Two years after the events of Avengers Assemble, Steve Rogers - aka Captain America (Chris Evans) - continues to undertake heroic missions for S. H. I. E. L. D under the directorship of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and the assistance of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). But when old friends and foes from Rogers' past unexpectedly show up, Cap must go rogue to prove his heroism. Shields up for more old school heroics from Marvel's patriotic crusader for justice.
Samuel L Jackson
Captain America may have been the first Avenger, but he was hardly the coolest. Steve Rogers had superpowers, sure - but his WWII serum only really amounted to running a bit faster, punching a bit harder.
He couldn't fly, couldn't smash, couldn't summon lightning... And in the wrong light, his costume - a colourful all-body skintight leather suit - made him look like some sort of patriotic pervert.
It's a hard sell. Still, Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger went some way to assuage the doubters - particularly those of us who live in a country of which he is not 'Captain'. Avengers Assemble went one better, allowing the all-American hero to trade Whedon wisecracks with Marvel's finest, and proving he could hold his own against Tony Stark's charisma or Bruce Banner's brawn.
But this sequel is perhaps the first time Cap has been allowed to stretch his serum-boosted legs. It boasts the best of Marvel's knowing wit and and one-liners, the grandest flex of its big-dollar action muscle, and crucially, some of the boldest plot developments yet seen in its cinematic canon.
We join Rogers (Chris Evans, on fine, square-jawed form) two years after the events in New York, still adjusting to modern life. He's content enough to beat up bad guys with Natasha 'Black Widow' Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), but he remains a man lost in time, and incapable of a life outside of public service.
If there's a sense that many of the Marvel sequels are just insubstantial entrées for an Avengers-shaped main course, that feeling isn't entirely shaken off here. But the plot, so inextricably linked to Avengers: Age of Ultron, is too pivotal to be considered filler.
There's more at stake in this entry than any other. Saving the world from the clutches of evil has become quickly repetitive among superhero movies, and this sequel certainly hits familiar rhythms - but unlike the lukewarm villainy of Thor 2's Malekith, the battles here have deeper consequences for the wider Marvel world.
The Winter Soldier himself (Sebastian Stan) provides a neat link to Steve Rogers' old life, not to mention a worthy foil to the might of Cap - but he's a smaller cog in a bigger picture. To say anymore might ruin a genuine surprise.
Which does not even cover just how effortlessly entertaining Cap 2 manages to be. The Russo brothers, who cut their teeth directing cult sitcoms like Community and Arrested Development, show verve and style in delivering fast, effective, tip-of-your-seat action, turning Marvel's blandest idol into its coolest.
In all, it's far more fun than a film about leathered-up 94-year-old war veteran could ever hope to be. You'll be a card-carrying member of Team America before the two hours are up.