Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Based on characters created by Ed Brubaker, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Even on rewatch, I did not entirely love the first Captain America (although my opinion has improved a little, knowing what to expect), but the Avengers has marked a definite turning point for the Marvel cinematic universe. Iron Man 3 was more surprising, Thor: The Dark World was more action-packed. So what’s different for Cap in Phase 2? The answer is pretty much everything.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still adjusting to life in the modern world, and he’s joined up with SHIELD to get back to being a soldier. He quickly discovers how out of place he is when even a simple mission has more going on than he knows about. And when a member of SHIELD command is assassinated by the mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are forced to dive into SHIELD’s many secrets if they want answers.
The biggest change here is that there is a far more serious tone compared to previous Marvel movies. Oh, there’s still the light jokes and the silly Stan Lee cameo, but the atmosphere of fun is reduced. The action sequences are more explosive, more sudden and more violent. There’s themes of the distrust of government organizations, especially with the villain’s plan being an extreme version of the surveillance that everybody fears. And Cap himself is far less of the invincible hero than ever. The point is made early on, when he easily takes out a ship of low-rank thugs without breaking a sweat. And then along comes the Winter Solider, unstoppable and able to send Captain America flying. The stakes have to be raised for one of Marvel’s strongest heroes, and they are raised a lot. Everything adds up to a sense that Marvel knows they have to fight DC’s darker movies, but on their own terms, and they make something remarkable by doing so.
There’s also a very strong supporting cast here. Anthony Mackie joins as The Falcon. A hero who can fly isn’t too impressive in any comic, but he provides a very welcome addition to the Marvel universe, a character that Steve is able to connect with as a soldier. Robert Redford adds a touch of Oscar-power to the movie, and gives a great performance along the way, especially when he’s sharing scenes with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who gets some character development that has been unseen up until now. And then there’s Scarlett Johnasson’s Black Widow. This movie could probably have been called Captain America and Black Widow. The strong hints to her past continue as we find out more and more about her character, and exactly how ahead of everybody she tends to be. Not to mention that she’s truly able to hold her own in the action scenes. That aforementioned scene where Cap takes out thugs on a ship? It’s instantly followed up by Black Widow taking out several. The message is clear: the power levels are different, the combat ability is not.
The Winter Soldier is another huge step forward for Marvel. Blockbuster action and real-world allegories mix together perfectly and create an early start to summer action movies.