It’s strange that the sequel to one of Marvel Studios’ most ho-hum superhero origin stories is among the most celebrated as a standalone feature (and easily the best sequel of the now large catalogue of films).
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is often the film to talk about when discussing the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But is it ever talked about as a movie that stands among the greatest superhero movies? That’s not as clear and most likely not the case.
Unlike “First Avenger,” Winter Soldier is not a superhero movie that happens to be a period piece. It is instead a superhero movie that happens to be a spy thriller that Robert Redford himself is cast in to echo Three Days of the Condor. Notice, though, that neither movie starts first as a genre that happens to contain superheroes in it, which arguably the best superhero movies do. Because this is, after all, a movie that has to lay the seeds down for future films, for better or worse.
The film centers around a freshly minted Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans, as confident as ever), the man out of time who’s having trouble adjusting to a life beyond the one he had in the 1940s. His friends, connections, and even his values have been severely outpaced by his biology (and circumstantial preservation), as he’s trapped in a new world that uses him a lot more than they seem to need him.
And he embraces this workload by diving headfirst into his job at S.H.I.E.L.D. and ignoring the suggestions of fellow Avenger Black Widow (played expertly here by Scarlett Johansson) to get out there again and make a new life for himself. But he’s unable to do this anyway when a shadowed figure from his past arrives to disrupt a Big Brother world that Steve himself is disillusioned by, making the audience wonder why Captain America has to fight this battle at all.
It’s amazing that throughout this runtime, that is the question audiences are wondering. They aren’t put off by Captain America’s name, his moralistic nature, or his costume. Despite the fact that it’s hardly easy to relate to a man who represents excellence in every aspect, from his physical prowess to his righteousness. But the way he represents these ideals is something we can relate to, because almost all of us wish we were a little bit like Captain America, especially those of us who have grown up idolizing superheroes.
It just so happens that the handiwork of Winter Soldier is good cinema as well. The atmosphere, action scenes, and acting are all enhanced by the Russo Brothers’ vision and a solid script as mentioned. The movie is much like Captain America himself, in that it gets the job done — no more, no less.
But it’s the “no more” aspect that ultimately inhibits Winter Soldier from being one of the great superhero movies. Nothing in the film is exactly new or intriguing outside itself, but it’s still ust a great recipe that someone has managed to put together perfectly, rather than a turning point for the genre (not that it needed to be).
This is fine because Winter Soldier already exceeded expectations by daring to even be good at all, putting forward an incredibly entertaining sequel about a character who’s seemed behind the times in more ways than one. Perhaps the film’s status as an underdog is why so many fans call it their favorite of the MCU, even above massive hits like The Avengers. I have a hard time disagreeing with them, because despite all of the credit Winter Soldier owes to previous Marvel films, it’s easily the most complete out of all of them.
Second Opinion Grade: A-
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni