The first Captain America movie from 2011 was really there as a team-building exercise.
It was there to (re)introduce us to "the first Avenger", his wholesome decency, glistening muscles and Nazi-fighting origins before his minor turn in The Avengers big bash of 2012.
But it was clever, charming film, which had an Indiana Jones sense of derring-do and reminded us about the time when comic book superheroes first became a part of pop culture. As serum-enhanced super-soldier Steve Rogers, Chris Evans played him as a straight arrow without making him a bore, an act he's managed to maintain here.
It was as much fun as the first Thor movie, which preceded it. This one, though, comes after the space viking's's tedious second solo outing The Dark World. That was a Marvel movie which made you feel it was time for a break from Marvel movies. Or at least those from the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" - the Avengers-centric mega-franchise which now also takes in television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Captain II does have advantages over Thor II - it's not fighting evil elves from outer space and it's back on terra firma.
It also has something quite unexpected for this supposedly most retro and most patriotic of the Marvel mob - a contemporary political story which has Captain America questioning the way his overlords spy on the world they are meant to be protecting. Rogers, it seems, would rather be fighting the good fight than sneaking around on the covert ops that his ever-paranoid, permanently-peeved S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury (Jackson) deems necessary. And because you expect someone called Captain America to toe the party line, his eventual non-compliance is what makes The Winter Soldier fairly subversive stuff for the genre.
Much of its first half plays out like a Washington conspiracy thriller - the sort of thing Robert Redford starred in during his 70s heyday. The veteran Hollywood liberal is cannily cast here as S.H.I.E.L.D. political chief Alexander Pierce who might chair a security council-like panel but who you just know has ideas of his own.
Soon, Rogers is persona non grata at Washington HQ, where, ominously,a trio of giant drone heli-carriers are being readied for international deployment while Fury has been sidelined. Rogue assassin the Winter Soldier, complete with metal arm and rock star hair, is targeting the good guys and initially the movie is feeling more spy thriller - think Bourne in fancy dress - than superhero circus, complete with a street firefight battle out of the Heat playbook.
Our hero tag-teams with Black Widow (Johansson) who gets much more to do here than in The Avengers.
Her seen-it-all former KGB gal and Rogers, who spent most of the Cold War on ice, make for a fizzy partnership. Once these action figures have figured out who's at the other end of their puppet strings, this defaults to formulaic fireworks, complete with arrival of a new superhero-in-the-making.
But if it dumbs down a little as it blows up big at the end, this is still one of the smarter and more entertaining Marvel movies of the era.
Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford
: Anthony and Joe Russo
A sequel worth saluting