Marathoning through the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally arrives at the best film in the series thus far, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Anthony and Joe Russo direct one of the best action pictures of the last 20 years as they pit the heroic patriot against weaponized SHIELD planes, trap him in an elevator with 15 strong arm men to take on singlehandedly and most especially against a mysterious figure that possesses a highly weaponized steel arm. Best yet, none of these sequences pertain to the story so much as they frame it.

Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers aka the first title character, and he’s even better. As the film hearkens back to the thematic 1970s conspiracy theory features like “The Parallax View” with Warren Beatty and “Three Days Of The Condor” with Robert Redford, Cap first finds himself on one side of an important debate for our times. When is too much warfare enough? How far must we go to serve as a means of protection? Evans appears as if he’s researched the strong position held by his character, and he’s believable in his mindset. Is the motive out of fear, or power, or could it actually just all be for protection? He’s convincing in his character’s argument. Naturally, if he can’t agree with the powers that be, he’ll find himself on the run with allies like Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Anthony Mackie as the supercool Falcon.

Johansson is given much more to work with as she trades “Buddy Cop Movie” wits with Evans as helping him with his dating scene. She also offers up some sharp intelligence to a promising complex former KGB/spy. It’s about time she get her own film in the series. She’s overdue.

It’s especially appropriate that Redford himself is recruited as Secretary Alexander Pierce. Redford plays puppet master for a film that offers the biggest altering twists the MCU has offered up to this point. To handle the role requires an actor with a history to his career and since Redford has dabbled in films of this nature, he fits right in. He must have been especially pleased to accept this role recognizing the layered angles to a script provided by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley.

Sebastian Stan returns with an astonishing turn as his character Bucky. When all the surprises are revealed by him, your pulse will likely not have come down following a thrilling highway shootout.

Lastly, credit must be given to Samuel L Jackson. This film offers the most for his Nick Fury character to play with. Fury finds himself on the wrong end of an argument that leads to a shocking betrayal and sabotage. Jackson’s roles often fall into the same routine of timing and delivery, screaming “mother effing” frustrations. It’s often lovingly joked about but it gets tiring too. Here however, he’s given a chance to be the victim of a brutal attack and deal with an aftermath. It’s the best material written so far for the Nick Fury character.

The Russo brothers, not normally known for big budget extravaganzas, surprised audiences with a well executed film that offers suspense, extended well choreographed action sequences and great characterizations all around. They have identified Captain America as the soldier of morals but moreover they recognize where he stems from. The Brothers certainly haven’t forgotten that he’s really a 95 year old man at the time of this story. That sets up some good laughs. The adventure of the picture is top notch and thankfully primarily all takes place in daylight where nothing is strategically hidden and appearing as shortsighted work. The Russos know how to pinpoint exactly where Cap needs to throw his shield, what it should bounce off of, and how the hero should get it back. Everything here is top notch.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier only gets better with repeat viewings, and you really don’t even need the other films to follow its trajectory. It’s worth watching at any given moment.

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