Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The short version of this review is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best MCU film to date, and that’s no joke. It’s more than just a superhero movie, it’s a political spy thriller and where other Marvel films stand as a testament to their comic book origins, CA:TWS has got something to say. And it says it very, very loudly.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, we are introduced to frail Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), guinea pig for the Super Soldier serum, who teamed up with the Howlin’ Commandos. Including his lifelong best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who met his tragic demise when he fell off a train on a mission to defeat Hydra. By now we know that Steve has no one in the 21st century and we find him in The Winter Soldier still trying to catch up on things via the internet in a world that’s post-Battle of New York.
At this point, Captain America is the best at what he does; running missions, saving the world, and cleaning up the mess that SHIELD makes, trying to do so when Cap is left out in the dark. With the Security Council backing every move, the head, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) pushes SHIELD to start Project Insight, which deals out heavy-handed law enforcement over personal freedoms that leaves Rogers questioning who he’s really working for. After Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked and left for dead by a well-trained team of mercenaries led by the fabled Winter Soldier, Steve goes off the grid with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a former soldier Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and starts looking into he dark secrets that SHIELD has been hiding not only from Rogers, but the rest of the world.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who are well-known for their work on TV’s Community and Arrested Development, are an odd choice for an action film of this size, but beyond the action pieces in CA:TWS (which are massive by the way, some even bigger than The Avengers) they wrangle an intertwining story that harks back to movies like Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows us that Marvel is more than a 3-phase, comic book adaptation, one trick pony, it’s much more than that, adding real life suspense and drama in a world that’s laden with superheroes.
Chris Evans who by now has really settled into his Captain America persona, showing us Steve Rogers quick wit and more than capable 21st soldier, makes us extremely comfortable about his future in the MCU. Speaking of comfort let me discuss Scarlett Johansson’s role in CA:TWS. It’s good. Damn good in fact. In past Marvel films she’s looked bored and not into it, but the brothers Russo really let her character shine with her jokes and actual acting in this movie. Also garnishing more screen time in CA: TWS is Nick Fury and deputy director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). We got a glimpse of their acting chops in The Avengers but it really comes through in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with more screen time and movie presence. But let’s talk about The Winter Soldier himself. Spoiler alert, it’s Bucky Barnes. Let’s be honest here, we all know it’s Barnes, this should be a no-brainer if you’ve been keeping up. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) gives a stellar performance in this movie with a gravitas of misguided duty and anger.
It’s a bit presumptuous to say that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best MCU film to date, but it’s because of the human stakes involved along with outstanding performances from all of the cast members, backed by a spy thriller story that’s more than just its superhero origin, makes it that much better and sets up the real challenge for Avengers: Age of Ultron to give us more than just an action film, but to raise the stakes for future Marvel movies.