The Marvel film dynasty makes a quantum leap from the Iron Age to what audiences, looking back years from now, will recognize as a true Golden Age in several ways. Not only are the stories and characters demanding more attention (versus the never-ending battles and special effects), but also thanks to this shift, the films — now solidly delivered at a clip of two per year — mimic the narrative sprawl of the comic landscape. Which means Captain America (Chris Evans) with his trusty sidekicks the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) can face off against nefarious forces that have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.
without anyone wondering where the other Mighty Avengers are (or for that matter, be concerned with the television spinoff Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Yet, at its core, Captain America: The Winter Soldier borrows a whiff of the espionage thrills of The Bourne Identity, and even more of the questions of identity and loyalty that run through that franchise, as everyone’s favorite super soldier attempts to adjust to the modern world and its decided lack of clear-cut allegiances. While everything appears to hinge on the faceoff with the not-so-mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a key figure from Cap’s past, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have crafted an engagingly human action flick that is more than a worthy successor to the sentimental origin story that was Captain America: The First Avenger and offers subtle grace notes for repeat viewings that have been missing from the other Marvel tentpoles projects. Opens wide April 4. (PG-13) Grade: B+