I always liked Captain America. Like Superman in the DC universe (at least, until 'Man of Steel' made him darker), Cap represents a world view from a bygone era, one that's almost naively simple and black-and-white in today's world. However, I was disappointed with Joe Johnston's 'Captain America: The First Avenger' back in 2011. Even for one unfamiliar with Captain America's WWII-era backstory, the movie seemed to drag on and on. There's also a certain malaise and perfunctoriness to the action scenes in which the good Captain led his dirty dozen, the 'Howling Commandos,' in their fight against HYDRA henchmen and their leader Red Skull, sapping any sense of excitement.
When I saw the trailer for this second installment in the Captain America trilogy, I knew it is a completely different animal from its predecessor. And boy, was it ever! 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' delivers the goods, folks. It is suspenseful, action-packed and doesn't shy away from tackling topical political issues in our post-911 world. It's 'Three Days of the Condor' meets 'The Bourne Ultimatum' in the Marvel Universe. Tapping into our fears of Big Brother Government, TWS is a conspiracy/espionage thriller, fugitive movie, and superhero film all rolled into one. After a slow burning-but-suspenseful initial build-up culminating in a thrilling car chase involving Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the movie shifts into non-stop overdrive as Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and (later) Sam Wilson try to unravel the Grand Conspiracy in order to save the world in the name of Freedom and Justice for All.
Unlike 'The First Avenger,' the action sequences in TWS are gritty and realistic, filled with brutal close-in hand-to-hand combat like those you've seen in James Bond and Jason Bourne movies of recent vintage. There's also a more interesting cast of characters in TWS, as Chris Evan's Cap is joined by Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, whom we've seen previously in 'The Avengers' and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), not to mention HIMYM's Cobie Smulders and Emily VanCamp of 'Revenge' as S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Maria Hill and Sharon Carter/Agent 13, respectively. Then there's the villain of the movie himself, the titular master assassin known as 'Winter Soldier' (Sebastian Stan), who proved to be a match for Captain America and then some.