Overview: The Winter Soldier throws Steve Rogers into a conspiracy thriller that will forever change the course of Avengers movies. Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; 2014; Rated PG-13; 136 Minutes

Shades of Red, Moral Grey, and Blue: Captain America: The First Avenger showcased a classic hero standing against the forces of evil no matter the cost.  The lines between good and evil were clearly drawn.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier examines what happens when those lines are blurred.  Seventy years after being frozen in ice, Cap finds himself working with SHIELD and struggling to find his place in the modern world.  He’s simply not happy.   SHIELD operates on a moral compass much different than that of Cap.  These differences lead to captivating discussions of “freedom vs. fear” and whether or not these two ideologies are mutually exclusive.

A Bit of Esponiage: Directors Joe and Anthony Russo are clearly fans of classic spy thrillers.  They also understand how quickly Captain America can turn into a bore of a superhero.  By placing Steve Rogers’ patriotic ideals against a backdrop of moral ambiguity, his heroic actions are all the more resonant.  The Russo Brothers also wisely forsake a costume for the majority of the movie.  Instead, the sporadic use of the iconic costume(s) thematically ties into Cap wondering where he belongs in our world.

In spite of the darker themes, this is still a summer blockbuster at its finest. Lighthearted quips ease the tension where needed, but the action skyrockets into the stratosphere. The fight scenes are smaller in scale; yet, they’re also  expertly choreographed. The Winter Soldier moves with a frenetic energy that recalls the Bourne series.  Punches reverberate through the screen. Explosions aren’t simply special effects.  First and foremost, the action is about the characters, accentuated by emotional moments and committed performances by all actors involved.

Come at me, bro!

Come at me, bro!

Captains, Black Widows, Spies and Falcons:  Chris Evans, in his best performance yet, continues to embody the traits of Captain Steve Rogers as the character.  His turn here warrants comparison to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Chris Evans has become Steve Rogers and finds new avenues to tread with the titular hero, while still remaining true to the core ideals of the character.  Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, and Anthony Mackie all stand out in a crowd of great supporting performances; however, it’s Sebastian Stan who steals the show as the titular villain.

Winter’s Coming: The Winter Soldier is an unstoppable force of nature.  A relentless killing machine with enhanced speed, strength, and a cybernetic arm.  In a single film, The Winter Soldier has joined the ranks of some of the most memorable comic book movie villains.  His appearances increase as the movie builds toward a powerhouse climax, with each confrontation more thrilling than the previous one.

Overall: Guys, I’m going big for this one.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t just the best Marvel Studios film; it’s one of the best superhero movies of all time.

Grade: A