I love this one. This one’s probably one of the top entries in the entire MCU, but let’s see how it fits in with all the rest.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Overview: Cap and Black Widow investigate a S.H.I.E.L.D. conspiracy that has ties to HYDRA while dodging the deadly attacks of a masked assassin known as the Winter Soldier who has ties to Rogers’ own past.
The script is just top notch, balancing spy thriller action with the sort of snappy humor we’ve come to expect from the franchise. The characters are given plenty of depth (and an equal sharing of said depth), and the bonds between them are well-established. I love the chemistry that develops between Steve, Natasha, and Sam. While The Avengers took some time to bring its heroes together, this one establishes them as a team the instant you see all three of them together.
The tension between Steve and Bucky is really well done, too. There are no easy resolutions when it comes to them and I like how the script doesn’t give us a cut and dry happy ending.
I’m probably over-selling it at this point, but I don’t really care. The script is fantastic, you guys. End of story.
I like the James Bond-esque look of this one. It still goes big and bold when it needs to, but since the focus is on the characters, it knows when to rein in the bombast.
This is also one of those movies where you really notice the editing, specifically how seamless everything is. When I first saw this in the theater, the Cap vs. The Entire Ship’s Security Contingent scene elicited more than a few impressed murmurs from the audience. It’s like a ballet…a ballet of broken bones and unconscious people, but STILL! It’s just so marvelous.
And then there’s the build up to the elevator brawl. The brawl itself is fabulous, but the moments leading up to it when Steve realizes what’s about to go down and you see how tense and nervous everyone else is, and everyone’s trying to act super chill is just wonderful.
I’m also super fond of the final confrontation atop three helicarriers. There’s something super satisfying about seeing S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters being destroyed. I dunno why. They were the good guys…sorta…
The Villain: 9/10
There’s two-ish, really. Bucky aka The Winter Soldier is sort of a secondary villain, but he’s been brainwashed so Steve doesn’t see him as a villain, so we get all kinds of fun moments where he’s confused why Steve is trying to reach out to him and he’s conflicted over his own lack of reliable memories…interspersed with a bunch of really cool fight scenes.
The MAIN villain, though, is Alexander Pierce who, as a S.H.I.E.L.D. exec, seems pretty cool, but then he’s revealed to be a HYDRA mole and things get sticky. In terms of character, he’s not super iconic, but the character works well within the film itself. At first you think Steve creates the conflict between them when he refuses to give up Fury’s secret, but then you realize it was engineered all along to take out potential enemies of HYDRA and he becomes much more sinister.
He’s also a lot more believable as a villain in that dudes in suits are more often than not involved in most of the real world decision making that directly affects people.
Count: I wrote it down, but I don’t have it with me at present. I’m sorry. But there’s a bunch and they’re pretty awesome
This is another one of those films where the explosions are genuinely important to the story as opposed to just needless fluff added to distract you from the lack of meaningful character development.
But since we HAVE meaningful character development, the explosions serve to punctuate the important beats in each character’s journey.
Favorite explosion: the big helicarrier mashup at the end! It’s awesome!
The Hero’s Journey: 10/10
There’s three, so we’ll go in alphabetical order, because I occasionally can be organized…occasionally…
Black Widow: This is, I think, the film where she really shines. We got to see her kicking all kinds of bad guy ass in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, but in this one we get to see the downside of her assassin’s training. She’s good at what she does, but she’s disassociated enough from the people around her that she doesn’t initially realize that she’s being used as a pawn in the quiet conflict over S.H.I.E.L.D.’s internal security. She’s used to just doing her job and not questioning it. But she learns how even loyalty can be warped. In a sense, she has to learn to be a bit MORE trusting so that she can break through all the layers of subterfuge and figure out who actually has the world’s best interests in mind. She could have easily gone rogue and tried to uncover what was going down on her own, but teaming up with Steve and Sam helped her stabilize her own shattered sense of loyalty and honor which HYDRA/S.H.I.E.L.D. broke.
Captain America: This is where Steve really shines. He’s not just out of time and faced with technology he’s never encountered before, he’s faced with an entirely different way of thinking. Trust and loyalty to one’s own country made sense in WWII, but here, he’s told not to trust anyone. He’s most interesting as a fish out of water, but his alienation here isn’t just one of cultural references (which he keeps in a small notebook in his pocket to remind him) but of seeing fascism rising up out of an organization he decided to trust, and it’s the fact that it’s so familiar to him that bothers him. And I think that’s what makes this film work so much. He thinks differently from everyone else, but the enemy he’s fighting is a familiar one (and in Bucky’s case, suuuper familiar) so he’s not as much an anachronism as he has been in previous films, but he does find himself at odds ideologically with everyone around him.
Falcon: I love Sam Wilson. And it’s not just that he’s super hot. Sam is, in many ways, the same sort of guy as Steve. He’s a retired soldier who’s trying to make a difference back home (volunteering with PTSD victims at the VA). He’s got an old-fashioned code of ethics that makes him one of the few people Steve can trust, and conversely, Steve’s campaign allows Sam to get back into action. Plus, he really rounds out the trio well. Natasha’s dry (and rather dark) sense of humor is balanced out by Sam’s snarky wit and Steve’s unerring earnestness. If it were just Steve and Natasha, they’d get bummed out pretty quick, and Sam injects some genuine fun into the group, which is wonderful.
Score and Rank
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (46/50) And we have a new number one! It only beat Avengers by one point, but I think it totally deserves that number one spot!
2. The Avengers (45/50)
3. Iron Man (43/50)
4. Iron Man 3 (42/50)
5. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50)
6. Thor (39/50)
7. Thor: The Dark World (36/50)
8. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
9. Iron Man 2 (33/50)