Based on the acclaimed Captain America storyline of the same name by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, “WINTER SOLDIER” is a full on spy action thriller that doesn’t let up and quite literally, hits you with awesome from left field. “On your left.” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) utters these words of warning to a hilariously outrun Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in the films opening. The two hit it off, even as Cap gets pulled into yet another mission that sees him facing off against a cadre of French speaking mercs.

The deadliest version of ‘Hot Potato’ to date.

In an impressive opening action sequence involving a parachute-less base jump, a Mario Bros. style knocking off of said mercs and a well executed sub-boss fight, we get a taste of what Cap has been up to in a post-Avengers/Battle of New York world. I’m not quite sure how they did it, but directors Anthony & Joe Russo manage to turn Batroc the Leaper, one of Marvel Comics’ silliest villains into a genuine, if short-lived threat.

You don’t want to be in an elevator with Cap after he’s had a 5 alarm burrito..

Events lead on through some great spy-smasher type intrigue, as one might expect in a story involving S.H.I.E.L.D. All the elements are in place: A hero who is no longer sure of his place in the world, a morally ambiguous ally in Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), a stranger who becomes a friend in Falcon and betrayal by those closest to him. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) especially gets a great deal of focus in the film as his motives and methods are called into question by Rogers, as well as a few high powered suits.

I think we can all agree that Falcon needs more screen time?

Let’s talk acting. THE WINTER SOLDIER boasts an impressive array of talent that gels, even as the explosions go off. Evans keeps getting better at displaying this icon of Americana, ably supported by a slightly less shouty Jackson and finding stern gravitas in Robert Redford’s execution of Alexander Pierce. Everybody manages not to venture into silly, while remaining truthful to the source material and not getting too serious. The film has enough just emotional punch to keep things level, even as the action ramps up to HOLY JESUS DID YA SEE THAT?! levels. I do feel that Mackie could have done with a bit more screen time, though what he has is never wasted on ‘token black tropes,’ thank goodness.  Based on what I saw from Johannson,  it is high time that we had a solo Black Widow film. Your move, Kevin Fiege.

Fist-bump. Super-power style.

Action: Shortly put, the fights, flights and tights on display in THE WINTER SOLDIER is the kind of visual and aural blessing that warrants 2nd and 3rd viewings just so you can relive the glorious display of well thought out action from not only Cap, but Fury, Widow and Falcon. The physicality on display from hero and bad-guy alike was put to shame by the menacing presence of the titular villain, (Sebastian Stan) whose brutish power made short work of numerous S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, police and gawking bystander. Dude was a straight beast. I have to make special mention of Falcon’s flight/fights. It’s great to see a supporting character get a decent chunk of screen-time, kicking bad guy tail, but I felt denied not seeing him actually really throw down with…You’ll have to get your butt in the theatre before I let that little Easter egg slip out.

A guy has to file his nails somehow, right?

Speaking of Easter eggs, the film has quite a few. Marvel fans will have themselves a wonderful time spotting and hearing hints of the future. The world of THE WINTER SOLDIER definitely feels complete, with even small roles playing into the bigger picture and becoming seeds for something else down the line. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is creating comic book fans where previously none might have existed. THE WINTER SOLDIER is a rollicking good time, loaded with a great, if predictable story but going above and beyond in terms of Cap finding his old fashioned ideals being challenged and how he deals with the fallout. All in all, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is the rare kind of film that improves miles over it’s predecessor, taking Captain America to new heights I didn’t think possible.

I look forward to seeing Cap play ultimate Frisbee with Ultron’s head in The Avengers 2.