Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds by trading in a 40’s war picture for a 70’s political thriller. As the ninth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier exposed all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets. If The First Avenger followed Captain America’s history in World War II, then The Winter Soldier needed to follow a man out of time. Just like the comics, Cap was first recruited by the Avengers before having his own solo series in the 1970’s. Unlike Tony Stark or Thor, Steve Rogers no longer had a supporting cast to return to. So the aftermath of The Avengers is shown from the perspective of the remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Since Cap slept through most of the best U.S. conspiracies, S.H.I.E.L.D. was used to tell a genuine political thriller. The Winter Soldier is easily the best second installment in the MCU. It’s not just a great superhero flick, it experimented with the genre in a way that felt fresh. A big reason for its success is producer Kevin Feige taking a chance on the mostly comedic directing duo the Russo brothers. Since Joe Johnston’s pulp superhero direction was no longer needed, Joe & Anthony Russo increased the real world thrills. I was especially excited to see The Winter Soldier, because it was based on the 2005 story arc of the same name. The Winter Soldier was the perfect way to bring some old fashioned action into the modern world…
Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivered on everything I was hoping to see as a longtime Cap fan. Chris Evans is perfect as a Jason Bourne type of action hero fighting with expert precision and throwing his mighty shield with ease. All of Steve Roger’s shock from waking up in the modern day was used in The Avengers. So Cap’s adjustment only extends to a clever booklet that Steve uses to catch up. The contents of which, changes depending on the country. Captain America’s 1940’s allies weren’t nearly as recognizable as his modern day allies. Peggy Carter was a fairly obscure love interest in the comics and the Howling Commandos originally belonged to Stg. Fury. Steve meets his newest ally during a friendly jog through Washington D.C. “On your left” was all we needed to turn Steve and Sam Wilson into instant friends. Falcon is the first African American superhero created for the mainstream Marvel comics. A major step forward that Stan Lee & Gene Colan brought to life. Falcon first appeared in Captain America #117 before headlining a team up series called Captain America and the Falcon.
Anthony Mackie desperately wanted to be part of the MCU, so he was given the opportunity to become the icon hero. Mackie’s cool charisma came out even when the cameras weren’t rolling. Sam Wilson is depicted as a former pararescueman with military training who now helps wounded warriors. It’s the best way to have a connection between the radically different soldiers. Speaking of different, The Winter Soldier was the best place for Black Widow to reappear. Ironic considering all the movies Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson appeared in before they were superheroes. Teaming up with Captain America made perfect sense since they share a history in the comics and Natasha Romanoff is far too important to be given the Hawkeye treatment. He’s strangely absent despite the greater emphasis on S.H.I.E.L.D. Johansson dials up Romanoff’s mysterious spy nature in a way that challenges Steve’s honest all-American nobility. Black Widow’s catsuit is just as seductive and her red hair has now been straightened.
The Avengers still don’t assemble, because Cap is working a lot closer with S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain America trades in his red, white, and blue uniform for a cool all blue stars & stripes uniform that resembles his Super-Soldier costume from the comics. His shield is also painted blue for stealth missions with his counter-terrorism S.T.R.I.K.E. team. Frank Grillo is definitely intimidating as the team’s commander Brock Rumlow. Don’t expect a skull & crossbones just yet. For now he’s just a shady S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Steve and Natasha’s banter mostly consists of her trying to find him a date in the 21st century. Persistent humor is thankfully reduced to make room for brutal well choreographed hand to hand combat. The Russos were sure to prioritize as many practical effects as possible. The shaky cam is what really makes it feel like a Bourne film. Cap becomes all the more awesome when he jumps without a parachute, takes out enemies, and infiltrates a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship that was hijacked by French pirates. The surprisingly comic accurate Batroc the Leaper leads the pirates and has a fast paced fight with Cap.
Steve begins to lose his trust in S.H.I.E.L.D. when he discovers Romanoff was there to retrieve secret data. Cap’s main source of conflict is his conflicting ideologies with Nick Fury. This was Samuel L. Jackson’s third top billing performance as the secretive S.H.I.E.L.D. director. It was a chance to really get to know the man behind the eye-patch. Fury alludes to the origins of his mistrust and tries to convince Cap that the world is no longer black & white. It’s at the Triskelion that S.H.I.E.L.D. unveils their plans to launch three cannon equipped Helicarriers powered by repulsor technology. That and a character wanting Iron Man to appear at a birthday party are some of the few Avenger references we get. Project Insight plays on our current fear of satellites being used to eliminate threats before they happen. A seasoned performer like Robert Redford helped legitimize The Winter Soldier as a 70’s political thriller. Senior S.H.I.E.L.D. secretary Alexander Pierce has a long history with Nick Fury and holds clearance over Project Insight. There’s a lot of complex political discussions with the World Security Council from The Avengers, but you’re never bored.
The First Avenger is mostly referenced when Steve tries to relive the glory days. There’s a swell Captain America museum that houses a replica of his World War II uniform, a memorial for Bucky, and grainy black & white footage. Despite being in her late 90’s, Hayley Atwell needed to return as an elderly Peggy Carter to give Steve closure. CGI was used since makeup would’ve been too distracting. It was nominated for Best Visual Effects, but they should’ve gotten a Best Picture nod as well. A conspiracy starts to grow when compromised agents ambush Nick Fury in his heavily fortified spy van. It’s a tense sequence that shows Fury at his most determined. The car chase ends when the Winter Soldier takes out the vehicle. The mysterious assassin is the best possible choice for lead villain in the sequel. The Winter Soldier leaps off the page with his long hair, tactical suit, and metal arm with a star symbol. They just replace his domino mask with a goggle mouthpiece combination.
