(USATODAY.com) - A man is thrown into a web of lies, deceit and betrayal with global security at risk, all set against the monuments and government buildings of our nation's capital.
In the 1970s, that would be the synopsis of a gritty political thriller, usually starring Dustin Hoffmanand/or Robert Redford. In 2014, it's a superhero sequel called Captain America: The Winter Soldier,opening Friday nationwide.
The 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger drew from World War II movies for its origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the 1940s super-soldier who ended up in ice for 70 years after saving the world from the threat of the Red Skull and the Nazi science arm, Hydra.
The follow-up, however, builds its tale on political-thriller elements: Cap is working with the D.C.-based spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D., but his old-school ideals aren't always welcome in the modern world. He learns that there is something shady afoot within his organization, and the Avenger is also faced with an enemy connected to his past, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
It's still a big, action-packed superhero movie in the Marvel manner, yet during a three-day shoot in May last year, producer Kevin Feige wanted to film his main character jogging along the National Mall, not unlike the 1976 Hoffman thrillerMarathon Man.
"It roots it in a sense of the here and the now and the practical," Feige says. "When we then take it to bigger levels, you hopefully take that sense of reality with you."
Winter Soldier marks the first action film for directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Stuck on You), who were raised as much on comic books as they were on '70s flicks.
"What's great about comics is it's a medium where you can put whatever you want into it, because it's limited in its execution," Joe Russo says. "You fill in what's going on between the frames.
"When I was a kid reading Captain America, to me, he was always Steve McQueen. There was always a code to him, but he was also a very tough figure. We were looking to bring more energy to the character in that direction."
For some of their action beats, the pair studied the car-chase sequence from The French Connection "50 or 60 times," Anthony says. And they also wanted to capture an All the President's Men vibe for the dramatic subterfuge.
With Winter Soldier, "we tried to bring a level of realism to the superhero movie that typically isn't tied to these films and is a little bit incongruous with the idea of fictional fantasy beings" Anthony Russo says.
To drive home the point of the '70s thriller, Feige cast a living legend of the time: Redford stars as Alexander Pierce, one of the government's top men and the boss of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Feige recalls that when Redford first read the Winter Soldier script, "he said, 'It reminds me of a picture I did once called Three Days of the Condor.' We were like, 'That's what we were trying to do! We know that movie!' "