For the longest time, I’ve prided myself on skipping the entirety of Marvel Phase 2. That is until I realized I’ve actually seen half of them… and one of them is my all-time favorite. While Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man were setting up some new Avengers storylines, the other Phase 2 films were sequels that I really had no interest in. Iron Man 3 has a bad reputation – as does Thor: The Dark World – but what’s always been a mystery to me is that shining beacon upon the MCU pedestal. Why does everyone I’ve ever met hold Captain America: The Winter Soldier in such high regard? Well, after a lot of discussion in our group chat and the upcoming release of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, I decided to finally bite the bullet and give this film a gander. Let’s just say… I’m pretty glad I did.
Now I must say, going back to a film such as this when you’ve seen almost every other installment in the franchise can be a bit jarring. The upside is I finally got to experience the origin of “on your left” and how Crossbones came to be. The downsides, on the other hand, are more disappointing when you know a fake-out death is just that. Thankfully, this isn’t to say the tension is completely gone, as The Winter Soldier is so expertly crafted that it tells a story any moviegoer could be enthralled by. I came across the term “enthralled” a lot when taking notes during the film. I was truly on the edge of my seat for many, many scenes. The Winter Soldier is so much more than a typical superhero film. I was surprised by how funny and emotional it really is. Furthermore, getting to see some characters who haven’t had a real chance to show much humor or true emotion is a real treat.
The Winter Soldier offers so much in its runtime that it hardly ever dips. In terms of superhero cinema, this is significantly difficult, as the audience tends to demand nonstop action with minimal story building. But what this sequel to not only Captain America but also The Avengers offers is a sharp turn for the overall narrative. It’s here that S.H.I.E.L.D. dies. It’s here that new friends and enemies are made. It’s here that people like Nick Fury are forced to leave behind their old ways and start questioning everything. The inner conflict with Fury alone is spectacular to watch throughout the film. You really feel the betrayal and constant mystery shrouding his life and the career path he’s chosen, and when he “dies,” you feel that too, even when you know he’s going to be fine. The Winter Soldier acts as a great standalone film, and its characters work within this world all on their own.
You can’t talk about The Winter Soldier without mentioning its vast array of characters, most of whom flesh out the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the years go on. The most notable new face is Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon, who brings a certain charm and energy to the screen that perfectly compliments the rather bland Steve Rogers (but we’ll get to that later). Conversely, the titular Winter Soldier is seen here to be a lot more tragic than future installments portray him, turning someone I always perceived as a whiny, brooding baby into the mysterious, tortured veteran-turned-weapon that fans have always described him as. I really came away from this film liking them both, and that gets me extremely excited for the upcoming show. One character I can do without, however, would be Agent 13. I only knew her from an old Avengers mobile game I used to play, and while she sells the role of “badass female” well, her enigma of a backstory or purpose makes for a rather unnecessary addition. Hopefully she, too, can have her story told in the new Disney+ series, which would explain a lot and get me to care about her character.
Speaking of badass females, I’d be remiss to not mention Marvel’s resident redhead rebel, Natasha Romanoff. Black Widow was never a favorite of mine; I couldn’t get behind the “butt-kicking girl of the group who wears a catsuit and keeps the boys in check.” Essentially, she seemed to me like a sad excuse for a cool female superhero, and since her introduction in the second Iron Man, I threw her in the crappy corner with Cap and (at a time) Vision. But The Winter Soldier provides not only some awesome moments for Natasha to kick ass but also some really great scenes where she shows just how vital she is to the team. Not only that, but this film made me realize Scarlett Johansson is the perfect Black Widow. She just offers the greatest balance of emotional apathy and genuine concern that always keeps you wondering “what is going on in that girl’s mind?” She’s like if Catwoman were put on a team with Batman, and their will-they/won’t-they relationship made every moment as thrilling as it is unsettling. This isn’t to say Black Widow is bad, but there’s a reckless aspect to her that leaves her less than 100% trustworthy. All in all, I cannot wait to see more of her in the Black Widow film once it finally releases. All the new characters, as well as Taskmaster, and the Natasha I know and now love? It’s bound to be a great time.
