In heroes we trust

BY EMILY CLANCE, A&E Editor

In 2012, “The Avengers” marked the end of Phase One of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU); 2013 brought us the beginning of Phase Two with “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World.” This year, Phase Two continues with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and what a ride it’s been so far.

Just as “Iron Man 3” and “The Dark World” picked up on what happened to Tony Stark and Thor immediately after the events of “The Avengers,” “Winter Soldier” catches up with Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans), better known as Captain America, and how he’s adjusting to modern-day life.

Of course, for a hero like Cap, things don’t stay quiet for long. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sends him on a mission with the Black Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) to free a ship from pirates and to recover sensitive data about a top-secret operation called Project Insight.

The project is designed to preemptively eliminate threats, but Fury quickly suspects something is wrong. When he attempts to warn Rogers, he is ambushed by a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier and barely manages to escape.

Fury is able to tell Rogers that S.H.I.E.L.D is compromised before the Winter Soldier catches up to him, but is eventually found and compromised himself. Rogers and Romanoff are targeted by HYDRA, the terrorist organization last seen in the first “Captain America” movie, and are forced to go on the run while searching for a way to stop HYDRA and restore S.H.I.E.L.D’s integrity.

“Winter Soldier” is a near-perfect follow up to both “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “The Avengers” itself. The action is fast-paced and exciting, and the dialogue is entertaining and witty, if a bit scarce in favor of more action.

It fits in perfectly with the rest of the existing MCU and, additionally, helps set up the next “Avengers” movie, “Age of Ultron.”

Character development is not something action movies are known for, but as with previous MCU movies, “Winter Soldier” excels. Not only does it further develop Rogers’ character, but it also adds some much-needed depth to Black Widow, giving her an actual history and motives for her actions.

Marvel has long been teasing a stand-alone film for Widow, and according  to studio president Kevin Feige, the former spy and her backstory will be a major part of “Age of Ultron.”

Another stand-out in “Winter Soldier” is Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, also known as the Falcon. The first African-American superhero in the MCU, Wilson is a former Pararescueman trained by the Air Force to use a specially-designed wing pack that allows him to swoop in and out of combat situations.

Mackie brings a captivating energy to his role, and he and Evans play off each other fantastically.

The Winter Soldier himself is played by Sebastian Stan, who reprises his role from the first “Captain America” movie. Despite his relatively short screentime and small amount of dialogue, Stan not only plays the Winter Soldier as a powerful and intimidating figure, but also as a sympathetic one that became an instant fan favorite.

Stan is signed to at least nine films with Marvel, so the Winter Soldier’s fans can look forward to seeing him in films for years to come.

It’s remarkable how well the media in the MCU tie together. Not only do all the movies flow seamlessly, but Marvel’s new TV show, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” fits perfectly in the mix despite not having any of the MCU’s headlining heroes. The episode that aired immediately after “Winter Soldier” hit theaters even featured major events that happened in the movie.

The relationships between each of the movies and the show are very similar to how actual comic books relate to each other.

You can watch everything if you want, and you’ll get the full story with all the details that carry over from movie to movie.

If you’re just interested in one character, you can only watch his or her movies and still be able to follow the story when it comes to big events like “The Avengers” or “Age of Ultron.”

The next entry in the MCU is “Guardians of the Galaxy,”  starring Chris Pratt from “Parks and Recreation” and Zoe Saldana, known for her role as Nyota Uhura in the “Star Trek” reboot.

“Age of Ultron” will conclude Phase Two of the MCU in 2015, and Phase Three will begin the same year with “Ant-Man” and continue into 2016 with “Captain America 3.”

“Winter Soldier” is highly entertaining and sure to captivate any audience. The action is fun, the characters are excellent and it’s another piece that fits perfectly into the puzzle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you’re a long-time fan of Captain America or superhero movies in general, or if you’re just looking for an entertaining escape this week, “Winter Soldier” is definitely worth your time.