The film begins with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and the S.T.R.I.K.E. team executing a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission to rescue hostages from a S.H.I.E.L.D.-run ship that had been overtaken by pirates. However, when Romanoff sneaks away to capture some data, Rogers becomes frustrated with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s executive director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the layers of secrets through which he operates. With the eminent launch of three new immensely powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers and despite his support of the project against Rogers argument that it is an overreach of power by the agency, Fury has misgivings about the project which is swiftly followed by an attempt on his life. With secret data entrusted to Rogers by Fury and the instruction not to trust anyone at S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers is made a fugitive and, with the help of Romanoff, must uncover the secrets of the clandestine spy agency.
Inspired by the identically titled story from the comic book and fueled by international spy and conspiracy thrillers, The Winter Soldier benefits from the infusion of espionage in both thematic content, including the relevant conflict between security and liberty, as well as lots of plot twists as double crosses and surprises pepper the script, possibly the smartest of the MCU's films yet. That's not to say that there aren't problems, with the story. For one, we hardly really see Rogers dealing with the shock of being in contemporary society and the clash that comes from being from a wholly different era. Furthermore, the story is so much about S.H.I.E.L.D. that sometimes Captain America seems like a secondary character in its own film. Finally, Rogers' final decision-making at the film's end seems just a bit forced and out of character in order to facilitate future movies' plots.
However, what does work really well is how in-continuity The Winter Soldier feels as it links back to The First Avenger enough that it's clear that the seeds for The Winter Soldier's story were sown even during the conception of the previous film. This further adds to the feeling that The Winter Soldier is part of the greater MCU. The final act's climactic battle does seem a bit like an obligatory action set piece, but it certainly makes a lot more sense and has a lot more meaning than The First Avenger's final showdown and I also really appreciated how the film showed secondary and even background characters in S.H.I.E.L.D. dealing with the fallout of the plot's unfoldings. That doesn't make some of the story logic in the film any less questionable, but it does make The Winter Solider a much more solid film than perhaps any previous Marvel film.
Brother-directors Anthony and Joe Russo surprise in their turn from working primarily in comedies and manage to handle The Winter Soldier well. They don't really leave much of a noticeable personal signature on the film as Joe Johnston did on The First Avenger, but the Russo brothers don't really struggle with pacing issues, keeping the two-hour-plus film's espionage, thrills and action flowing along effectively.
The cast in particular does well in The Winter Soldier with its major players having had lots of time to embody their roles. Johansson in particular gives Romanoff even more layers of depth after showing development on The Avengers and the chemistry between the actors is quite good, helping with the suspension of disbelief even when threatened by story logic issues. And the film predictably looks good, benefiting from the heavy use of practical effects to help ground the film, and then special effects at the end to launch it into the sky, literally.
While The Winter Soldier doesn't really herald the ascension of the MCU film to the level of its DC counterpart, The Dark Knight, as it clearly seeks more to entertain in a more mainstream way, the increased sophistication in plotting, examination of themes, and willingness to engage ambiguity does help elevate it past the first generation of MCU films and makes it arguably the strongest entry in the MCU, even with its identity crisis of being as much (or more) a S.H.I.E.L.D. film as a Captain America one and a few stumbles in story logic as well as the slightly disappointing bid for mainstream cliche in its somewhat overblown final action sequence.
But even with those criticisms, I had a good time thanks to the smart plot twists and incorporation of greater MCU storyline threads and the questions the film asks, even though it feels like it answers them a little too bluntly at the end. But as The Winter Soldier gives me hope for the future of the MCU, I have to say that it's a positive sign for the MCU as a whole and I hope the rest of the franchises can follow suit in willingness to aim higher than simple action crowdpleasing, as The Winter Soldier has done from The First Avenger. 8/10.
- Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
- Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
- Principal Cast: Hayley Atwell, Chris Evans, Frank Grillo, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Cobie Smulders, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp
- Feature website
- At Daum, IMDb, Naver, Wikipedia (en)
- More Reviews: metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes
- Available at Amazon (US Region A Blu Ray) / (US Region 1 DVD) / (Instant) and iTunes