First, we had to sit through “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” to finally get to “The Avengers.” Now, we have to sit through “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World,” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” to finally get to “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

That seems to be the general consensus of Marvel movies nowadays, which always seemed like an unfair assessment to me. Sure, “The Avengers” might be the main event we all want to get to. Regardless, all these other movies building up to the ultimate crossover have still been wonderfully produced for the most part. Each individual franchise also notably maintains a distinctive tone with “Iron Man” being high-tech, “Thor” being mystical, and “Captain America” being retro.

Well, at least the first “Captain America” had a retro vibe to it. Captain America is no longer in the 1940s. After being asleep for almost 70 years, he’s been awakened to a whole new world dominated by iPads, iPhones, and men in flying suits of armor. This approach makes “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” the most unique of all the Avengers-related sequels and also arguably the best.

Chris Evans returns as the incredibly likable hero who wants nothing more than to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Captain America still isn’t as dark or complex as somebody like Batman, Spider-Man, or Iron Man. Then again, he’s not supposed to be and the film never tries to make the character grittier ala “Man of Steel.” Following the events that took place in New York, the all-American Avenger finds himself wrapped up in a thrilling tale of betrayal, loss, and conspiracy.

The bad guy this time around is Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official who is such an obvious bad guy that I’m really not spoiling anything by telling you upfront that he’s the bad guy. Redford is so deliciously calculating in the role, though, it’s easy to give the character a pass. He plans to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. down from the inside and enlists help from the elusive Winter Soldier, an assassin with a bionic arm.

Hunted by his own people, Captain America only has two allies he can trust. One is Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, who becomes the high-flying Falcon, aka Iron Patriot 2.0. The other is Scarlett Johansson as fellow Avenger Black Widow, who has yet to get her own movie. Watching “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” however, you really wish that Marvel would give her a spin-off. Johansson is great here as the Captain’s closest ally and friend, but not a love interest. What’s this? A superhero movie with opposite sex partners that puts an emphasis on friendship over romance? That’s a refreshing first.

The film has a number of great supporting characters as well, even if they don’t get as much screen time as they deserve. Emily VanCamp of “Revenge” is a nice addition as Agent 13, although she’s not entirely developed. Hayley Atwell from the first film has a powerful cameo, although that only lasts a couple minutes. Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury are fun as always, although they’re not on screen for that long. Even the Winter Soldier, one of the title characters, is absent for large portions of the movie. But even if these characters leave us wanting more, the characters that the film does choose to focus on are more than engaging enough.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. They pack this engrossing blockbuster full of solid action, welcome humor, strong character development, and a story full of twists. In other words, it’s a much better effort than the Russo’s last film, “You, Me and Dupree.” It’s also vastly superior to either of those “G.I. Joe” pictures. Not only will this “Captain America” sequel make you more excited for “The Avengers 2,” it will make you even more excited for “Captain America

• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, Reach him at

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