We are now nine movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an excursion that dates all the way back to Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008. And while Marvel Studios has raised the bar on cinematic world building – something franchises like X-Men and Spider-Man are responding to – they haven’t exactly pushed the envelope when it comes to 3D. Not that the Marvel movies are bad. They just don’t stand out, like an Avatar, as "Must See" examples of the visual technology. Can Captain America: The Winter Soldier set a new standard?

Our theatrical review for Captain America weighs in on whether or not this new Marvel release is worth your time (hint: it is), while this column will focus solely on the film's use of 3D. Considering seven separate categories, To 3D Or Not To 3D evaluates the full scope of the 3D viewing experience. Think of it as a consumer's guide for your movie-going, complete with a viewers poll where you can weigh in on how you plan to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Fit Score
Solid, but not crucial. Co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo didn’t construct Captain America: The Winter Soldier just to showcase 3D. The movie would exist exactly as it plays if you removed the 3D. But Marvel knows the importance of the added dimension in its silver screen comic adaptations, so the action sequences are designed with 3D in the back of the mind.

Planning & Effort Score
Again, it didn’t appear that the Russos thought that often about 3D when coming up with their action sequences. Captain America is far more grounded than, say, Thor’s journey through Asgard and the Nine Realms. The action in Cap often is restricted to fist fights and car chases. And while they are completely thrilling and edge-of-your-seat, the claustrophobic nature of the combat doesn’t always lend itself to 3D. The Russos do conjure several deep, wide shots when the action slows down, taking advantage of the 3D in those scenarios. Washington, D.C. (or a green screen made to look like the city) looks lush and crisp on screen.

Before the Window Score
This is that aspect of 3D that seems to reach right out into the theater, and there is surprisingly little in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Almost everything in frame stops at the screen. This speaks to the moderate planning on behalf of the directors. It’s as if 3D wasn’t a primary concern when they were filming The Winter Soldier. Nary a flying shield or the wing of a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier jet pokes off of the screen and into the audience. That’s a missed opportunity.

Beyond the Window Score
Here, however, Captain America: The Winter Soldier gets its highest marks. Maybe it is easier in post-conversion (or whatever technique Marvel used to enhance the film) to give extreme depth and clarity to scenes. But the Russos stage some beautiful shots in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that stretch great distances into the backgrounds of scenes. Office buildings overlook cities, and you swear you can make out innocent citizens. The opening sequence, on a compromised ocean liner, makes great use of the "Beyond the Window" visuals. Here, Captain America: The Winter Soldier really shines.

Brightness Score
This has been a trend ever since Hollywood figured out 3D. Knowing that they have to amp the natural light to help the tint of the 3D glasses, more and more action sequences take place in broad daylight. Such is the case for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which saturates its action scenes in natural light, so there’s very little dim in combat shots. Even scenes that have to take place in the evening, like that boat raid, look great. The film’s conclusion is stunning, because the Russos were able to stage it in daytime, allowing the most amount of light to penetrate your 3D glasses. Take them off, though, and you’ll notice just how much brighter the image actually is. Speaking of …

Glasses Off Score
The "Glasses Off" score measure just how much 3D you are getting at any one point. Remove the glasses, and the image on screen should look blurry and distorted. Captain America: The Winter Soldier didn’t look that bad. I actually watched a couple of dialogue scenes without my glasses on, just to give my face a break. The blurriness returned to the heavy action scenes, obviously, but the images weren’t too distorted throughout, and I tested it often .

Audience Health Score
Another strong showing on behalf of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Let’s attribute this to the fact that the Russos are excellent action directors. None of the elaborate action scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier feel choppy, disjointed or messy. There is great flow to the combat, and even when The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) takes flight, it is very easy – even in 3D – to keep track of what is happening without tossing your Mike and Ike’s or spitting up your soda.

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