Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Let’s turn things up a notch, shall we?
Steve Rogers (Evans), is now living in Washington D.C., working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and attempting to catch up on the last 70 years worth of pop culture. After uncovering a conspiracy, he’s forced to go on the run with ally Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Johansson), whilst being pursued by a mysterious assassin going under the name of Winter Soldier (Stan).
Personally, this is one of my favourite movies in the MCU, and where things really begin to evolve story-wise. It is also the start of the reign of Joe and Anthony Russo, who follow up their work with Marvel on Civil War and the next two Avengers movies, and Marvel couldn’t have picked a better two to see the next two phases of the universe through.
Following the more procedural adventure-of-the-episode format that Marvel had previously adopted, this time they try something new, adding a sub-genre to its superhero foundation. Not just another mission for Cap, this movie is now also a political thriller, with our hero searching for answers in regards to the government system he’s now working for. This keeps things incredibly fresh in a world where if they had a more basic approach, things would’ve gotten stale quickly.
It’s a good look for Cap, and who better to add to the cast of a political thriller than king of the genre Robert Redford? Star of All the President’s Men and Three Days of the Condor, he can now add this to his loose trilogy. He’s perfect casting as S.H.I.E.L.D. higher up Alexander Pierce, and a rare villain in his repertoire. He may not be the most exciting villain (Marvel has yet to really nail that), but watching Redford sink his teeth into a superhero film is entirely captivating.
Casting, as ever, is spot on, but the most notable here is Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier. A small part in the first Captain America movie, Bucky Barnes doesn’t have much to give, being the entirely average best friend. However, foresight on Marvel’s part told them he could play the darker version, and they were right. The Winter Soldier is a much more fully realised character, despite the amnesia, and Stan is a perfect fit.
With the focus on a fresh take, it would be easy for them to take a break on the action too, but instead they up the ante. The Russos seem to get action perfectly, leading with a mission to take down pirates on a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel, followed by one of the best car chases I’ve seen in recent years. Choreography is something put at the forefront, and it is never better than when Cap and Winter Soldier come up against each other. They know how to use the shield too, it becoming a useful weapon for Rogers as opposed to a shiny prop.
The movie also has one of the best twists the MCU has produced so far – S.H.I.E.L.D., after being founded by Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, has been infiltrated by Hydra and grown like a parasite within its ranks, causing the major destructions the world has seen thus far. It’s a neat little trick, dismantling one of the major bodies the universe has, and is genuinely surprising, due to the fact that they now have no back-up they can trust.
It also creates emotional beats for its leads. Both Romanoff and Nick Fury (Jackson) have to face the fact that they the goodies they were fighting for are not, in fact, all good, with the former struggling to come to terms with the fact that the red she tried to wipe off her ledger is still very much there. Rogers, on the other hand, learns that he died for absolutely nothing, and that if he’d stayed alive and lived with Peggy, nothing much would be different. It’s both heart breaking and frustrating for both, but adds to their determination to take this entity down once and for all.
This was the starting point to Captain America becoming one of the coolest superheroes around, which many forget he wasn’t prior. Perhaps the Russos know the character in the settings of today’s world better than others could, but their deft hands make neat work of a once overly earnest character.