Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for my money, is the second truly great Marvel film. It takes the character-over-costume mentality its heavyweight predecessor The Avengers exceled at and runs with it, offering an entry in the MCU that is as compelling in its own right as it is to the mythos of the franchise as a whole. It’s also the first instance of a now tried-and-true Marvel method of steeping its films in the language of another sub-genre to spectacular effect. The Winter Soldier was a new high watermark for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it didn’t even need Robert Downey Jr.
The Avengers succeeded not only by competently bringing together previously disparate superheroes, but by doing so while still emphasizing them as compelling characters rather than just flashy costumes to be smashed together like so many action figures. The Winter Soldier continues in that same vein, fleshing out returning characters and endearing audiences to new ones with the utmost tact.
Here Nick Fury is finally more than an authoritative figurehead. Here Black Widow is given the nuance and respect the character deserves, with nary a creepy cinematic impulse in sight. Here we are introduced to a truly unsung MVP of the MCU, the Mack Attack himself: Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. Here we get Robert Redford in a superhero movie. Here we get a villain that is straight up menacing. Here we see Chris Evans’ Captain America become the beating heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This film boasts great performances all around and despite entirely changing up its supporting cast, once again the Captain America franchise managed to have the best supporting troupe of any Marvel movie up to that point. But, without taking anything away from those performances, so much of the achievement in characterization in The Winter Soldier can be attributed to the dialogue in Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely’s script. Joss Whedon’s quip-heavy Avengers films are endearing and clever but aren’t above prioritizing witticisms for the sake of witticisms. While there is humor in The Winter Soldier, quips even, they never feel like they’re running the show, as if they’re being steered into.
The more dramatic dialogue in the movie is no different. When Samuel L. Jackson monologues away in an elevator it never feels written or recited, it feels like something Nick Fury would say. When Steve Rogers airs his concerns with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s schemes I believe they’re Captain America’s concerns, not a screenwriter’s thinly-veiled soapbox.
And on top of these excellent performances and that adept writing, The Winter Soldier boasts some truly first-rate action. Cap’s opening assault on a cargo ship plays like a confident statement of purpose, a declaration that the action to come will have a sense of true physicality and gravity. You feel the punches and the falls and the hurried steps. The film’s spectacular climax isn’t two CGI models flying around a MacGuffin, its two dudes beating the shit out of each other on a kick-ass set.
The Avengers proved the concept of a shared cinematic universe could pay off. That it could work. The Winter Soldier proved that it could thrive, that it could continue onward and upward without relying on the delayed gratification of passable solo outings between The Avengers’ triennial reunions. The Winter Soldier is the first film that proved the Marvel Cinematic Universe was sustainable and could have merit on a film by film basis, and while it still wasn’t the movie that made mine Marvel, revisiting it four years later it absolutely blew me away.
For my thoughts on The Winter Soldier upon it’s arrival in 2014:
Perhaps more interesting, however, is this golden oldie from four days later in which I ponder the age old question… IS THE WINTER SOLDIER RACIST!?!?!?!