Unlike last year’s Thor 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a significant step forward for Marvel’s cinematic universe, the ramifications of which will be felt throughout the next installments coming from the motion picture studio. But unlike Iron Man 2, Cap’s second solo adventure stands well on its own and doesn’t baffle the less iniated with too much worldbuilding. Instead The Winter Soldier is a confident sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, an assured continuation of The Avengers story and a surprisingly deep action spy thriller with superheroes and a point to make. Even newcomers can enjoy it: the movie starts viewers off with a recap of the first Captain America, making sure it’s a film a large audience can enjoy.
Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers is a remnant from the past, a fossil as Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow so charmingly puts it. He’s a man who grew up in a different world with a different set of morals. Out are The Avengers‘ movie references Cap didn’t get, in is a clashing of world views and the exploration of what freedom actually used to mean and means now, and what tools governments use to keep the peace. “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime,” Rogers says to Samual L. Jackson’s government spook Nick Fury, a man who goes to great lenghts to eliminate threats before they actually happen, keeping his one eye on everyone via satellite, spies and surveillance gear. “S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like to be,” the leader of the secret organization responds, justifying his methods and lies. Not only does The Winter Soldier effectively continue the plot strand from The Avengers where Fury’s actions concerned his superhero team, but it also makes the parallels with our society abundantly clear. The result is a film that actually has something to say and uses its subject matter to kick off a high-stakes superhero thriller that doesn’t pull any punches.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s action and its consequences are brutal, a far cry from most of the other Marvel Studios movies. Early on one of the key players gets ambushed and what follows is a car chase that makes you squirm for the character involved. It’s intense, the danger palpable, the significance to the film’s story tremendous. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have a firm grasp on action and there’s always a context and weight to it, especially when the titular Winter Soldier enters the frame. He’s without a doubt the most ruthless villain Marvel’s cinematic universe has presented us with so far, an unstoppable masked and silent force akin to Halloween‘s Michael Myers, bringing fear, death and destruction with him everywhere he goes. Comic book fans will understand that even in the brutal fights between Captain America and this seemingly empty husk there’s a lot of emotion involved, and it’s this seamless integration of all the different components the film has to offer that makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier such an accomplishment.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier may be Marvel Studios’ best film yet. Thrilling action, a gripping story, great acting and solid direction set the bar high for 2015’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron. 9/10