I wasn't really a massive fan of Joe Johnson's Captain America: The First Avenger, but could new directorial blood in the Russo brothers and a modern setting warm me up to a sequel? Find out after the jump.

I did enjoy Captain America: The First Avenger, I just felt it was seriously lacking in many areas, and by the final act it had pretty much descended into throwaway G.I. Joe-ish silliness. So when this sequel was announced I wasn't really expecting that much, even after a few promising early trailers.

So consider me VERY pleasantry surprised.

Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have loosely adapted Ed Brubaker's comic run to craft an exciting, dramatic, and surprisingly thoughtful sequel to Joe Johnson's original -- and as it turns out, new directors Anthony and Joe Russo were the perfect choices to take over. Ironically given the duo's tv background (Arrested Development, Community) this is probably Marvel's most serious film yet. Not that there aren't some funny moments and great banter between the characters, but it's balanced very well and -- unlike Marvel's previous Phase 2 efforts -- the comedy/lighter scenes are never at the expense of any of the drama.

The story follows Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he continues to try to adapt to life in the 21st century, while working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as their go-to mission man. After one particularly dangerous encounter with Batroc leads to a very shady set of orders, Rogers begins to question the motives of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his superiors -- and even those he had previously considered trusted allies like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Add to that a budding friendship with fellow former soldier Sam Wilson (Anthomny Mackie) and the appearance of the mysterious "Winter Soldier" (Sebastian Stan), and all the elements are in play for not only an action packed superhero flick, but a very effective conspiracy thriller too.

Lets talk about that action bit for a minute. The set pieces in this movie surpass anything that's come before them, thanks to tense, violent, one-one-one scraps! The large-scale "splosions" are there too of course, but the emphasis is placed firmly on brilliantly choreographed hand-to-hand battles, that at times make you wonder how they squeezed passed the censors. A lot of their impact is due to the The Winter Soldier himself -- a relentless killing machine who proves every bit as formidable as Cap in a scrap. While some may think it odd that the titular character isn't actually in the film that much, I think they might be missing the point: The title stems from the soldier's impact on not only Cap, but the world itself and the perceived need for, and ramifications of, his creation.

I'm trying to be as vague as possible, because to discuss the plot more than I already have brings us into major spoiler territory -- but lets just say after this movie, the MCU is never going to be the same again!

Performance wise, nobody puts a foot wrong. The likes of Evans, Johannson and Jackson are a dab hand at this by now, but still don't allow for any complacency -- all give their best interpretations of these characters yet. Anthony Mackie brings some fun to the proceedings and Falcon is brought into the fold, as it were, after establishing a believable friendship with Rogers. Robert Redford was also an inspired bit of casting..and that's all I'll say about that! The standout though is probably Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier. Like I said, he isn't in the movie that much, but when he is he is responsible for not only the glorious action, but most of the more emotional stuff too -- of which there is quite a bit by the way.

Problems? A few nitpicks here and there, but since most of them relate to the plot..I can't really discuss them. I will say that, like so many comic book movies, the ending gets a bit convoluted and the inevitable mass destruction does hit the screen, but the characters are so engaging that the film pretty much gets away with it.

Up there with (and perhaps even surpassing) the first Iron Man as Marvel's best solo outing. A rare beast that successfully juggles many elements and tones, and then comes out of an over 2 hour run-time with the audience still thirsty for more. Thank the movie Gods that the Russo brothers will be back for the threequel.

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