An investigation into the assassination of a SHIELD agent leads Steve Rogers AKA Captain America (Chris Evans) to uncover an unlikely betrayal and a conspiracy which could result in the death of thousands.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo deliver all the thrills and stunts required of a superhero film but this entry in Marvel’s ongoing franchise is far more than a standard action flick.
Look beyond the comic-inspired costumes and fantasy elements and it becomes clear that Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script is a first rate, solidly plotted political thriller with a believably tormented hero at its centre.
As the film opens, Rogers is a man struggling to adjust to life in the modern world and increasingly contemplating his place in it.
With his jingoistic name and oh-so-patriotic outfit, Captain America could easily have wound up being portrayed as a wise-cracking parody. Instead Evans presents the character as a complex, conflicted man trapped by his inability to let go of the past and yet destined to remain completely cut off from it.
Providing backup is Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), whose seemingly endless ability to lie and deceive represents much of what Rogers finds discomforting about the contemporary age.
The certainties of the Good V Evil world from which he comes have left Rogers unprepared for an era in which loyalties shift and truths change in the blink of an eye.
Yet the script torments the Captain by firmly anchoring him to Romanoff in his quest to untangle the conspiracy.
Our two flawed heroes are joined by former Marine Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who, donning the mantle of Falcon and taking to the skies with a winged flight pack, is the nearest the film comes to offering a standard, dependable, “let’s go get ’em” good guy.
Unlike Natasha and Rogers, Wilson knows his place in the world and is sufficiently settled that he can reach out and support others by working as a PTSD counsellor at the local military hospital.
He’s also one of the few Marvel cinema universe characters to willingly sign up for hero duty and the first to do so since Avengers Assemble’s Battle of New York when the full horrors of the universe became an undeniable reality.
As the trio unravel the mystery before them they expose a truth which promises to have deep and lasting implications both for the wider Marvel film universe and the Agents of SHIELD TV series.
Marvel has done exceptionally well to create multiple series of interconnected films which each tell a satisfying, self-contained story while forming an organic part of a wider tale to complex to fit into any single entry.
Considering this the 9th film in an ongoing series, it’s remarkable how open and accessible it is – beyond a broad knowledge of who Captain America is and seeing the trailer for Avengers Assemble, complete newcomers will be able to follow the plot and enjoy this film.
And yet this accessibility hasn’t been achieved at the detriment of the loyal fanbase, who’ll find plenty of cross-mentions, nods and references to delight and reward them.
I left the press screening on a high after being treated to 130 minutes of great performances, intrigue, satisfying action and decent storytelling, convinced that The Winter Solider is about as good as modern filmmaking gets.
A week later, by which time the halo effect has normally subsided and I’m picking holes in plots, I’m still struggling to think of anything wrong with this film.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released across the UK on March 26th, 2014