Even though "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" features a recap of prior events about 15 minutes into the movie, it's still a sequel to 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" -- not to mention the ninth movie in Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Add in all the ancillary games, short films, comics and TV shows, and you have a potential headache when heading to the theater this weekend.
With all that in mind, it's going to take more than a simple check of the "First Avenger" Wikipedia page to get up to speed in time to see "Winter Soldier" when it opens April 4. Not to worry, Cap fans! Having seen the movie already, we can lay out exactly what you need to know, so you won't have any pesky questions once you hit up the multiplex.
Back in the '40s, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) was changed into a giant muscle man named Captain America, using a semi-scientific formula called the Super-Soldier Serum. It gave him super-speed, super-strength, and really big pecs.
Helping him out was Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a woman who turned out to be his true, unrequited love. She was in the army, and later went on to create S.H.I.E.L.D. (which we'll get to in a second).
Also helping him out were his team, The Howling Commandos -- and most notably Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Bucky and Steve grew up together, and entered the army together.
During World War II, Steve and the Howling Commandos clashed with an evil Nazi splinter group focused on insane science called HYDRA. HYDRA was led by the villainous Red Skull, who "died" at the end of the first movie; though HYDRA's weapons were later appropriated by S.H.I.E.L.D., causing conflict with Captain America in "The Avengers." Again, hold on for the S.H.I.E.L.D. explanation.
Also a member of HYDRA was a scientist named Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). Zola was very into genetic tampering, and captured -- and experimented on -- Bucky, before Mr. Barnes was rescued by Cap. Zola was later captured by S.H.I.E.L.D.
Bucky, meanwhile, died by falling off a train into an ice-covered river, though his body was never found.
Then Cap fell into some ice, and was frozen for decades, eventually waking up in modern times.
Okay, S.H.I.E.L.D. They're the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. Formed by Peggy Carter as a way of dealing with overwhelming (and sometimes superhuman) threats to the world, they eventually grew to be a worldwide organization led by...
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a one-eyed spy with a mysterious past. He answers to...
The World Security Council, a mysterious conglomerate that provides oversight for S.H.I.E.L.D. During an alien invasion of New York, they authorized the use of a nuclear weapon to stop the invading force. Fury instead authorized...
The Avengers. They're a lose band of superheroes, including Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk and...
The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a former Russian spy also with a mysterious past who now works for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Also working for S.H.I.E.L.D. is Nick Fury's number two, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). That's pretty much all you need to know about her.
Oh, and this guy, Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández). He also works for S.H.I.E.L.D. Last time we saw him, he was heading off to a ship called the Lumerian Star. This is surprisingly more important than you would think.
Back to the Avengers! During the course of their first big team-up, The Avengers managed to almost destroy a massive, floating base known as a helicarrier, only saved when Iron Man managed to jam himself inside one of the gigantic engines.
During the battle, Black Widow saved everybody by jamming a mystical spear into a thingy and closing a portal or whatever. It was pretty cool.
After the Battle of New York, the Avengers split ways, with Iron Man and Thor going off into their own adventures, while Cap and Black Widow went back to S.H.I.E.L.D.
That's pretty much it! You're now ready to go see "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" in theaters on April 4.