Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Whenever you have an established organisation within a franchise, rocking its foundations and exploring the politics within it is always a fascinating exercise. S.H.I.E.L.D. here is the subject, coming under the microscope and taking centre-stage instead of the most boring superhero of Marvel's cannon. Just as Judi Dench was allowed to flex her muscles in the most recent Bond installment Skyfall, so too is Samuel L Jackson allowed some breathing space, to finally develop Nick Fury and see how he fits within the broader organisation. The universe seems all the more rounder for it; while Iron Man has the Stark Corporation and Thor has Asgard, Captain America (and the canny inclusion of Black Widow as his sidekick) has become the posterboy for the basis of The Avengers itself.
Hayley Atwell makes a brief cameo, reprising her role from the first instalment, but this time computer generated as the old-age version of herself. Anthony Mackie is a worthy side-kick as well, debuting here as Falcon. Johansson is the stand-out of the film, as she was in Avenger Assemble, but what of The Winter Soldier himself? Well... I feel like I know as little about him now as I did before the film started. Sebastian Stan is just another hunk, who takes his shirt off because Evans doesn't, and for a character whose name is actually in the movie's title, it seems like a wasted opportunity. Stan is fine with the material that he's been given, but that material is hardly enough.
The film runs over two hours but my criticism thus far has been that I want to see MORE. The idea of twisting the genre to feel more like a thriller was very good, but for the final act it returns to a CGI-heavy typical superhero action sequence that was far less exciting than anything that had come before it. The problem with these massive set-pieces nowadays is that they're ten-a-penny; any film can have one and they're not thrilling any more. If this film had committed itself fully to its new and exciting direction, this could have been a much better endeavour. However, saying that, it's still a vast improvement on its predecessor (which I rated with one star), so I'm not going to complain too much. And now that Marvel have committed themselves to making Captain America films, I like that they're being experimental with them.