It was impossible to predict when Joe and Anthony Russo were hired as the co-directors for Captain America: The Winter Soldier that they were going to deliver what is well-regarded as the best MCU solo movie, even considering the 30+ projects that have followed it. The second film in the Captain America trilogy ditches the period piece aspect from the first, bringing Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) into the present day to deal with modern but familiar issues.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier leans more into its identity as a spy thriller than a comic book/superhero movie. The film not only succeeds but excels in delivering a story that stands tall when compared to classics in the espionage genre like Alfred Hitchcock‘s North by Northwest and Burn After Reading. Bringing together several new and established heroes like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Captain America: The Winter Soldier keeps Steve Rogers at the center of this story by sending him on his most dangerous and personal journey yet.
‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Review: A Perfect Movie Regardless of How You Frame It
Regardless of whether you judge Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a standard MCU flick or an entry into the aforementioned espionage genre, it holds up impeccably. This movie contains various action set pieces that could each be considered among the best the MCU has to offer, but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely understood it needed more to elevate into the upper echelon. The pair worked delicately in collaboration with the directors to craft a script that ensures there’s captivating exposition to prop up the dialogue-heavy scenes.
Bringing in Robert Redford, famous for his roles in other spy thrillers such as Three Days of the Condor and Spy Game, adds a layer of credibility that would be otherwise missing with someone else in the role. Redford plays corrupt S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Alexander Pierce, who acts as the shadow leader for HYDRA. Pierce is the Chancellor Palpatine of this story, operating behind the scenes and leading everyone to play right into his hand. He delivers a powerful yet subtle performance, effectively posing as the strongest person in the room despite sitting across from people who could kill him instantly.
Pierce, and other undercover HYDRA agents like Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández), Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), and Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) serve as the film’s true antagonists. Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), is merely a puppet at the whim of his HYDRA handlers. It’s painful to watch Bucky commit such heinous acts that he’ll spend the rest of his life reconciling when it becomes clear he has no control over himself. “The beautiful parasite that grew inside S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a frightening parallel to the audience understanding just how much control they have seized as the narrative progresses.
The Narrative Development and Score in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Is Everything To Write Home About
If you break down Captain America: The Winter Soldier from a technical standpoint, pinpointing certain aspects to pick apart, you’ll find only flawless objectivity. The ominous and high-octane themes for The Winter Soldier and Captain America respectively build apprehension with passing note. The pacing and general execution of this story are on another level entirely from most other entries in the comic book movie medium. Comic book movies are often held to lower standards than other genres, but the enthralling score, expertly crafted narrative, and captivating direction prove superhero films don’t have to be held back by the characters within them.
It’s incredibly common for the stakes in any given superhero movie to feel entirely too high given the scope of the story that precedes it. Although Captain America: The Winter Soldier concludes with a grand, high-stakes third-act fight scene with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, it works flawlessly in the context in which it takes place. S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA are two well-established entities, both deeply personal to Steve Rogers, and the movie works remarkably hard to articulate their plan for complete control. A massive fight on three giant helicarriers for millions of lives doesn’t take anything away from how intimate this is for Steve and the crew.
“The story of Captain America is one of honor, bravery, and sacrifice.” What seems like a throwaway line comes during one of the film’s most poignant scenes, Steve’s visit to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian. This one sentence is remarkably present throughout this movie and all of Steve Rogers’ journey in the MCU. His righteousness drives his decision-making down to the fibers of his being. He is fundamentally a good person, no matter how hard it gets; unwavering in his determination to help others and fight for those who aren’t strong enough to stand up for themselves.
Strong Performances Across the Board Are Part of What Makes ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ So Special
Captain America: The Winter Soldier hinges on Chris Evans’ ability to be compelling and force you to root for him against overwhelming odds; and while he succeeds effortlessly, he’s not the only one that gives a commendable performance. The casts from the earlier days of the MCU look much different than they do now — superhero movies were less of a sure bet, so the stars leading them demanded less of a premium. Nowadays, in Phase 4 and beyond, superhero movie casts are often quite top-heavy, but CA: TWS is a reminder of the early days with long and talented call sheets.
Before Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie were headlining a Disney+ series, the two were accessories to larger names like Evans, Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson. Mackie immediately establishes himself as a prominent MCU figure with unforgettable chemistry as Sam Wilson, and Stan captivates as The Winter Soldier despite having very few lines of dialogue. Stan is remarkable at portraying immense pain and anger through mere facial expressions, while Mackie’s quips and one-liners provided some much-needed comedic relief.
Scarlett Johansson, now in her third MCU appearance as Black Widow, has found a comfortable groove and knows all the intricacies and details to perfectly capture the essence of Natasha Romanoff. Johansson and Evans have a striking chemistry, light-years ahead of the forced romance that’s to come in the next Avengers film with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). It’s little moments like the pair riding in the stolen truck to New Jersey, sharing some collective teasing but ultimately embracing one another, that make Captain America: The Winter Soldier so special.
The Legacy of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Perhaps no MCU solo movie is remembered as fondly and has left more of an impact on character development than Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The second film in the Captain America trilogy and the third film in Phase 2 is Steve Rogers’ first face-off against a modern-day threat without the help of The Avengers. It also effectively introduces the man who has gone on to take over the mantle of Captain America, Sam Wilson. Bucky Barnes, once thought to be dead, is back in an important way, and the Hydra-infested intelligence apparatus known as S.H.I.E.L.D. is no more.
This film also gave MCU fans a taste of the espionage genre, one that unfortunately has not been competently satisfied since. 2021’s Black Widow and 2023’s Secret Invasion have both made attempts to recreate the magic of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but to no success. We’re now in the midst of Marvel’s most grandiose undertaking yet, The Multiverse Saga, so the days of grounded and personal spy thrillers seem to be largely in the rearview mirror.
There May Never Be Another Solo Marvel Movie As Good as ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Amazing performances, a harrowing score, enthralling action set pieces, and a finely crafted story all tie into why Captain America: The Winter Soldier is simply the best Marvel has to offer to date in their solo category. It’s nearly impossible to compare solo movies to Avengers projects given the contrast in scope and fan service elements but put this film beside anything else, MCU or otherwise, and it holds up exquisitely.
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'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Review'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Review
- The fight scenes are as good as they've ever been in the MCU.
- The entire cast, supporting and stars, give strong performances.
- The story is remarkably intense and well crafted.
- The score elevates each scene it accompanies.
- Unfortunately, after 2:16, the movie ends.