Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) [Blu-Ray/Digital]

I was originally lukewarm on “The First Avenger,” so it’s refreshing to see the follow up to the first Captain America not only offer up a mature and complex story, but transform Captain America in to a pariah. You know the nation is in peril when its biggest patriot is on the run from the very country he vowed to fight for. “The Winter Soldier” presents shades of “Three Days of the Condor” when Steve Rogers and Black Widow become fugitives when a simple rescue mission to save SHIELD agents puts them smack dab in the middle of a nefarious plot that could change the world as we know it. Fleeing from authorities at every corner, Captain America and Black Widow have to thwart all kinds of attempts at their lives.

This includes government officials, relentless agents, and a murderous enigmatic assassin named The Winter Soldier who matches Cap in strength, speed, and cunning. To seal the parallels to “3 Days of the Condor” even further, Robert Redford gives a fantastic performance as a SHIELD director who is desperately pursuing Captain America when he flees after being accused of betraying the country. Redford’s turn as Alexander Pierce is menacing and yet just as complex as the narrative, depicting a character who’s as patriotic as Rogers. Just not to the same cause. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a surprisingly mature approach to its source material, playing on relevant themes of government surveillance and terrorism, while touching on controversial topics like fear mongering, false flag events, and manipulation of the mainstream media.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo paint a surprisingly unique and often brilliant action thriller, where Rogers is so confused and torn between his self-preservation and love for his country that he can barely don the costume while attempting to hide in a world he’s still not very familiar with. Among the stand out performances in a superbly put together sequel is Anthony Mackie who is pitch perfect casting as Sam Wilson, otherwise known as The Falcon, who forms an alliance with Rogers, convinced he’s been set up and sets out to find out whom. “The Winter Soldier” is a wonderful action film for hardcore comic book buffs, but also an adult, thrilling, and masterful political thriller that touches on relevant political themes and widens the Marvel Cinematic Universe even further. It’s one of the finest films of 2014 that sets a new standard for live action variations of The Star Spangled Avenger.

Among the myriad extras in the blu-ray release, there’s “On the Front Line: An Inside Look at Captain America’s Battlegrounds” a ten minute look inside the making of the film with interviews and insight in to the production. Kevin Feige is featured as well as the Russo Brothers, and principal cast members. “On Set with Anthony Mackie: Cut the Check!” is a two minute light hearted behind the scenes extra that focuses on the casting of Anthony Mackie, the challenges of creating the Falcon for film, and his role in the movie. There’s also a fun look at Mackie’s habit for ending every scene by declaring “Cut the Check!”

There are four minutes of deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary from the Russo Brothers, the three minute “Steve Rogers’ Notebook” which features a more thorough look at Captain America’s sacred notebook and check list he uses throughout the film. There’s also a fun three minute gag reel. Finally, there’s a great Audio Commentary with Directors Anthony & Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, all of whom provide a very interesting and insightful exploration of the film. They discuss which conspiracy thrillers influenced the story, their fan service, visual and practical effects, casting and performances, and so on. They also discuss the sequel’s relevance to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and how it affects every other film following it. It’s an audio commentary that has to be heard, and there’s never a bad excuse to re-watch “The Winter Soldier.”