From movie to movie and adventure to adventure, the villains, love interests, and sidekicks of superheroes come and go (and come back again). But there is always one consistency that ties the franchise together. I am, of course, talking about you, Kevin. Your mild-mannered credit for Captain America: The Winter Soldier may simply be Producer, but your alter ego is President of Marvel Studios. And in that capacity you are the true guardian of the entire Marvel galaxy, the one responsible for ensuring that all those villains, love interest, sidekicks--and heroes themselves--come and go the right way.
I can't argue with your track record, either. You brought Phase One of Marvel's film strategy to an extremely successful climax with the release of Josh Whedon's Marvel's The Avengers. And if not every film was great - or even particularly good (I'm looking at you, Thor) - the overall project was an undeniable smash.
So here we are, well into Phase Two with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which follows Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World and leads up to Avengers: The Age of Ultron). And as each new film in a sub-franchise appears (because, lets be honest: Marvel itself is the actual franchise), you, and we as an audience, have to keep careful track of the larger context. Will characters living in a "post-events-of-New-York world deal with the psychological effects of fighting interdimensional would-be conquerors (Iron Man 3) or ignore them altogether (Thor: The Dark World). Either way, those films didn't do a lot of heavy lifting to keep everything connected.
This is where your oversight comes into play, Kevin. You need to know the load an individual film can bear, and here it falls onto Captain America's impossibly square shoulders. The good news is that he is more capable of sustaining this weight than Tony Stark was in Iron Man 2. Maybe it's the character's roots in World War II, but Cap feels much more at home in the S.H.I.E.L.D. world of espionage and bureaucracy than the narcissistic Stark does.
This matters, because a good deal of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is S.H.I.E.L.D.-centric. Both Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow play major roles. New to the mix is Robert Redford as a high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. bureaucrat. While this plethora of personas threatens to overcrowd the film, directors Anthony and Jo Russo manage to keep things from getting too bogged down.
After high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives are targeted in attacks, Cap and Black Widow find themselves on the run, trying to find out who the true culprit is. Could it be the mysterious assassin known only as The Winter Soldier? The film's title may contain a clue to the answer. This gives Captain America: The Winter Soldier a very Bourne Identity feel, aided in no small part by the adoption of a very similar shaky-cam aesthetic. Indeed, this feels like a conscious decision by you and your team to move beyond the aw-shucks innocence of Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger and firmly establish Steve Rogers as a modern action hero. That Chris Evans manages to walk the line between both modes is testament to his charisma. But this decision to modern things up has its downside, too; the moments that resonate the most are callbacks to that first, simpler film. And while the action is decidedly more visceral, it achieves this at the expense of smaller moments. You can feel the Russos (Russi?) straining for a deeper relationship between the Captain and the Winter Solder (who's identity will be surprise only to those who pay zero attention during the first 15 minutes), but since their only verbal interaction takes place between punches, it can't quite reach the complexity they so clearly desire. By the time Anthony Mackie has made his appearance as yet another hero, The Falcon, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has completely abandoned nuance for spectacle.
But you know as well as I do that what any modern Marvel film really comes down to one simple question: does it whet the appetite for future Marvel installments? The answer is a qualified yes (though I can't deny that keeping everything in order is starting to get a little exhausting).
I guess I'll just have to let go and trust that you, like always, will do that heavy lifting for me.