In my review for Captain America: The First Avenger, I expressed that Cap was one of my least favourite Marvel heroes – I actually went as far as to use the word dull, if you’re keeping score – but my MCU rewatch actually has me reconsidering that stance.

I’ll admit that I’d only watched The Winter Soldier once before, and because I didn’t enjoy the (marginally) more realistic story at the time, I disregarded it entirely.

This time around, I actually found that (again, marginal) realism to be one of its better qualities. After the big sci-fi epic that was The Avengers, the effects-driven Iron Man 3 and the fantastical disappointment that was Thor: The Dark World, Cap’s second solo outing actually made for a refreshing palate cleanser.

The Winter Soldier obviously continues Steve Rogers’ story, but it also introduces the titular villain (later hero), as well as marking Falcon’s MCU debut. It also does an awful lot to address the hypocrisy of S.H.I.E.L.D., the resurgence of Hydra, and establish Captain America’s place in the 21st Century by tying up loose ends from his past.

That’s an awful lot of weight for one film to carry, but The Winter Soldier actually manages all of it without ever getting overly jumbled. There are moments where the plot feels a little convoluted, but generally, it’s easy to follow and – most importantly – it all makes sense.

Chris Evans brings Rogers to life with such careful and wholesome charm, that he really does embody the character, and having him paired with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow serves for a well-balanced team-up. The pair share a dynamic that manages to both flesh out their respective characters and build upon the partnership that started in The Avengers.

The Winter Soldier also boasts some genuinely impressive action, combining car chases with hand-to-hand action and more than a few explosive set pieces. Between the moments where the film turns Washington D.C. into a warzone, though, there’s a solid conspiracy story unfolding, all of which seems to have Nick Fury (and Captain America, by extension) at its core.

It’s far from a perfect film, though. There’s a very strange chemistry between Rogers and Romanoff that seems to hint at a potential romance. This is odd because in The Avengers, it hints at a possible romantic link between Black Widow and Hawkeye, and then going forward, Romanoff becomes a love interest for Bruce Banner. Seeing Cap and Black Widow engaging in what can only be described as some of the most uninteresting flirting imaginable just feels wrong. Luckily, by the end of the film, it seems to have been forgotten, but it did seem to just be Marvel’s attempt to gauge exactly which male character their audience wanted them to pair Romanoff with, which I personally found both transparent and unnecessary.

Still, The Winter Solider was a far better experience than I’d remembered, and the way in which it brought Cap’s story to the present day was executed perfectly. While it does stray a little from Marvel’s established super-powered formula, it does so with confidence and conviction, and it’s hard to disagree with the end result.

Rating: 75%

Summary: A well-paced exploration of some of the MCU’s core characters, The Winter Soldier is a sequel that builds upon its hero in all the best ways.

Highlight: Literally any of the fight scenes between Cap and the Winter Solider – both from an action and a characterisation point of view.