Captain America: The Winter Soldier ★★★★½

This is absolutely the cream of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's crop. The film echoes some of the themes that have been repeated during Phase 2 (post-traumatic stress disorder and the dangers of a growing national security apparatus chief among them), but where films like Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World stumbled a bit in the execution, The Winter Soldier remains taut throughout. Part of this is the comparatively disciplined script, and part of it is due to the fantastic performances from the entire cast, particularly Robert Redford, whose villain is rivaled only by Tom Hiddleston's Loki in the MCU.

The film's real strength lies in its topicality, much as it was in the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s from which it drew its inspiration. Much has been made of the film's commentary on our post-Snowden era, and The Winter Soldier deals with these contemporary concerns in a surprisingly bold and mature manner. But of equal interest are the prominence of a superhero whose day job is as a post-traumatic stress social worker and scene involving Nick Fury that can't help but echo concerns of racial profiling and the abuse of police authority. There is a surprising amount of social commentary here and, even more surprising, it avoids ever becoming ham-fisted.

If there is a problem with the film it is in the cinematography and editing of the action scenes, a problem with the entire MCU and most action cinema post-Bourne, truth be told. There are a couple of great moments here (an opening long take in long shot of Captain America running along the deck of a ship while dispatching pirates is a well-done beat that is reminiscent of the hallway sequence from Old Boy), but for the most part it is the same breakneck editing pace and too-close camera placement that we have come to expect from our action cinema, and, as usual, makes following the line of action difficult to impossible.

Still, all in all this is great superhero filmmaking; a must-see entry in the genre.