The final vital Captain America character is his longtime love interest Sharon Carter. The lovely blonde Agent 13 is only given a few scenes to hint at her potential relationship with Steve. Emily VanCamp does a good enough job at hiding her identity as Steve’s neighbor before showing off her S.H.I.E.L.D. devotion. Nick Fury manages to hide in Steve’s apartment and pass on the message not to trust anyone. When Fury is shot, he gives Steve a flash drive containing the secret S.H.I.E.L.D. data. The most striking image in the movie comes when Cap chases the Winter Soldier and he catches his shield with his metal arm. Cobie Smulders understandably returns as Agent Maria Hill when Nick Fury “dies” on the operating table. Cap thinks he can trust Pierce, but he turns out to be part of an even larger conspiracy that’s compormised most of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fortunately it gives us the greatest fight scene in the movie. As Rumlow and other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents pile into an elevator, Cap quickly realizes it’s an ambush. The close quarters fight gets better when Cap leaps out of the building, lands on his shield, and takes out an entire Quinjet on his motorcycle.
The on the run mystery kicks in when Black Widow finds the flash drive and tells Cap all she knows about the decades old Winter Soldier. They both become fugitives when they trace the data to a S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker in New Jersey. They may not be a romantic pairing, but Steve & Natasha do share a kiss when trying to hide from agents. The bunker happens to be the same sight where Rogers did basic training. It’s in the former S.S.R. building that the flash drive connects to an old supercomputer. It was the best way to have Arnim Zola appear on a comic accurate screen with a camera on top. Instead of a robot body, Zola’s consciousness was preserved on a computer before his death. Although Red Skull doesn’t physically appear, his legacy lives on when we learn the shocking truth that Hydra has been growing inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades. Zola’s algorithm will allow Project Insight to take out individuals that Hydra views as a potential threat. Cap and Romanoff are nearly buried with the evidence, but they escape long enough to partner up with Sam Wilson. Since he’s the only non-agent that they can trust. His qualification is an awesome specialized wingpack that resembles his metal wings from the comics. Falcon just wears military garb instead of the red spandex that Mackie wanted.
Their next move is getting answers from a secret Hydra agent who happens to be Jasper Sitwell. Maximiliano Hernández has been around since Thor, but this was his chance to take center stage. Senator Stern from Iron Man 2 also returns and Garry Shandling manges to give everyone chills by uttering the infamous “Hail Hydra.” Sitwell reveals more of Hydra’s plan and even names Bruce Banner and a certain neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange as potential threats. A highway fight begins when the Winter Soldier manges to get the jump on Cap and his team. Black Widow and Falcon do their part, but it’s Cap who has the most intense confrontation with the assassin. The Winter Soldier uses Cap’s shield against him and pulls out a knife before Steve pulls off his mask. Turns out he was Bucky all along! I’d be surprised if I wasn’t a huge Marvel fan. After plummeting from a speeding train, Bucky survived thanks to Hydra experimentation. His left arm was torn off for the third time in Phase Two. Zola picked him up and brainwashed Bucky into the Winter Soldier he is today. He’s still alive thanks to cryogenic freeze that thaws every few years to carry out assassinations. Sebastian Stan is even better as a haunted figure with no memory of who he is.
The incredibly faithful Winter Soldier comic arc is emphasised by its creator Ed Brubaker making a cameo as one of his doctors. He may be the secondary villain, but Redford is just as intimidating when Pierce shows his true colors. Maria Hill rescues Cap’s team when they’re captured by the Hydra agents. She takes them to the obviously not dead Nick Fury who agrees to Cap’s plan of letting S.H.I.E.L.D. fall. They just have to get close enough to the Helicarriers in order to manually override their system. The battle for S.H.I.E.L.D. is enough for Steve to don his classic World War II uniform. Something he “barrows” from the Captain America museum. Stan Lee cameos as a security guard who makes the hilarious discovery. The climax brings out Cap’s best speech yet, as he tells his fellow uncompromised S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that the price of freedom is high. Sharon is a big help when she stops Rumlow from starting the launch. Unfortunately, the Helicarriers are still deployed with Captain America and the Falcon making their way through Hydra agents. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier square off in a fight that leaves Sam grounded. A Triskalen fight between Sam and Rumlow gives the latter the scars he needs to become Crossbones. Meanwhile, Black Widow stops Pierce with fancy face disguising technology.
Stopping the launch is even enough to finally see Fury’s damaged left eye, but the best part is the friend vs. friend fight between Cap and the brainwashed assassin. It’s one of the more emotional final fights in the MCU. Steve manages to reach his best friend when Bucky saves him from the Helicarrier explosion. In the end, Agent Romanoff releases all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets and Pierce goes out with a final “Hail Hydra.” The fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. concludes with Natasha facing her exposed past in a courtroom, Sharon joining the CIA, Hill joining Stark Industries, and Fury erasing his existence. The unexpected fallout actually helped Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. more than it hurt it. The Hydra twist meant way better storylines and even a surprise TV appearance from Samuel L. Jackson. Natasha parts ways on more equal terms and Sam stays by Steve’s side to help find Bucky. The after-credits scene reveals Bucky learning all about his forgotten past, but it’s really the mid-credits scene that’s worth screaming about. Since it reveals longtime Hydra leader Baron Wolfgang von Strucker using miraculous test subjects in his experimentation with Loki’s scepter. Along with the awesome reveal of a certain witch and speedster known as Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an action-packed game changer that was with me till the end of the line.