CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (M)
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
This Marvel franchise really is a thing to behold.
Disappointed with the creative results and the profits that came its way after licensing its characters to other film companies, Marvel decided to form its own production company. It set about creating a series of interlinked blockbusters that would mimic the most successful of the Marvel comics series. It was a huge gamble, but it has paid off.
Since Iron Man in 2008, there have been nine films in the series, and at least four more to come. All of the films have made money, with The Avengers, by some accounts, the highest-grossing film of all time.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, with the exception of Iron Man 2, which really was a bit of a stinker, all of the films have been hits with the critics as well. I put The Avengers in my Top Ten for 2012, and it was one of the very first titles I wrote down.
I was having a chat with a mate just this week. I found myself raving that I'd just seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and what a truly good film it was.
She didn't exactly roll her eyes, but she did say something about "they're very good at giving the fans what they want, I suppose".
Which is true, I guess, but surely we could level the same damning-with-faint-praise at every film-maker in the world.
You might be the darling of the film festival set, turning out sensitive docudramas about the plight of the transgender goatherds of Albania, and I could say all you're doing is "giving the fans what they want".
Yes, the fans of Marvel movies expect a certain amount of explosions and stunts. That's what they pay their money to see.
But the video-shop sale bins are full of films that had all the computer-generated imagery and stunts you could ask for, but which were unmistakably, irredeemably lousy films.
Marvel is successful because it cares about these characters, and are committed to making genuinely good films about them.
And all of that commitment is on display here in The Winter Soldier. The original might not have been the best of the series, but it was undoubtedly one of the funniest, and the most left-field. This sequel is more straightforward action and drama, but it works equally well.
The Cap' faces the Winter Soldier, who is his toughest adversary, and in many ways his equal. Meanwhile, SHIELD has been infiltrated, and a gang of rogue Nazis have found a way to change history even from their graves.
There's a lot going on here, beneath the outrageous action sequences and special effects. There is a satire of our surveillance culture writ large, and questions are asked of whether rather too many of the Nazis' ideas found a comfortable home in Cold War-era America.
With dialogue a few degrees smarter than it needs to be, a cast mostly straight out of the top drawer, and some quite breathtaking inventiveness in the design and effects, this is a film to be admired and appreciated for what it is: a damn good movie, and a worthy part of a remarkable franchise.