It’s tough to say, but The Winter Soldier is Marvel’s best film to date, due in part to its accessibility, making it enjoyable for just about anyone.
I don’t consider myself a die-hard Marvel fan. I enjoyed The Avengers, and I like Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man trilogy, but I haven’t followed any Marvel lore or read any comics. That said, I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Rather than requiring the viewer to have extensive knowledge about Steve Rodgers and the eclectic band of S.H.I.E.L.D. workers, the Russo brothers have made an enjoyable, first-rate action thriller that anyone can enjoy. The Winter Soldier is on par with great espionage movies like James Bond and the Bourne trilogy. The plot is easy enough to understand and still fun to enjoy, the action sequences are top-notch, and there is a coat of polish glimmering the film that wasn’t present in films like Thor or The Incredible Hulk.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up where the first film left off. Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is now in the present day, and faces the challenge of adapting to the 21st century lifestyle. His culture-shock experience is fun to watch, and makes for interesting dialogue. When an internal threat in S.H.I.E.L.D. is exposed, Captain America, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) find themselves on the outside. The new face of S.H.I.E.L.D., Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) takes over. All while this is happening, the Captain traces the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the Soviet’s answer to Captain America, leading into a corporate conspiracy on governmental internal ops in Washington D.C.
All of this is very fun to watch. Everything unfolds at a pace that is appropriate for all viewers, Marvel fans or not. That’s their biggest victory with the film. Unlike Thor 2, The Winter Soldier is immediately accessible. I could see my parents enjoying this film. The tone of the film is also great; part Cold War espionage thriller, part Superhero flick, The Winter Soldier blends these elements into something greater, and it’s a thrill to watch it all unfold on screen. Twists and turns, conspiracies everywhere, The Winter Soldier has you on the edge of your seat. It’s never predictable, and always surprising.
I will say that I’m still not convinced that Chris Evans has 100% settled into the role of Captain America, but he definitely feels more comfortable this time around. Some cheesy dialogue calls to mind the patriotism of the first film, and even though you might cringe, it’s all in good fun. Scarlett Johansson has a considerable amount of screen time as Black Widow. Rather than use her as a sex object like typical Johansson fare, the relationship between Cap’n and Black Widow is strictly professional. They don’t feel the need to display their affection constantly, and Black Widow herself is quite a formidable force. Anthony Mackie also appears as the Falcon, someone I am not familiar with, but he performs well enough as the typical sidekick role. We aren’t given much backstory into his character, but I hope he makes appearances in the future. The Winter Soldier himself is a great villain. Unlike the Mandarin or Malekith, The Winter Soldier’s secret identity isn’t revealed until halfway through, and it never feels like a cop out. Like any good villain, he feels like a considerable foe for Captain America, one that matches him or even surpasses him in physical force.
Supporting roles from Cobie Smulders, Toby Jones, and Frank Grillo round out the rest of the cast. They play minor characters that die-hard Marvel fans will recall, and for the most part they get the job done. Robert Redford, in his limited screen time, performs well enough as the new S.H.I.E.L.D. leader, but I’m not sure if he’ll be remembered in years to come.
The Winter Soldier has an array of satisfying and visually stunning action sequences. The great pace settles itself with slow, information-gathering scenes, and intense action set pieces. The choreography is stunning; fist fights have genuine weight to them, and the fights feel real, despite it being a superhero film. Sparks fly over the screen, the sound editing is first-rate, and it all has the coat of polish that only Marvel can deliver.
The Winter Soldier might be Marvel’s best film to date. It successfully blends multiple genres and transcends the superhero stereotype into creating something enjoyable for any audience. The cast of characters is interesting, the plot is full of twists and turns, and you’ll leave the theater satisfied. It made me excited for what Marvel has up their sleeve for the rest of Act II.