All this praise, I almost forgot about the elephant in the room: the Captain himself. Steve Rogers has always been my least favorite Avenger. I think he’s a buff dude with a lame backstory and even lamer villains. He’s just a soldier, with a shield. Captain America is a bad, dumb superhero, and I’m sorry to say this movie didn’t make him any better for me, really. I will say, he had some awesome fight sequences, and I wish we got to see more of that in the Avengers movies. More throwing of the shield and flipping around, and less shouting out orders, please. All that aside, though, we’re left with a man who is constantly affected by his past, and not even in a disturbing way like Bucky. He’s just… sad. Literally, Captain America is always sad, and the worst thing is Chris Evans really doesn’t play sad very well. I knew Evans from comedic roles before the MCU. He was great as The Human Torch and he was great in The Losers (seriously, go watch that underrated classic). But Chris Evans is just… not a great Cap. His conflict with Fury and their arguments over S.H.I.E.L.D. was fun to watch, but that’s when Cap got angry, not sad. For a character so emotionally charged, he’s really only got two settings, and that’s disappointing. Further, still, his lack of genuine sadness makes me never give a rat’s ass about Peggy Carter. I hated Endgame’s ending because it tried to make me care about a plot I could never care about. I really don’t like this guy and I’m glad the show won’t include his whiny ass.
I’ve been saying how much I love the characters in The Winter Soldier, but even deeper than that, its overall plot is a rollercoaster I never wanted to get off of. The film truly never slows down, and it’s peppered with the perfect amount of action to keep things fresh. I’ve always heard The Winter Soldier described as a spy movie, and I couldn’t agree more. The beauty of this film comes from the complete 180 after installments like Thor and Iron Man. The Winter Soldier, at its core, is not a “superhero movie.” I frequently likened it to something like Sicario or even Fast & Furious; an action movie with minimal unrealistic scenarios and reliance on everyday skills like critical thinking. Okay maybe I was pushing it with the Fast & Furious comparison, but I think my point is fairly clear. With the exception of some superhero bullshit like that device that can figure out fingerprint placement on a keypad, most of The Winter Soldier’s events didn’t seem too farfetched. I even liked how Natasha and Steve went to an Apple Store to do some secret hacker stuff. Makes me wonder if any real hacker has done that kind of thing before. The Winter Soldier is just a smart film, to put it simply. I really enjoyed its simplistic nature.
I didn’t mean to make this a full review of a seven-year-old movie, so I figure I should start wrapping this up. But first, I’ll do a little rapid fire of some notes I couldn’t exactly put into essay format:
- The villains in this movie are really cool. I love the inclusion of Batroc the Leaper, though he’s never referred to as “The Leaper.” But he does leap, which is fun. Arnim Zola is incredibly well done; everything I could ever want out of that character onscreen. Even Robert Redford’s character Alexander Pierce is cool, with the comforting nature of a grandfather and the chilling discomfort of an unpredictable enemy.
- I can’t get over how great Sam is. His support groups add a sense of humanity to him that’s everything I wish Captain America was. Thankfully, it’s what Captain America is now, and I’m hopeful for a better portrayal of the character. Like he said, “I do what he does, just slower.”
- The chase scene with Nick Fury was breathtaking. It was also quite funny. In fact, a lot of this movie is funny. One standout comedic moment was when Natasha showed Steve her stomach scar and was like “bye-bye bikinis,” to which he replied, “yeah, I bet you look terrible in them now.”
- From what I can gather, the Winter Soldier is just a tool used as a weapon. But in Civil War we find he was used with the code words to kill Stark’s dad, right? So why is he even a thing in the first place? Is he just used to make Cap question everything? Feel betrayed? Played? Used? I need to watch that damn movie again now…
- People just love to die in this movie. A maid got shot point-blank in the chest, a guy got hit by a speeding truck, someone got thrown into a jet engine! This ain’t for kids at all, what the hell, Marvel?
- Fury’s epitaph is part of Samuel L. Jackson’s memorable quote from Pulp Fiction. That’s a cute Easter egg.
- Stan Lee’s cameo didn’t feel forced at all here. God, I miss him.
- HDR looks great on Disney+ but streaming it sucks. Buffering is a real bitch and a half.
- Why is Danny Pudi in this film for like 10 seconds?
To whoever reads this, I just want you to know I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Is it my new favorite Marvel movie? I don’t know. I love me some Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet that movie did have some slumps, especially when the greater MCU lore got all mucked up with my buddy comedy. The Winter Soldier is a thrill ride, and I enjoyed nearly every second of it. It’s a modern war movie/spy mystery, complete with death-defying stunts, engaging gunfights, and a whole lot of overall charm. If you’re looking for a superhero movie that stands well on its own, complete with humor, emotion, and satisfying character relationships, go watch Shazam.
…or you could check out The Winter Soldier, because it checks all the boxes, as well. Even in the final moments of the film’s climax, as we all thought Cap was going to die for reals, I almost shed a tear for the titular Winter Soldier. Tortured, manipulated, abused, and now reformed as an ally of the Avengers, I’m really looking forward to whatever the future brings for him, as well as Falcon and even Agent 13 when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier comes to Disney+ this Friday.
Also, I wonder what will become of those siblings from the mid-credits scene?