You can’t really trust Variety critic Scott Foundas when it comes to superhero comic-book flicks. He’s a first-rate critic when it comes to real movies but put him in front of a CG-propelled fanboy package and Foundas is suddenly too generous, too obliging, too turn-the-other-cheeky. Have Variety critics been told by their editors to go easy on these films? That there’s no point in trashing Marvel/D.C. product because they’re basically thrill sausage — the movie equivalent of a Magic Mountain ride — so what’s the point? That aside and taken with a grain, Foundas has heartily approved of Anthony and Joe Russo‘s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I’ll be seeing tonight.

“The Rip Van Winkle of superheroes goes rogue in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, an impressively equal sequel to 2011’s superb origin story Captain America: The First Avenger that trades the earlier film’s apple-pie Americana for the uneasy mood of a 1970s paranoia thriller — a resonance underscored by the casting of Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men star Robert Redford in a prominent supporting role.

“Chockfull of the breathless cliffhangers dictated by the genre, but equally rich in the quiet, tender character moments that made the first film unique among recent Marvel fare, The Winter Soldier marks a generally assured return to features for sibling helmers Anthony and Joe Russo (who’ve been in a moviemaking deep-freeze since 2002’s Welcome to Collinwood) and should easily keep the franchise gravy train powering through to Avengers: Age of Ultron, due next May.”

See what I mean about Foundas? Anyone who would wink at or give a qualified thumbs-up to a “franchise gravy train” invites…well, a certain discomfort. I believe that the success of a franchise gravy train should never warm the heart of a true film lover, but that’s me.

“Notwithstanding the magical serum that first transformed 90-pound weakling Steve Rogers into his strapping, spandexed alter ego, both Captain America pics have stayed largely grounded in the real world and a sense of real-world politics. In The First Avenger, that meant pitting Rogers against the band of power-mad uber-Nazis known as Hydra. Here, it means bringing him face to face with an even more sinister foe: the American military-industrial complex.

“Taking inspiration from such hot-button topics as drone warfare, NSA spying and Wikileaks-style secret sharing, the screenplay by returning writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is smart but never didactic about situating The Winter Soldier in a world where those on both sides of the political aisle have done much to compromise basic human freedoms in the name of defending them.”