Let’s say this up front. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not just a great comic book movie, it is an incredible film. Few adaptations in the superhero genre can make this claim. This is not to say that other comic book movies aren’t good, but Winter Soldier goes beyond that and it is why many view it as the best film in the MCU canon.
The film deals with Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) attempts to adjust to the modern world. While this was ripe fodder for a fish out of water story, the Russo brothers instead use it to address the evolving views on freedom and security that are ripe discussion in our society. The difficulty Captain America has in reconciling the way government and intelligence agencies operate now with the values that he holds from his life are analyzed deeply, and while in the end there is little question in whether or not he is right to collapse SHIELD and by extension Hydra, it is hard to argue that the villain Alexander Pierce didn’t have good intentions (as much as he may have crossed the line from he who fights monsters).
As with The First Avenger, Captain America also makes good use of an extended cast. Minor characters such as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) Sharon Carter AKA Agent 13 (Emily Van Camp) and Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) get chances to shine. The introduction of Sam Wilson AKA Falcon (Anthony Mackie) not only adds a new hero to The Avengers roster, but offers a character with a real sense of depth and some winning charm. But the major standout is Natasha Romanov AKA The Black Widow (Scarlett Johnasen) who serves more as Captain America’s costar then a sidekick.
While many complain about the Marvel villains, Winter Soldier gives us a trio of bad guys who really can win you over. Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is commanding, and, while clearly well on his way to becoming a tyrant, has clear motivations that have led him down this road. Brock Rumlow AKA Crossbones (Frank Grillo) is a thug, but an intimidating figure and conveys a sense of viciousness that stands out amongst his fellow soldiers. However it is the Winter Soldier AKA Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who gets the sub title and his status as an urban legend and something to be feared amongst the intelligence community is seemingly well earned.
While the ideas and characters are excellent on their own, I cannot say enough about the fight scenes we are presented with. From the opening rescue on the Lemurian Star, to the highway battle where we see Captain America and The Winter Soldier go toe to toe, to the final set piece where our heroes move to disable the SHIELD Hellicarriers, every fight is well structured. There is not an overreliance on flash and theatrics. Most of the fights are vicious struggles for survival, with a few moments of cool to remind us that is still a superhero movie.
The Russo brothers were largely known for their work on the comedy Community before being offered the chance to direct Winter Soldier. They do an excellent job here of bringing one of the most renowned Captain America stories to life, and their experience with balancing an ensemble cast shows they are the perfect choice to not only tell this story, but inspires a lot of faith that they will be able to handle the challenge which is Civil War and the coming Avengers: Infinity War.
I do not award a perfect score lightly. It is something I feel needs to be difficult to achieve and only granted when I struggle to find the negatives in a film. In the case of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I have been sitting here for some time trying to think of a moment that would cause me to pause on suggesting this film. As I sit here defeated on this matter I urge everyone to give the film a rewatch in preparation for Civil War, and for those who have not seen it yet a first watch to understand how superhero movies can become great films.
+ Excellent characters (and character moments)
+ Intriguing and deep plot
+ Russo Brothers
+ Fight scenes and battle choreography