Captain America, Thor and Iron Man may be the names you see in the titles, but the real hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- including the upcoming "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" -- is Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige.

I was among a group of journalists who sat down with Feige on the set of the super-sequel last year, where he discussed how it fits into Marvel's big picture, and how it differs from 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" and 2012's "The Avengers."

Chris Evans plays the hero in all three films, with Marvel vets Sanuel L. Jackson (as Nicky Fury) and Scarlett Johansson (as Black Widow) being joined by newcomers Robert Redford (as a top S.H.I.E.L.D. exec) and Anthony Mackie (as Falcon) joining them in "Winter Soldier."

"First Avenger" took place mostly in WWII, when the titular super soldier (Chris Evans) was frozen, only to be thawed in the 21st Century where he fights alongside Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and the other Avengers. 

"Winter Soldier" finds Cap still adjusting to the modern day, while working under the increasingly morally ambiguous government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. 

"This sort of is a third entry," Feige said of the film.  "'Avengers' played a little bit with his feelings of what it was like to be in the modern day, but they didn't have a whole lot of time. So, it did feel like this was absolutely the right time to deal with how he can come to terms with a past that is long gone and is seemingly never coming back, dealing with the shades of grey of the modern era and being part of an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. Just perhaps as he's finding niche for himself, his past comes back and lands like a ton of bricks on his head in the form of the Winter Soldier."

The Winter Soldier is the reincarnation of Cap's presumed-dead WWII pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who has been resurrected and turned into an amoral assassin by some shady government types. 

The plot of the new sequel -- taken from writer Ed Brubaker's celebrated run on the comic book --  seems significantly darker than that of its more old-fashioned predecessor. 

"The first film was a Marvel superhero origin story masquerading as a WWII propaganda movie, this is a Marvel superhero sequel masquerading as a '70s political thriller," Feige explained. "And all the stuff that's happening with NSA in the news is pretty amazing timing for us, because that's the kind of thing that Cap doesn't particularly like."

Feige doesn't think audiences will resist the change in tone. "I'm betting that more people will have seen 'The Avengers' than saw 'Captain America,'" he guessed. "It can be a direct sequel to that film or 'The Avengers.' The audience has been with us for that [type of] tonal shift."
 
Feige also confirmed that "Winter Soldier" takes place between the "Avengers" films, and after both "Thor 2" and "Iron Man 3." 
 
"It needs to work for the people who have not seen 'The Avengers' or 'Cap 1,' and it needs to work for the people who have seen all of them," Feige added. "That's important to me that the movies can play on multiple levels like that." 

The sequel also tweaks the image of cap as an unquestioning patriot and soldier with old-fashioned values. 

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