Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the reason I love superhero movies. It’s a smart, refreshing take on Marvel’s tried-and-true formula that not only stands out from everything else the company’s produced in the last few years, but also breaks the mold and literally changes the landscape of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The plot for The Winter Soldier is a layered, intricate maze of double-crossings, conspiracies, compelling character drama, and, of course, absolutely riveting action set pieces. It takes everything that worked from the previous Captain America movie, ignores what didn’t, and somehow manages to craft a story that felt far more sophisticated and developed than almost everything that has come before.
Taking place two-years after The Avengers, we’re reintroduced to Steve Rogers as he continues to try and adapt to his new world. He truly is a man out of time, and while it isn’t exactly a focus in the film, there were some perfectly poignant, even heartbreaking moments that emphasized the occasionally tragic nature of the character in a way we haven’t seen before.
Cap is still the same American hero we know from the previous films, and while he has grown weary of the deceit and espionage that comes from working with S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s still a good amount of humor and lightheartedness to his character that balances out the conflict going on within. But as the line between heroism and treason grows thin, Cap is forced to reconsider what it is he’s really fighting for.
While he might not have the natural charisma of Robert Downy Jr. or Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans more than capably carries the film’s weight on his shoulders and delivers a fantastic, heartfelt performance that cements Cap as one of the most relatable heroes available. He captures the inner conflict of the character perfectly and nails every line of dialogue he’s given, especially when he gets to play off of his fabulous costars.
His fantastic scenes with Anthony Mackie’s character Sam Wilson, an ex-paramilitary trooper who will eventually go on to become the Falcon, are a real stand-out, and the way their friendship evolves from the first scene of the movie to the last felt both genuine and humanistic. While the Falcon might be Cap’s sidekick, he gets no better time to shine then when he dons his signature wings and takes to the skies.
While both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World acted as standalone stories for their respective characters, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a profound connection to what has come before, and the events that transpire here will have repercussions that will literally change the future of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s ambitious, ballsy, and oh, so fun to watch.
One part conspiracy thriller, one part action spectacle, and one part character piece, The Winter Soldier juggles so many different plots and ideas that it’s initially a little overwhelming. Thankfully, the plot adopts a slow-burn approach that simultaneously builds up into an explosive crescendo and allows for plenty of quiet moments that give both the characters and the audience a much appreciated breather.
One of the most impressive aspects of the movie is just how well put together the whole thing is. With so many different plots going on at the same time, the movie could’ve easily become an over-saturated mess that left us all scratching our heads. But the script is so tightly organized and executed that I never once found myself frustrated or unsatisfied with anything that was happening on-screen.
I really have to hand it to directors Anthony and Joe Russo for capturing the tone and feel of the movie so well, and I find it difficult to believe that they’ve only ever worked in TV before now. They handle each and every scene with a keen eye for detail, and not since The Avengers have I seen a Marvel movie look this spectacular. I cannot wait to see what they get to do with Captain American 3.
What might’ve surprised me the most about The Winter Soldier, however, may have been how well it handled the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow. When we first met her in Iron Man 2, she was nothing more than eye candy, but thanks to the mastery of Joss Whedon, she was developed into a realistic character in The Avengers. But it’s The Winter Soldier that allows her to reach her full potential.
Now more than ever she feels like a realistic human being who’s just as likable and developed as Cap or any of the other Marvel heroes. Scarlett Johansson is obviously having a blast with the character, and her palpable chemistry with Chris Evans fills their many scenes together with a playful attitude that was just fun to watch, and I really, really hope we get to see her star in her own solo film in the near future.
While The Winter Soldier might not be the relentless action movie that The Avengers was, don’t think for a second that there isn’t plenty edge-of-your seat action moments be enjoyed. Whether it’s an exhilarating car chase through busy streets, a nail biting shootout that spans an entire city block, or a frenetic hand-to-hand fight on an exploding helicarrier, the action is brilliantly interwoven into the plot and rarely disappoints.
There were a few occasional shots of CGI that didn’t quite live up to the scale of everything else, but for the most part The Winter Soldier looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. The sound design is superb, and the soundtrack meshes with the desired mood wonderfully. However, it’s when the villain of the piece, the chillingly mysterious Winter Soldier shows up that things start getting legitimately crazy.
The Winter Soldier is a ruthless, intrinsically menacing antagonist that is Cap’s equal in almost every way, and their fight scenes are so well choreographed that I had to pick my jaw up off of the floor several times. The Winter Soldier is a fantastic antagonist, and Sebastian Stan’s steely expression and physicality more than capably convey his character’s deadly nature and penchant for mass destruction.
However, since the Winter Soldier’s backstory and motives were so quickly explained, I never quite felt like the personal connection that existed between him and Cap was able to reach its full potential. What’s there works really well, and the Winter Soldier is still one of the best villains Marvel’s used yet, but I still wanted something more. But hey, that’s what sequels are for, right?
In fact, the rest of the cast is just so great that I find it hard to hold any minor flaws against the movie for more than a few seconds. Robert Redford gives a beautiful performance as the powerful and manipulative Alexander Pierce, and Samuel Jackson is given some of his best material yet and develops the character of Nick Fury more than he has in the any of the other movies combined.
Even minor characters, like Emily VanCamp’s Agent 13 and Frank Grillo’s brutal soldier Brock Rumlow are more than just throwaway characters, and while I would’ve liked to see VanCamp given some more material to work with, as she really only exists on the sidelines as it is, Grillo eats up every line he’s given and more than fills the small gaps left over from the Winter Soldier.
With its relentless action, astounding sense of scale, and spectacular character development, The Winter Soldier delivers a fantastic, relevant story that will permanently leaves its mark on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It succeeds in almost everything it sets out to do and left me with an insatiable desire to watch it over and over again. This might just be Marvel’s best film to date, and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.