This review is part of our 20 Days of Infinity War. Click here for more WOBAM awesome.
No franchise film has ever reset the board quite like The Winter Soldier. In little more than two hours time, Bucky was back, SHEILD was obliterated, Fury was on the run, Steve’s loyalty was questioned, Natasha’s ledger was made bare, and people we trusted were proven the enemy. It was an exciting time to be a Marvel fan, and an even more exciting time to be a movie fan.
Joe & Anthony Russo came virtually out of nowhere, and most viewers had no expectations for the directors of Arrested Development. But deliver they did. And not only deliver, they went above and beyond. Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely’s screenplay is perhaps their strongest work to date, and the Russo Brothers took it and moulded it into a masterwork.
See, comics have this storied history of commenting on politics when it’s unpopular to do so. Famously, Captain America punched Hitler, Superman bemoaned racism, and Wonder Woman championed voting rights. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel comments on the modern surveillance state, and the idea that we must sacrifice our freedom for security. For many of us we hadn’t read the comics before hand, the return of Hydra was genuinely shocking. The way Marvel fashioned them into a shadowy organization embedded in the very fabric of society mimics many of today’s evils, and the way Steve Rogers chooses to stand against them in the face of certain defeat is courageous. It’s heroic. It’s everything we need in a hero.
The Winter Soldier does something else that’s remarkable: it brings to cinema the first timeless bromance. Steve’s friendship with Bucky runs deep; from their childhood to their upbringing, they went through it all, and they’re the only people left in the world that understand the struggles of war they faced together. It all makes for a powerful finale, and carries on in future films as a true highlight.
I’d also be remiss not to comment on Black Widow’s arc in this film. Where Iron Man 2 didn’t do her much justice, and The Avengers had just barely revealed more about her, The Winter Soldier gives Natasha a bona fide arc and a substantial one that, out of the entire cast, carries the most personal consequences. We see Natasha the Spy, Natasha the Actioner, Natasha the Hero… Natasha the Human. The kind of stuff that makes a Black Widow solo film sound like so much fun.
Not to be outdone, this movie also gives us the most rock solid version of Nick Fury. Gone are the mysteries, but in their place are a hardened man embracing his failure and learning from it to do what’s right. We saw this a bit with Tony Stark, but I’d argue that the shift is more important in Fury because he’s no spring chicken. Old habits die hard, as they say; even more so our old ideas for how the world should run.
In truth, The Winter Soldier is among the finest pieces of cinema that Marvel Studios has crafted. It’s a great thriller, yes, but it’s one with heart, soul, and characters who bear it proudly on their sleaves. Captain America is the hero we needed in 1941. He’s the hero we still need in the 21st Century.
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