If Marvel has taught us anything over the years, it's that, if the rules don't work, break them.
At least the rules of franchises. After The Avengers, Marvel knew they were going to need to step things up if they were going to keep up with increasing expectations. How they did that is truly revolutionary: make every franchise installment seem like a stand-alone film. Iron Man 3 turned into a techno-espionage thriller. Thor: The Dark World turned into a fantasy epic. If each film can stand on its own, the characters will always seem fresh, so, by extension, the film itself will, too.
This is clearly the thought behind Captain America: The Winter Solider. Playing off of films like Three Days of the Condor, The Winter Soldier feels like a political thriller with superheroes in it, giving it a taut, dark sense of urgency and suspense while still giving the thrill-seekers what they want. With the chills of a political thriller with the insane action sequences you've come to expect from a Marvel property, The Winter Soldier is not just another blockbuster, but a game-changer.
After the infamous Battle of New York, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) find himself with a shiny new headquarters, a bevvy of new toys, and more pooled resources he knows what to do with. With the help of friend and former colleague Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Fury is about to see the launch of Project Insight, which will stop terrorist activity before it happens. This doesn't sit well with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who believes the punishment should happen after the crime. Once Rogers' opinion becomes less-than-popular, he becomes S.H.I.E.L.D.'s number one enemy overnight, and, with his only allies Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), become hunted by the agency he had become loyal to – and the notorious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a deadly assassin who may share a sordid past with Rogers.
You, Me, and Dupree directors Joe and Anthony Russo may have seemed to be an odd choice to helm the Captain America sequel, but surprisingly deliver the goods by upping the stakes on the action while adding a few comic anecdotes. The backbone of the film, of course, is the script delivered by the first film's screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, which takes modern political devices (drone strikes, presidential kill list, etc) and makes them relevant to Captain America's universe, giving this comic book film a more realistic feel.
While other recent political films like The Dark Knight or The Campaign, Captain America: The Winter Soldier uses elements from the current political climate without being overly preachy or setting things too close to home. Thanks to the Russos, as well as writers Markus and McFeely, The Winter Soldier cleverly hides the political agenda under the big-budget thrills and the stunning action sequences you've come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is not just an intricate way of setting up next year's The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but rather a truly fresh way of allowing audiences to relate to Steve Rogers, as well as the other cast of characters, which makes the action and adventure seem bigger as well. If all sequels followed this model, no one would have problems with Hollywood's obsession with sequels.
FINAL VERDICT: Standing on its own rather than on the shoulder of the first film (or The Avengers, for that matter), Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fresh, taut political thriller cleverly wrapped into a Hollywood blockbuster. The thrills and spills are certainly bigger, but so is the mystery and intrigue, and will certainly change the game for all comic book sequels yet to come.