators continue to raise the stakes. Nobody seems safe, the plot twists are well executed and the heroes actually seem to be in harm’s way – which isn’t easy to do in a superhero movie. Evans and Johansson work together beautifully and Mackie takes what really should have been little more than a cameo and shines. Samuel L. Jackson, of course, is Samuel L. Jackson.
The one knock on the film – and it’s not inconsequential – is that there was too much going on. There are really two stories and while “The Winter Soldier” may have been the subtitle for the film, the storyline really is secondary and under-utilized. The Winter Soldier, himself, is largely ignored or treated as little more than a henchman. A potential recurring villain instead becomes a footnote.
The Winter Soldier’s misuse notwithstanding, this is probably the best “Avenger” film outside of the actual “Avengers” movie and one of the stronger offerings from Marvel’s franchises in a while.