The first Iron Man and The Avengers aside, there was a distinct feeling by 2014 that the MCU was somewhat of a one trick pony. Take a quippy comic book character, surround them with a quippy supporting cast, add more quips, chuck in some perky CGI action, add a dash of forgettable villain, leave to simmer and then simply garnish with yet more quips and serve. It’s a fair commentary and the by the midway point in Marvel’s second phase, the divisive yet smartly subversive Iron Man 3 and the enjoyable misfire that is Thor: The Dark World hadn’t done much to dispel that theory. Also at this point, Captain America wasn’t a hugely popular character despite being wonderfully played by Chris Evans. “Too dull compared to Tony Stark” was one such theory, “All he can do is jump higher an punch harder” was another and you can sort of see the point. Steve Rogers doesn’t have daddy issues, a dark side, a wonky moral compass or a magic hammer, what he DOES have is an unbreakable spirit, unshakable morals and a concrete solid sense of right or wrong which essentially renders him immune to your basic character arc.
Being good, apparently, isn’t cool.
Plus directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo were somewhat unproven in the genre too with their only credits at that point being episodes of Arrested Development and Community and the feature films Welcome To Collinwood and You, Me & Dupree. Impressive but hardly the directing mettle to help Captain America throw his mighty shield…
Then came The Winter Soldier.
Now, whether it was the incredibly intelligent action scenes (that elevator fight! That boat siege! That car chase!) or the steely eyed plot that contained one the MCU’s biggest twists but you can actually FEEL the momentum shift of the entire franchise as the film tells it’s story. The effect was stratospheric. Cap’s story arc was cracked (you don’t change Steve Rogers to fit a plot, you change the world around him to test his iron morals and keep him the constant) and therefore “good” was now “cool” and the Russo’s are now the firm keepers of Marvel lore with Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame under their belt all of which cracking over a billion dollars worldwide and it all launched from here.
Taking the lead from paranoia thrillers from the 70’s like Three Days Of The Condor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier sees Steve Rogers now working with shadowy spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D to police the world, but disagreeing with some of their methods. However when there is an attempt on Nick Fury’s life by the mysterious assassin known only as The Winter Soldier, Rogers soon finds himself in the middle of a vast conspiracy that has every agent S.H.I.E.L.D has gunning for both him, fellow agent Black Widow and a tag along friend, ex rescue operative, Sam Wilson. Secrets and lies thought long buried rise to the surface as the list of who they can trust dwindles, but will the most harrowing secret of all signal the end of Captain America?
Smart, muscular and moving with the speed of a greased monkey, CA:TWS really is the first movie since The Avengers to properly utilize other Marvel characters in a solo story with both Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson both getting much needed, juicier supporting roles and therefore strengthening the universe as a whole but it’s the plot and action that cement this movie as the magnificent thriller it is. The supporting cast too fill their roles more than admirably, including in a dynamite bit of casting, THE Robert Redford himself and the insanely charismatic Anthony Mackie as the winged Falcon.
Add the fact that the action scenes in this movie squares up favourably to any other action movie released the same year (and that includes The Raid 2) and you have a legitimate game changer on both sides of the screen.
America. Fuck yeah.