Throwback Review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

New entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-“Endgame” continue tomorrow, March 19, when the new series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” debuts on Disney Plus. I don’t typically review television series, but since I got to watch a preview of the first episode, I thought I would present my thoughts on it, and then share my original review of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” from when that film was first released in 2014- the film that introduced us to both of the characters starring in this series.

And it also seems appropriate that I review “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” because it’s very cinematic- just spread across six episodes rather than two hours. Coming straight off the initially more inventive “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (directed by Kari Skogland and written by Malcolm Spellman) feels more like typical MCU fare, but that isn’t a bad thing. The first episode opens with an exciting airborne action sequence, before diving into exactly what place these characters are in in the months following “Avengers: Endgame.” Falcon, aka Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is uncertain of his future after Steve Rogers, the former Captain America, passes his shield on to him. Sam is reluctant to take on so big a mantle, and it’s clear that the series will look at how the public perceives him as well, as a Black man taking on this symbol of the country- a country that doesn’t always represent him. After being away in the blip for five years, Sam is also working out some family drama with his sister.

Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”

The Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), meanwhile, is struggling with the trauma of what he did as a brainwashed assassin, and trying to figure out what his new identity is. This first episode takes a much more dramatic turn than expected, and it will be interesting to see if the series explores the traumas not just of the lead characters, but of the entire world, after half the population was snapped back into existence beyond a surface level- something that the last MCU film, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” didn’t really succeed at doing.

The interactions between Sam and Bucky- two people who seemingly have nothing in common except their mutual friend Steve- have always been fun in the movies, but also all too brief. It will be exciting to see how their relationship evolves over the course of this series, and is great to see these perpetually supporting characters finally get some time in the spotlight. Mackie is especially fun to watch in this first episode, which seems to concentrate a bit more on him than the brooding Bucky. As a whole, the premiere episode feels like mostly just set up for the series to follow- necessary, but I wish we got the second episode this week too so we had a bit more to go on. But with the hook that this episode ends on, I’ll be tuning in.

And now, here’s my review of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”:

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

The complex and far-reaching Marvel universe has had its fair share of hits on misses on the big screen. Keeping the characters and story smart and not venturing into an endless run of CGI fight scenes and explosions is the key, and it is something that Marvel so far has gotten 100% right with their “Captain America” franchise.

Moviegoers saw the origin story of Steve Rogers, aka the super strong, super fast Captain America in “The First Avenger”, and later in “The Avengers”. The sequel “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” takes place after both those films. Steve (Chris Evans) is still adjusting to the modern world after having living in a cryogenic state since World War II, while SHIELD, led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is preparing a new fleet of ships, called Project Insight, in the wake of the incident in New York, so if they are ever attacked again they’ll be ready—a tactic Steve doesn’t agree with.

Then, on a mission to free a SHIELD ship from pirates, Steve notices Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), recovering data from the ship’s computers. She hands it off to Fury, who is unable to access the data on it due to security—and after he does, he is ambushed by a group led by an assassin called the Winter Soldier. It is evident that whatever information the USB contains has put SHIELD in jeopardy, and it is up to Captain America and Black Widow to figure out why.

Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

“The Winter Soldier” is more than just a comic book movie: it’s a smart, complex, and fast-paced political thriller that connects itself to issues that are going on in the real world—the war in Afghanistan, for instance, and the growth of fear among nations restricting individual freedoms—while remaining just far-fetched enough to still be enjoyable. For those who have been following the Marvel universe faithfully, this film also includes some game-changing events that will have an impact on future Marvel films. At the same time, unlike movies like “Thor” or “Iron Man 2”, “Captain America”, both this film and its predecessor, refer back to the other storylines in the Marvel universe and looks ahead to the next “Avengers” film while not relying on them too heavily; “The Winter Soldier” stands up very well as its own story.

Captain America is easily the most likeable of the Avengers, and the most selfless; he is a hero that can be admired. Evans plays him to perfection, imbuing him with a likeable, humorous personality while also letting the pain and regret of living in an era where he doesn’t belong, where all his old friends are either dead or dying, come out at the appropriate moments.

Scarlett Johansson also brings more dimension to Black Widow in this film, the first movie she’s appeared in where she is really given the screen time to shine. She uses her wiles equally as much as her fighting skills to take down the bad guys, and at least the viewer can finally feel like they know her better. “The Winter Soldier” also includes the debut of Sam, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), an ex-soldier who befriends Steve and later fights by his side, and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a high-ranking SHIELD officer who isn’t all he seems.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has some great twists and turns, alongside some thrilling action sequences that enhance rather than take away from the story. Fans will also want to check out the two—yes, two—post credits scenes, that are pretty exciting in and of themselves. And while most people are probably looking forward to next year’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”, I’ll be holding out for the continuation of this story in “Captain America 3”.

Runtime: 136 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action, and gunplay throughout.

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