Captain America: The First Avenger worked because of it's ability to blend action, character, and nostalgia into one entertaining ride. It helped to set the tone for the slew of ultra-successful Marvel comic-book movies we've had and began the synergy of mixing elements within each of the movies to create a consistent Marvel story world. Captain America: The Winter Soldier continues the tale of Steve Rogers and builds the Marvel story world with it's tie-ins to other shows and movies.
When we last left Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) in Captain America: The First Avenger, he had saved 1944 New York City from the evil forces of Hydra - led by the sinister Red Skull. His heroics came at a cost though; he was was frozen at the bottom of the ocean for 70 years - re-emerging in 2014 and realizing that his loved ones were dead and he had become somewhat of a relic. But, technically, the last time we saw Captain America on-screen was when he was saving 2014 New York City from the evil forces of the Chitari in The Avengers. Well, even more technically than that, the last time we really saw Captain America was during a brief (but hilarious) cameo in Thor: The Dark World. Elements from ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. play an important role in Captain America: The Winter Solider, so those who have been watching the popular television show will be rewarded for their viewership here. It's this synergy that makes everything feel like one big story and that is how Marvel has created something that is truly unique.
Captain America: Winter Soldier has all of the "price of admission" elements that you'd expect to see from a summer blockbuster. It's loaded with action from the very beginning to the very end. Much of this action is bolstered with computer effects that are well-designed and in-balance with the physical sets and effects so that it never comes off as feeling too artificial. For those of you that enjoy seeing your movies in 3D, you wont be disappointed here. There are several fight scenes that are enhanced with 3D effects - which is incorporated not only with the backgrounds and props, but even in the actual fight choreography. That being said, there are a few moments where the action is so quick, that the 3D elements can be a little disorienting, but overall, this is not a problem.
As the cinematic Marvel universe has expanded (and succeeded) over the past few years, each new release has boasted deeper cast lineups than the movie before. Captain America: Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World continue that trend this year. Here we have our Marvel regulars - Chris Evans in the title role, Samual Jackson as Director Fury - the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Scarlet Johansson as the deadly S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff. However, we also have new faces in Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, and even Gary Shandling in a brief comical appearance. All these acting chops helps keep the suspension of disbelief going as they can make even the silliest of lines sound believable. Of particular note is the performance of Sam Jackson in the Director Fury role. In previous Marvel films where he made an appearance, his character wasn't given much development. But here, Fury goes through his own story arc and we learn more about what makes the mysterious figure tick.
The only real critique that Captain America: Winter Soldier deserves is that it is slightly too long. Clocking in at a robust 2 hours, 16 minute running time, there are moments where the film drags and by the time we get to the end, it feels overdue. If the filmmakers could have trimmed 15-20 minutes off of the running time, it would have made a big impact on the pacing of the overall film. However, that is a small nitpick that probably will be overlooked by many who are used to spending at least 2.5 hours in a movie theater these days.
Captain America: Winter Soldier is an entertaining sequel to the first Captain America and also contributes to the overall story arc that is slowly being developed between all of the Marvel universe films and shows. Those of you that are a fan of the Marvel lineup will not want to miss the story developments that happen here. Those of you just looking for a fun summer blockbuster will also come away happy with Captain America: Winter Soldier. It kicks off the summer 2014 blockbuster lineup with style.