Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2014)

Trucking along ever-so-confidently, Marvel’s Phase Two initiative intermittently enthralls once again with the titular first Avenger’s second go-round. Steeped heavily in a narrative benchmarked by a wide-reaching, moreover world-threatening conspiracy, Cap and his cohorts must band together to fulfill their valiant ongoing obligations to humanity as a whole. Faced with one obstacle after another, things quickly appear as if they couldn’t get much worse until a shadowy sentimental figure from Cap’s past reemerges to throw a proverbial wrench in the works, of whom is unsurprisingly paired with the thought-to-be-defunct superpower powering the film’s central bout of conflict.

Like their comic book inspirations, each installment of the Marvel cinematic canon thrives on the establishment of the characters at their cores. Once a tangible human entity has been branded as an Avenger, it’s safe to say that critical and fan reception of their charismatic onscreen turns ensure the films’ success. This in mind, the aforementioned Phase Two initiative has competently ridden the coattails of 2012’s sprawling and exceedingly epic crossover event, what with each of the three films to follow transcending origins story trappings in favor of more compelling substance.

While this fact remains obviously agreeable, The Winter Soldier – more than anything preceding it – is an ostensibly “maximalist ” Point-A-to-B affair, more specifically one that employs personality and presentation in ways that trump the embarrassing simplicity of the plot. Through aptly expansive world-building and the like, the film often engages via identifiably grandiose set pieces and increasingly high stakes for all involved. Paired with an inherent air of intelligence and likability, the script unfolds at a nice clip despite its overindulgence in superfluous detail and, put plainly, you’d be hard-pressed to find multifaceted action-oriented entertainment like this anywhere but this particular licensed niche.

As charisma and sheer engagement rarely cease, you almost tend to forget that these films are almost destined to become one muddy amalgamation of each other for the sake of inoffensive continuity. Barring said theory surrounding a potentially infinite Marvel legacy, dexterous presentational and storytelling prowess transform The Winter Soldier into something mildly triumphant. Chock full of enough canonical jargon and substance to distract you from a bare bones world takeover scheme, the film plays its hand with ease as action-heavy proficiency, occasional emotionality and a requisite amount of fan service combine to put forth a mostly superior sequel.

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