Looking Back at 2010s Films: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

5 Nov

By Tanner Smith

After “The Avengers” became a humongous box-office hit, we knew we were going to see something great from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But when?

Well, “Phase Two” begin in May 2013 with “Iron Man 3,” which was fun enough. But then came “Thor: The Dark World” in November 2013, which was dull as dishwater. We needed something that was going to be the next big thing for the MCU! And what’s this? A “Captain America” sequel? OK, let’s see what you got…

One viewing later, everyone was convinced, like “Holy cow this is what I didn’t know I was waiting for and it’s freaking amazing.”

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a film that dared to challenge its audience and it paid off in a major way. We still got the kick-ass action we go to these blockbusters for, and for that matter, we still got Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), among other MCU characters we recognize from other movies. But we got more than that. We got a more complicated story that asked questions we didn’t bother to think about in a movie like this. And as it progressed, it got even more interesting.

Before Steve Rogers was thawed out after being frozen for decades, he was led to believe that there was a simple war he was fighting: obvious good guys and obvious bad guys, no in-between. But now he’s in a world he’s trying to understand, not just because many people he knew are gone or even because of pop culture (about which he makes a list of things to keep track–I’ve paused that moment several times just to read the list), but because things are more complicated within who he thought he was fighting for and why. Now he can’t trust anybody except maybe Black Widow, and the two go on the run from HYDRA, the organization that’s taken over SHIELD, and their newest weapon, The Winter Soldier.

Suddenly, Captain America, the Boy Scout who always wanted to do good in his time, is suddenly the most interesting character in the MCU because he’s now in a time where he’s afraid he’s not doing as much good as he thought. You can tell that it’s eating him up inside that he just doesn’t know who to trust anymore and what’s worth fighting for. And then comes the reveal of the Winter Soldier…

I would issue a SPOILER ALERT but I think we all know by now that the Winter Soldier is Bucky (Sebastian Stan), Steve’s buddy from long, long ago, now brainwashed by HYDRA. It becomes a plot point in “Captain America: Civil War,” which everyone saw, so let’s move on and say this was another big strength in the story development for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It adds to Steve’s confusion about what he needs to do. What is his purpose now? To save Bucky? To stop him? Who else is he supposed to be fighting against/alongside? The moment Bucky’s reveal is brought onto us, everyone knew this movie was what we as comic-book movie fans needed. It’s great, and where it goes from there is not “predictable” so much as “inevitable.”

Every twist and turn “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” throws at us feels important and we’re completely invested in what’s going to happen next.

Even a cameo by the late Garry Shandling can feel like a big deal. (“Hail HYDRA.”)

This was the first MCU entry for the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe Russo), who would later give us more of the best MCU movies (“Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Avengers: Endgame”). They know we need something new to add to the familiar stuff we want to see, and this would only be the beginning of their impressive MCU track record. (Hah! I use the mild word of “impressive” when they’re responsible for this year’s highest-grossing film!! But you get what I mean.)

For one thing, they didn’t use much CGI. It is there, but it’s not what’s focused upon. It was surprising to find real stuntmen doing their thing or actual sets being built. For another thing, they let the actors play with their roles–reportedly, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson wrote their own dialogue for many scenes they shared together; that’s why their chemistry as partners is spot-on. Also, the Russo brothers let the characters feel like real people we could know in our own lives–the opening scene introduces Steve to Sam aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and their dialogue together genuinely feels like two war veterans sharing their stories.

And also (and I’m saving this for last because I think it’s really cool), they’re big fans of Honest Trailers, the web series from YouTube channel Screen Junkies that picks apart little details here and there–they aimed for this film to be “Honest-Trailer-proof.” That just lets you know they’re thinking of both the audience and the film critics.

Fun fact: Screen Junkies did an Honest Trailer for this movie, which led to the Russo brothers being interviewed by the channel’s host Hal Rudnick and Honest Trailers writers Dan Murrell and Spencer Gilbert.

So, yeah. This movie’s great. It’s one of my favorite MCU movies. What are my other favorites? Well, I’ll post about those as well in this Looking Back at 2010s Films series…except “Iron Man,” one of my top-3 MCU faves, because that awesomeness came out in 2008.

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