Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
To this point, nearly 10 movies in, the Marvel movies have teased but never overly impressed. Producer Kevin Feige and team have laid out a beautifully interwoven fabric which has given us a few really good movies, and a few mediocre to bad movies. What I am interested in seeing is at what point can the series break through and deliver a truly great film within the series. Captain America is one of the more notable characters in the series, and his first installment was pretty good. With the sequel, television directors Anthony and Joe Russo were brought on in what on the surface appears to be a interesting choice. But with The Winter Soldier, it appears they have unlocked whatever it was that was lacking, as I can say, it has become the first great movie of the series.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), after having been dethawed and helping defend the world in The Avengers, has moved to Washington where he continues to work with SHIELD as a spy alongside Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But when an unknown assassin called The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) threatens the launch of a new SHIELD initiative, Rogers, Romanoff and Fury must band together with the Secretary of Internal Security (Robert Redford) and Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) to ensure the future of SHIELD. They enlist the help of a former military paratrooper named Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) when they begin to suspect something may be amiss within SHIELD itself.
There are so many things coming together in this film that makes it work as well as it does. I think first I must start with Cap and Black Widow, as they team up extremely well. Rewatching these movies, and especially in such close proximity to one another, I’ve come to really appreciate both these characters and what they have to offer the franchise. Teaming them up is just a fabulous move. Moving on from there even, bringing on Anthony Mackie’s Wilson is another brilliant stroke. It may seem like they are building a team that will, at some point, become unwieldy, but at this point, within just the Captain America universe, Falcon’s presence is a very welcome one. The Winter Soldier is another great move, especially with the twist. I think casting Sebastian Stan, the most chameleon actor working today was outright genius. Under a mask, not under a mask, it didn’t matter, as Stan is able to blend in and not reveal his true self since he looks different in just about every role he’s ever been in.
So with a great cast, and great writing as the backbone of the film, what sets it apart even more from the other mediocre Marvel films? The action. I think with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we finally have a Marvel movie with good action, and I think I have to credit the work of the Russo Brothers, who up to this point in their careers were largely television comedy directors. But they really pull out some nice action set pieces, with really remarkable choreography and camera work. I was very impressed not only by the execution of these action scenes, but also by how much of a difference they made. Sure, the film still ends in a big giant CGI battle, but even the effects in this film are better, which when paired with a better action sensibility, make that big finale more palatable.
Tying Hydra back in as the bad guys in a movie set in present day might be a little bit of a stretch, but being able to see Cap work in present day in what amounts to a spy action thriller movie is really satisfying and rewarding viewing experience. I don’t know if I could imagine another of the characters fitting into this style of film quite as well. And I’ve posited before that the strength of the Marvel formula is its adaptability to different genres of movies, allowing Feige et al. to explore different styles, while staying true to brand enough to not alienate fans of certain franchises. We’ve seen a little bit of that exploration (The First Avenger is a war movie, Thor is a sci-fi, etc.), but if memory serves right there are many more genre explorations coming up in the series. Captain America: The Winter Soldier exemplifies the best of what the Marvel franchise can be.