As the final post-credit “stingers” concluded, I could not help but reflect on how the stingers were the most conventional thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Instead of giving us the standard formula that we had come to expect from superhero films, Marvel did something different this time around. They gave us an intricate political spy thriller that just happened to have superheroes in it.
Gone are the hordes of nameless space aliens and dark elves that populated films like The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. The fantastical has been replaced by something more dangerous…mankind’s fear of each other. We have become so fearful of the potential evils around us, that we have given our governmental guard dogs a much longer leash.
As with most of the films in this phase of the Marvel cinematic universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up in the wake of the events of The Avengers. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still adapting to life in the modern world and all the complications that come with it. One impediment he finds increasingly frustrating is the secrecy of his superiors such as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).
Rogers frustration turns to distrust when a piece of data that Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) acquires sets off a chain of events resulting in him being targeted by the same government he has sworn to protect. On the run from the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, Rogers and Romanoff seek the aid of military specialist Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to uncover what is really going on. Unfortunately, their task is made even more difficult when a deadly Russian assassin known as The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who has ties to Rogers’ past, puts the trio in his crosshairs.
After directing a string of comedies, Anthony and Joe Russo, better known as the Russo Brothers, bring a grounded nuance to Captain America: The Winter Soldier that is surprisingly refreshing. Though clearly inspired by Ed Brubaker’s brilliant run on the Captain America comics, amongst other Marvel stories, the film effectively charts its own path. Anthony and Joe Russo create a Bourne Identity level of intensity to the film, while still keeping with the conflicted essence of the main character intact.
The film understands that Captain America is more than just a man with super-soldier serum pulsing through his veins. Steve Rogers is the idealist that we all wish we could be. Despite the horrors witnessed during the war, he still has faith in mankind to do what is right when the time comes. He would rather sacrifice his own life instead of watch his moral compass change directions. This offers a rather interesting dimension to his interactions with The Winter Soldier.
Speaking of the relentless boogeyman of the piece, I loved the way in which Anthony and Joe Russo translated the character on the big screen. Similar to Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s T-1000, The Winter Soldier is nothing more than a henchman in the grand scheme of things. However, like those characters, and uttering only a few words, The Winter Soldier is still a menacing presence in his own right. He serves as the perfect distraction for the other subplots the film sets in motion.
While it is well known that Captain America 3 is already in the works, what is surprising is how well Captain America: The Winter Soldier works as both a middle chapter and a standalone film. The action and performances are solid, and the film injects enough humour and Easter Eggs to satisfy hardcore fans of the source material. While not all of the twists are that shocking, they serve as minor blemishes in otherwise strong film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier ranks amongst the best superhero films ever made. It is a game changer that not only makes us look at the Marvel cinematic universe differently, but also raises the bar for all future comic book inspired films moving forward.