Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel movie since the original Iron Man. Sure, The Avengers is great and everything, but let’s just discount that gem for the time being (and even then it’s got stiff competition!). What we have here is an A-grade political thriller disguised as a superhero movie with kickass action and surprising emotional depth.
More than that however, this is a true game-changer for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The events of Winter Soldier will forever change the playing field for Marvel’s future films and other related productions including TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s really that significant – if you’ve been following the shared universe then you really can’t afford to miss it.
This is not a production line movie. Winter Soldier feels like a film in and of its own accord, just like Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight stood on its own two feet. As expected, the story continues from the positively cataclysmic events of The Avengers and has Cap himself, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), still settling into the modern world. He carries a diary of things to catch up on, considering all the years he spent frozen in ice, and it includes such classics as catching up on Star Wars and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (of all things!).
Steve’s not a happy chappy though, as S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to use dubious methods he doesn’t approve of. Even Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of the secret agency, is becoming suspicious of elements within its clandestine walls. Fury consults his good friend Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford adding weight and some serious credibility to the proceedings), who promises to help so long as Iron Man swings by his kid’s birthday – it’s the little things, right?
But when Fury is ambushed in a brutal car chase, it becomes clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t what anybody thought it was. Captain America teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and new pal Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – ‘The Falcon’ to comic aficionados – in order to discover the true threat, which may or may not be the titular Winter Soldier.
The identity of the Winter Soldier is just one of the film’s mysteries. Regardless, this superhuman terminator with a metal arm is a truly menacing force on screen. The character doesn’t get too much development but has an immediate and dangerous presence, and is able to shake Steve to his very core. Add this to the midst of a juicy storyline that tackles such topical themes and issues as the cost of freedom, and you’ve got a killer story that nails every beat and every Easter egg, wink, nod and continuity call-back.
It’s not as funny as Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World, but then this is a much more serious movie. The stakes are real with significant costs for failure. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo dial down the CG fight sequences for rapid-cut fisticuffs and spectacularly choreographed old-school action. It’s brutal, it’s hard-hitting, and it’s all the no-nonsense frills that haven’t before been seen in a Marvel superhero movie.
Indeed, Captain America: The Winter Soldier features some of the best action setpieces I’ve seen in some time. The fact that Marvel, a studio that frequently churns through directors, has already signed on the Russo brothers to direct Cap’s third outing is testament to the terrific work that they’ve done on Winter Soldier. This is an impressive production, one that has just about everything you could ask for from a Marvel movie and more, raising the bar yet again for the genre. A final note: make sure you don’t miss the two extra scenes that play during the credits – one midway through and one at the very end.