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Captain America: The Winter Soldier sends Cap to spy school

Captain America: the Winter Soldier

Boy, is this thing ever full of secrets.

It’s an old school espionage thriller as much as a superhero action movie, and I feel like I’ve already revealed too much.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has so many secrets, so many twists and so many Easter eggs, I pretty much can’t review it without spoiling it.

So here goes.

SHIELD = Hydra. Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) = Hydra boss. Winter Soldier = Bucky Barnes (duh). Old-timey computer = Arnim Zola. Nurse down the hall = Sharon Carter. Nick Fury = dead (but alive (but dead (but alive))).

Oh and the end credit scene? Total Avengers: Age of Ultron setup, showing us new Hydra head Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) as he examines the “miracles” made possible by Loki’s staff, which is now in Hydra’s possession. What are those miracles? None other than the twins, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

I’m probably missing something.

But hey, I warned you!

Now that that’s taken care of, let’s get down to it: This is a good movie. A really good movie. the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is a terrifying presence, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo do a fantastic job of using silence to build the tension every time he’s on screen. The guy is a brainwashed badass, but Stan also manages to imbue his character with a simple naivete befitting a killer with a wiped personality.

Stan’s performance isn’t the only powerful one. Chris Evans delivers a more nuanced representation of Captain America in this third go-around, while Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury capitalizes on the most Marvel screen time he’s ever had. Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) shows far more depth and character development than we’ve seen from her in either Iron Man 2 or Avengers, and Cap’s new pal Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) provides a welcome “regular guy” perspective to keep the story grounded.

Which is funny, because Wilson is actually the hero Falcon, an Afghanistan vet with a winged jetpack.

So cool.

Falcon’s aerial battle scenes are some of the best in the movie, but pretty much every action sequence is a show-stopper. Whether it’s the final action sequence set on three killer helicarriers, or the simpler car chases, or just Cap taking down a quinjet with his shield, it’s all brutal and fast and well-shot.

This is also one of the most nerd-friendly Marvel films yet. We get nods to other Avengers like Bruce Banner and Tony Stark, along with a tease of Dr. Stephen Strange. There’s also plenty of Cap lore to soak in, from minor villains like Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre), Brock Rumlow, the future Crossbones (Frank Grillo), and robot Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) to Agent 13 Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). The tiny bits of fanboy payoff come pretty much every 10 minutes or so.

Watch for non-Marvel Easter eggs, too, like a cameo from Community‘s Abed (Danny Pudi) and a Pulp Fiction nod on Nick Fury’s gravestone: “The path of the righteous man…”

This is a movie you’ll appreciate the more you watch it.

8.5 out of 10

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