Plot: It’s a scary world for a man from the 1940s. After suddenly coming back to life in the 21st century and subsequently saving the world from an alien invasion, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) has done his best to fit in. His natural sense of justice makes him a close ally of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But when S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised from within and the enigmatic Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is on a warpath, Rogers must fight the very people that have helped him find purpose in this new world.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has always been about connectivity. Any event that has happened in one movie is open to have lasting consequences with any future film. The Avengers is the perfect example of this as we’re still dealing with the outcome Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) grand assault on New York. Yet outside of The Avengers each film has been its own self-contained story. Iron Man 3 had Iron Man fighting the Extremis virus. Thor: The Dark World was about Thor trying to defeat Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston). In no way does one influence the other. The events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier are a completely different story. In a delicate hybrid that both advances the story of the Star-Spangled Hero and S.H.I.E.L.D. as a whole, The Winter Soldier is an action-packed thriller that permanently changes the MCU forever.
A lot of people are saying that The Winter Soldier is better than The Avengers. While that is most certainly up for debate, I can completely see why people would make this claim. The ninth-installment in the MCU was breathtakingly awesome. For starters, the story flows like a well-oiled machine. It’s basically what you would get if you took elements from a spy thriller, a superhero story, and a man out of time tale and blended them all together. At no point does one outweigh the other. It’s fitting too that the film traded in a lot of the humor we saw in past films for gritty action. It starts off light with Steve Rogers meeting Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and going on mission with Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The opening mission on a freighter was very action packed but obviously had a carefree attitude to it. What’s to worry about when the basic mission is a typical hostage rescue?
Once the titular Winter Soldier makes his appearance, everything takes a turn for the dark. Disturbing truths regarding Captain America’s past are revealed and the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. infrastructure is turned upside down. This is when the movie really goes into high gear. The Winter Soldier was an absolutely terrifying villain. I’ve seen some comparisons between him and the Terminator and I entirely agree with them. Yet the Winter Soldier is a more tragic tale as he’s Captain America’s old friend Bucky Barnes. I don’t want to spoil for anyone exactly how Bucky became this robotic armed assassin, but saving him obviously becomes top priority for Cap. The fist fights between Cap and the Winter Soldier were beautifully choreographed and had a strong sense of danger to them. Despite being at the peak of human physicality, Captain America is still very much a man. Getting into a fist fight with a ruthless assassin brandishing a knife is treated with as much intensity as it rightfully deserves.
Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford both made their first MCU appearances and they were both stellar. Redford is a legendary actor in every sense of the word and he just slays it as Alexander Pierce. As one of the top S.H.I.E.L.D. officials, he’s a very behind the scenes type of guy. He prefers to have other people get their hands dirty doing work that he wants done. Yet despite Redford stealing every scene he’s in, I definitely liked Mackie’s turn as The Falcon more. The Falcon is the very first mainstream black superhero and the writers gave him plenty to do. The camaraderie between The Falcon and Captain America is everything comic book fans could have wanted. Speaking of camaraderie, I absolutely loved the new friendship between Cap and Black Widow. Widow trying to set Cap up with a girl was a very charming element that had just the right amount of attention. Cap going on a date with anyone, even Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), just wouldn’t have worked well with this film’s tone. It was expertly set up for the future.
Of course though, the dominant strength was how well it fits into the MCU as a whole. While the film is naturally a fallout from what happened in The Avengers, such as Fury choosing to neutralize threats before they happen, it hasn’t forgotten that it’s also a sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. We get callbacks to Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), an assortment of villains that I will not mention to avoid spoilers, and even a tear jerking scene between Rogers and an elderly Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell). We even get a fair share of flashbacks too to further solidify this film’s cohesiveness to past events. As for changing the MCU completely, this film upends everything S.H.I.E.L.D. has been trying to do. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been the glue that has connected every MCU film together but nothing will be the same after The Winter Soldier. In fact, the one thing that will benefit the most from this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fans of the show actually do get some subtle nods including a perfect candidate for the Clairvoyant’s true identity. This can only help that show grow bigger and better. Welcome to the post-Winter Soldier age.
For many, the winner of the Phase 1 films was the very first Iron Man. It kicked off something massive and revolutionized Robert Downey Jr.’s career. Unless Guardians of the Galaxy really blows us out of the water later this year, we’re looking at the winner of Phase 2 right now. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is probably one of the greatest superhero movies I have ever seen. I’m really not exaggerating here. The plot was tight, the humor was on-point when necessary, the characters all meshed beautifully, and the major paradigm shift was everything we could have wanted. Bringing Bucky Barnes back and introducing the Winter Soldier was an absolutely brilliant move by Joe and Anthony Russo. I absolutely cannot wait to see what more they do with him. Did you know that the Russo brothers have mainly done comedy? After this, I’d say they found their real calling.
Below is my rating, but if you’ve seen the movie already read on for my own “after credits” paragraph where I address The Winter Soldier’s final moments.
Okay! So we got two end credits sequences. The second and much shorter one was Bucky going into the Captain America museum and seeing his own memorial. This easily sets up more Bucky appearances in the near future, maybe even Captain America 3. Can Bucky be redeemed? My money is on yes! The first, technically mid-credits sequence is the one I loved more though. Enter in longtime Cap villain Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). All three characters are set to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron so their cameos were awesome.
The most intriguing element about this was how it easily usurped the whole property ownership issue between Fox and Marvel Studios. Long story short: Fox owns the film rights to all things X-Men, including the mutants Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch who are Magneto’s children. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were valued members of the Avengers too though which means Marvel Studios can technically include them. Yet they can’t say they’re mutants at all, opening up the issue of explaining how they have superpowers. The mid-credits sequence fixed all this by making them the only survivors to Hydra experimentation using the power of Loki’s staff from The Avengers. Expect to see all this play out officially next year!