Captain America was not one of my favorite superhero films. It was yet another hero origin retelling, so it already had an uphill battle to get on my good side. Perhaps more importantly, it was boring to me. It was a story about an unlikely candidate fighting in a war, winning the day and taking the MacGuffin away from the bad guy. I don't watch those types of movies, because I normally look for something a bit more engaging, with unique elements. When I do watch action movies, they are martial arts movies, and while Cap can fight, he's nowhere near as entertaining to watch as Jet Li. The only thing that made the movie stand out was a sub-plot designed to justify the costume, as though the filmmakers were a little embarrassed to include it. It wasn't the worst movie of Marvel's Phase One – that honor goes to Thor – but it was the least memorable.
Still, Avengers was a game-changer. It brought action, comedy and drama to the right levels to make it my favorite comic book film up to that point, and set a new standard for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to live up to. While Iron Man and Iron Man 2 continued a trend of uninspired, okay-but-not-great superhero films, Iron Man 3 met the standard set by The Avengers, taking the story in multiple directions with a primary crime of not being completely faithful to decades of not-always-coherent comic continuity. While I missed Thor: Dark World for personal reasons, I was still psyched to see the rest of Phase 2, Winter Soldier included.
Captain America: Winter Soldier follows the events of The Avengers with the continuing adventures of Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanov, Maria Hill, and Nick Fury in a world influenced by Tony Stark. One of Marvel's strengths as a comic book company has always been how easily Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, and its other properties fit together (except for the occasional mutant prejudice strangeness) into a shared world that is different from our own but with key similarities, compared to the DC universe where it often feels like any crossover between Batman and Superman involves hopping between disparate worlds. That is on full effect here and, once faced with the idea that Stark is making suggestions and doing contracting work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Armed Forces, it's not too much of a stretch to believe that the military is running tests with the equipment that gives Falcon his name.
Amidst all this, plot-lines from Captain America return. Hydra gives Cap and his fellow agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. an external opponent while they also deal with internal issues of trust and identity. Identity also plays a role in Cap's personal struggle, in which he must go toe to toe with his cybernetically enhanced and memory-wiped former sidekick.
Did Winter Soldier live up to the bar set by The Avengers? I'd have to say it did. Unlike the standard action fare, there are enough elements to the climax to provide true suspense, as it seems almost impossible for the five heroes to faces the forces that have been arraying themselves against them for seventy years. Like Iron Man 3, the story bleeds personal drama, spy movie action and mystery, and super-heroics to create a balanced breakfast.
The only thing I'm not completely sold on is the titular subplot. While it's thematically appropriate and definitely a challenge that Cap will have to overcome, nothing came of the Bucky plot except for a few fight scenes and a lead-in for the next sequel. While this sort of lead-in would work perfectly for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode this sort of is, it doesn't make for a very complete movie. It's almost enough to make the case that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is less a series of movies and more a premium version of something like BBC's Sherlock, a show that airs three feature length episodes per season.
Despite the thirty minutes of lead in for the next movie and the misleading title they lend the film, it's still great fun. The character interactions are handled excellently, and it is quite possibly the first thing to get me excited about Captain America. It also does the job of selling a Black Widow film, with the Widow having somewhere around the second or third most screen time of the five featured heroes. Despite this, the film doesn't feel crowded, and Steve Rogers has plenty of time to shine.
Captain America: Winter Soldier is a great film for anybody who loves superheroes – in film or comic form – or anybody who enjoys movies in general with a bit of action in them. As with any other comic film, there's a hearty bit of Science Fiction in there to go along with everything else, and of course plenty of fight scenes. With so much more to this film than the action scenes, though, you don't need to be a fan of the genre to find something to like.