As we continue our retrospective examination of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, we come to what may be the most highly regarded of them all. Rare is the sequel that is better than the first movie. But Captain America: Winter Solider is that rarity. Not only did it improve on the first Captain America but, after 10 years and 18 movies, it’s still one of the best MCU movies period. (Even the guys over at Honest Trailers had a hard time finding something wrong with it.)
What is it that makes this movie stand above the others?
Certainly, the tight plot where nothing is wasted, the fact that Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson have perfected their roles at this point and the introduction of Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon and Robert Redford as Anthony Pierce all play a role in making this movie great.
But this movie did two things that the other MCU hadn’t done.
The MCU, in general, has tried to be more realistic than superhero movies of old. But, thus far, that has meant having some logical or scientific reason for how these heroes can do what they do. But, other than setting the movies in real cities, there was nothing to tie them to the real world. Captain America: Winter Soldier used actual history, Operation Paperclip, to ground this movie even more in reality. This was no longer a fantasy version of our world. Now there are real ties to it.
It also affected the entire MCU unlike any of the movies before it (and most of the movies after it). Most movies follow a general here’s how things are, somethings gone wrong, hero fixes the thing so that things go back to how they were. The status quo, with only a couple of exceptions, never really changes throughout the MCU. Winter Soldier is one of those exceptions. The end of this movie sees SHIELD not only dismantled, which effects everything from the future movies to Agents of SHIELD on TV, but its secrets are out. Captain America is no longer the symbol of America that he once was (or perhaps he’s now the symbol of what America could/should be).
One of the strengths of comics and superheroes has been that they can, and do, deal with not only larger, more universal concepts but also are able to provide social commentary on current events and trends in culture. We’ve seen it most recently, and more pointedly, in Black Panther but Winter Soldier also has something to say about culture. This movie tackled themes like fear, control, power and what role the government should play in protecting it citizens, themes that were relevant in 2014, when this movie came out, and have only become more relevant since then.
If you’re not interested in the MCU in general but love a good movie, I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s pretty close, especially for the superhero genre.
What did you think of Captain America: Winter Soldier when it came out? Have your opinions changed over the years?