I remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger, especially considering the good Captain was never one of my favorite superheroes.
If The First Avenger surprised me, Captain America: The Winter Soldier blew me away.
Short version of the review, sans spoilers: Between the great acting, the great story, and the great fight scenes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is everything we’ve come to expect from Marvel and just about everything you could want from a superhero movie. I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list to catch before it leaves theaters.
For a longer, more spoilerific review, read on!
In The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers is still working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and trying to find his place in a world that seems a lot more morally grey than the one he left behind. S.H.I.E.L.D. might be one of the good guys, but they and Steve have very different ideas about what’s permissible in the name of freedom.
However, an assassin known only as the Winter Soldier has come out of hiding for the first time in years, with the goal of bringing S.H.I.E.L.D. to its knees. Now Steve has to figure out who’s controlling the Soldier and why, but can he do it when there’s no one he can trust?
I’ve always thought characters like Captain America are most interesting when they’re dealing with moral quandaries, and that’s what Steve faces in TWS.
He’s truly a man out of time, and we really get the sense of that here, even more so than we did in The Avengers. He doesn’t really know where he or his ideals fit anymore. A lot of what he sees at S.H.I.E.L.D. pushes the boundaries of what he deems acceptable, if not outright crosses them.
As usual, Chris Evans does a fantastic job as Captain America, although I would still be hard-pressed to pick between this and him as Johnny Storm, because let’s face it: he was the best thing about that movie.
However, I love his performance as Steve Rogers, adrift in the 21st century but still determined to do what’s right. While he might be behind the times, he never comes across as innocent or naive, and he still inspires loyalty and trust in most of the people he meets.
In other news, this movie did not have a romantic subplot, which was a pleasant surprise. Now, I love romance, don’t get me wrong, but it was so refreshing to see a movie where your main characters weren’t shoved into an adrenaline-fueled relationship just because.
(Not to mention, I’ve seen too many critics/journalists/bloggers/etc. claim that the only reason women go to superhero movies is if there’s a romance crammed in there. Let The Winter Soldier be a lesson to ye: We don’t need romance for an enjoyable superhero movie.)
Steve and Sharon are in all of two scenes together, only one in which there’s just the barest hint of flirting (on her side more than his), and Steve and Peggy have one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching scenes in the entire movie. One pairing is a potential romance, scarcely begun; the other is the bittersweetness of a romance long gone, as Steve is still in the prime of his life, while Peggy’s already fully lived hers.
As for Natasha (a.k.a. the Black Widow), she and Steve build an honest-to-God friendship throughout the movie, moving from coworkers (co-fighters?) to real friends who trust each other implicitly. Although she’s constantly suggesting different people for him to ask out, Steve always deflects, because he’s not in a mental place for a relationship now. (Though it is one of my favorite running gags.)
Speaking of Natasha—played to perfection by Scarlett Johansson—she was one of my favorite parts of the movie. She wasn’t just kickass eye candy (although she did kick a lot of ass and look fantastic while doing it); she had an actual story arc and character development. We got a chance to see sides of Natasha that we haven’t seen before, and every second she was onscreen was glorious.
On the new character front, we have Sam Wilson, the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie. He’s a funny, loyal, genuinely likable guy, a soldier who now helps other veterans suffering from PTSD and having trouble readjusting to civilian life. You can see why Steve takes to him immediately, and more importantly, why Steve turns to him when he’s got nowhere else to go.
Wilson adds a great third dimension to the Captain America/Black Widow dynamic that we see throughout the first half of the movie, and I absolutely loved it once the three of them teamed up.
I could go on and on about this movie—about the pacing, which was so wonderfully balanced I could probably do an entire article about it alone; about Sebastian Stan, who managed to be ruthless and heart-breaking at the same time as the Winter Soldier; about Robert Redford, who gave me chills; and about the ending, which did a great job of tying everything up both emotionally and story-wise—but if I keep writing, I’ll give the entire thing away. And I don’t want to do that.
Suffice it to say I loved The Winter Soldier, I thought it was a fantastic entry into the Marvel cinematic universe, and everyone who likes superhero movies even a little should make an effort to see it as soon as humanly possible.