The advantage of having a daughter with a keen interest in Marvel films, is that there is no risk of me seeing them in the wrong order. She has worked out that the schedule of filming laid out will last until she is 33 years old (and she is only 19 at the moment).
Today it was my turn to see Captain America 2, or as I like to think of it Captain America 2.5 since the first avengers film neatly bissects the timeline between CA1 and CA2. What is clear is that some great mind (or minds) has charted out a two decade vista of Marvel films that will enthrall us. The apollo space programme took less time - and probably cost less money. So, in this film there are seeds planted and threads picked up for those willing to see them. This is not a series, so much as a web of films which puts me in mind of Terry Pratchett's discworld novels for its intersecting story lines and cast of co-equal principals.
I will endeavour to be spoiler free. However, I should warn all those of you waiting in the UK for the next Agents of Shield series (please don't ask me which number - I must confess to having already lost count), it would be best to see Captain America 2, before accessing agent Coulson and his hardy band.
So what does Captain America 2 bring to the mix.
Well the first film was set predominantly in the safe territory of world war two where good was good and bad was bad and everybody knew the difference. Even so, the film had to invent a new evil entity since the Nazis weren't nearly nasty enough. Hence we had Hydra and a colourful red skinned warrior who was the first unfortunate result of Captain America's Ultimate soldier treatment going wrong. (The second being I understand the incredible hulk. The red skin and green skin make for a concept as colourful and as tasty as the sauces that came with our Saturday night Indian take away).
In the second film the action is all contemporary, that is to say as contemporary as you can be in a world which openly accepts the existence of super heroes and has just survived an alien invasion orchestrated by a God.
The action is fast paced, opening with a hostage rescue mission during which agent Romanov insists on listing suitable girls for Rogers to date. When he suggests she concentrates on her mission she blithely asserts "I'm multi-tasking." Captain America's love life stalled by over half a century is a recurring theme at one point he excuses any failings perceived or real with the observation "I am 95" and for a near centurion he does look pretty hot - or so I am reliably informed by those who should know.
The dialogue is sharp and spare, the scenes well cut. It is 136 minutes long, but it doesn't feel like it. At one point our heroes have to retrieve some item locked in a secret compound with many guards and steel doors, but we are not shown how that happens, a simple line "no problem" is enough to let us know it can and will be solved and sure enough the artifact arrives on perfect cue to raise the tempo.
However, there is a darkness beneath the sharp lines and ready action. The enemy here is hard to perceive and Director Fury's advice to Captain Rogers to trust no-one is sound. This is a world where everybody is in such a hurry to pack the best protection possible, they have lost sight of whose finger might end up on the trigger. Like people carrying a weapon for protection, such as Fury's grandad who carried a loaded magnum as proof against a mugging, you can never know whether somebody might turn the weapon on you. And in the same way the surveillance culture comes under scrutiny as the film questions who might gain access to what information and to what purpose. If Big Brother is watching you, and he's got a big gun, who's watching him?
And in the midst of this, Rogers is the moral throw back to an earlier age of simpler values facing simpler threats. A soldier left questioning if following orders is still right or not. And to keep him going there is the morally compromised Agent Romanov, battling her own checquered past while engaging in a banter with Captain America that makes you hope and wish they don't fall into the "just good friends" trap.
My quibbles with the film - the points where suspension of disbelief was required ? Well, I could just about cope with the violation of several laws of physics, mainly forgetting that no crash happens in slow motion and certainly not slower than a man can run. When a thousand tons of steel fall from a great height you get a thin smear of metal dust and slime that no-one walks away from, rather than a coherent whole.
My other gripe is when the sensitive electronic equipment on a superslaying drone machine is dangled from what seems to be some steel threaded net sack below the vessel. It is a sighting as stupid and as vulnerable as nature's placing of a man's valuables - who knows, maybe the electronics needs a cooler temperature to operate in. Certainly our heroes know where to kick and to kick hard!
Who are the bad guys in the film? well, let me put this way. You may know how Nazi Germany had a spectacularly poor way of choosing the code names for its secret operations relying on none too subtle references to Norse mythology. Like, for example, their radar research went under the code name of Heimdall the far seeing guardian of Asgard, not too hard for the guys at Bletchley park to crack what that was all about! Well in the same way a group named Hydra! kinda hard to kill, two heads better than one and all that - just saying.
And then there is the winter soldier. When your hero is as tough as Steve Rogers, you need somebody equally tough to stand up to him and the winter soldier does not disappoint. Wearing a face mask scarcely less obscuring than Jason Vorheis he strides through the smoke with an ominous menace walking out of a dark past into a brutal present, but who knows with Marvel films mapped out for the next umpteen years his future, along with every other dead guy's is surprisingly bright.