For me, most of the films based on the superheroes of Marvel Comics are pulpy and cartoonish. The Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man and even The X-Men have left me wanting the dark broodiness of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which showed how a movie based on a comics-based superhero can still be menacing, tense and meaningful.
Thankfully, the new Captain America film, from Anthony and Joe Russo, captures that spirit. The film focuses on Captain America (Chris Evans), working for global defense agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and getting caught up in an insider double-cross that threatens to bring about the deaths of millions of people, all in the name of security. Without revealing plot points, suffice it to say that in keeping with the new trademark of the superhero genre, this sets up multiple sequels for the franchise, as well as several other Marvel titles.
The subject matter — losing our freedoms in the name of security — is heady stuff, and Evans brings a level of conviction and believability to the title role that he was sorely lacking in the first Captain America film. Evans portrays Captain America as a troubled, out-of-time hero, living with 1940s sensibilities in a far more complicated modern world. The supporting cast is also good, with Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier and Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is definitely the best sequel to come out this latest batch of superhero films, and might be the best standalone feature to date.