(Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014)
Marvel's confidence is startling; now that the universe they work in has been established, risks can be taken. So here we have a massive conspiracy action-thriller set mainly in the corridors of power in Washington DC. Only the hero who discovers the conspiracy happens to be Captain America (Chris Evans), and the organisation behind it is Hydra, the surviving Nazi dark science and occult division introduced in the first Captain America film. The Russo brothers reveal a genuine gift for action here; this film is stuffed with extended, brutal action sequences, most of which are nicely choreographed and thrillingly shot. We are shown Captain America as a sort of super-Bourne, an unstoppable fighting machine who cuts through most opponents with absolute ease. That only makes his clashes with the Winter Soldier - a mysterious Soviet assassin - more exciting and important to the story. Here our hero is facing an equal, introducing a crucial note of vulnerability to his character.
The plot finds him discovering that there is something rotten at the heart of SHIELD, the spy organisation at the heart of the Marvel Universe, run by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). When there is an attempt on Fury's life, Cap and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) find themselves on the run from SHIELD, needing the help of a new friend, Sam (Anthony Mackie), better known as "Falcon,"as they race to stop the simultaneous launch of three immense, heavily armed helicarriers into the skies above America.
Alongside the blistering, relentlessly growing action scenes, Marvel casts its films impeccably, and the addition of the likes of Robert Redford and Frank Grillo in crucial roles just helps make this film play that much more satisfyingly. While there may be a couple of scenes of men in suits arguing in offices too many - indeed, the whole thing is about a half an hour too long - even those sequences contain their fair share of wit. The scene where Arnim Zola explains how Hydra has shaped the 20th Century until people are so willing to accept a surveillance state is darkly hilarious, as are many of the references to all the pop culture Cap missed while he was frozen.
But it is the principals who carry this. Evans nails Cap again, capturing his uncertainty about the modern world and his confidence in his own moral barometer, but also revealing a quiet sense of humour, and a melancholic sense of loss. Johansson's Widow is an altogether more complex creation, and the dynamic between the two characters is fascinating and nicely played by the actors.