This review contains no spoilers.
Captain America has always been, to me, the Superman of the Marvel heroes. Compared to all the other Marvel films, watching Captain America in action is like eating Wonder Bread: it looks pretty, but darn, it’s fairly dull. The first film, Captain America: The First Avenger was done as an introduction for the character, as well as a lead-in for the film, The Avengers. It was so obvious that it wasn’t created to be a standalone film that it almost hurt.
Captain America: The Winter Solider has fixed that problem.
Set a few years after the events of The Avengers (I assume two, because it’s been two years since the film was released), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is working hard to adjust back into society. After running with and befriending a war veteran, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Steve is called by S.H.I.E.L.D. for a mission. After quickly realizing that S.H.I.E.L.D. has many, many tricks up their sleeves, but unable to fully understand Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) hidden agenda or figure out Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) game plan, Steve discovers that he doesn’t exactly know where he stands. In a world where he can’t trust people, who can he turn to?
When it becomes apparent that there’s something brewing at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters that even Nick Fury doesn’t understand, Steve realizes that he better trust someone fast. After learning about the assassin, the titular “Winter Solider,” Steve and Natasha have to team up and work together against a S.H.I.E.L.D. that would prefer to see them killed. In order to save millions of lives, Steve has to realize the importance of trusting in friends, even when they’d rather see you dead.
Unlike many of the Marvel films, (especially those prior to The Avengers) this feels like a real movie, instead of just a step on a ladder. Instead of focusing on learning who characters are, and pure, nonstop action (that’s not to say there’s no action!), this film feels more like an espionage adventure, complete with dramatic running from an evil corporation and trying to learn about and stop a devious plot. Creating this dangerous and thrilling world gave us more time to go in depth with the characters, allowing them to become more well-rounded. The characterization of Captain America, a character I’ve always found to be just this side of dull, is explored to its full extent. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff is an amazing secondary character, and having her play off of Steve Rogers, both in fights and in witty banter, made both characters stronger. By showing that sometimes these incredibly kick-ass characters need a hand humanized them in a way I originally didn’t believe possible.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. Leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), delivers exactly what we need from him, though the slight emotional side is unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome. Newcomer Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a definite highlight as a character who seemed so different, but so in-tune with Steve Roger’s ideals. On the other hand, having Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) there made it feel as though she was only there to set up a later plot point. Which was her purpose, but it could have been less obvious. I won’t say too much on the infamous Winter Soldier, but being able to show such emotion through a lack of emotion (and greasy hair) is tough, and is done well.
Besides the characters, the best aspects of the film are the action sequences. Instead of relying on CGI to make it look more believable, we are shown sets that feel real and vibrant. What really stands out in the film is how well-done and detailed the fight sequences are. While all the action sequences feel like they could pull you into the film, the hand-to-hand combat sequences are much more intense. You can see characters flip knives before attacking someone else, and that level of focus was just stunning.
If you’re just expecting just another drab film to get you to the next Avengers, be excited. Captain America: The Winter Solider is a strong film on its own. Be warned: there are two after credit sequences. Make sure to catch both.