Captain America The Winter Soldier is usually considered one of the top three MCU movies. Does it hold up upon rewatching?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? My eyelids got heavy when the CGI destruction started but I persisted.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Yes! Veteran Henry Jackman contributes a pulsing electronic influenced score that’s just right, like everything in this movie. And the creepy sting whenever the Winter Soldier appears is perfect.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: I loved this movie when it came out, like everyone else, and have actually watched it since then! Kevin Feige and Disney may have thought they found their architect in Joss Whedon but it was really The Russo Brothers who would carry out their vision like super soldiers. (That said, Whedon’s script doctoring is all over this, so give the man his due.)
The Winter Soldier is a taut thriller that never lets up while simultaneously allowing its characters to shine. For the first time since Iron Man, we’re in the real world with merely the addition of a few added Helicarriers that can kill 20 million people floating about. The cute meet of Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson is warm and funny and rooted in the real PTSD of people who have been to war. The little closure with Peggy Carter is a lovely grace note that adds to the heartbreak of Steve’s situation. (“I have lived a life. My only regret is that you didn’t get to live yours.”) Natasha and Steve’s banter and relationship crackles and gives Natasha more dimension than she’s had before or since. And for the first time, Nick Fury does something cool – very cool!
There’s nothing that’s out of place or extraneous, and for the first 2/3ds of the movie every scene is memorable. The fight with Batroc (MMA star Georges St. Pierre with a strong French-Canadian accent); Fury’s amazing escape in his talking car; Cap’s battle in the elevator and his first battle with the Winter Soldier; Natasha and Cap in the hidden bunker IN NEW JERSEY and the eerie appearance of Arnim Zola; the revelation of Pierce’s perfidy; the shocking HYDRA reveal; Bucky’s mind wipe…it’s all so good.
I did feel when I first saw this that the big CGI spectacle at the end was a lazy way to end a movie that had so much going for it on the ground, and the last third just isn’t as good as the first two thirds. But it was true to the theme of the film, and set up the downfall of SHIELD and the chaos that would ensue from that for many movies and even AGENTS OF SHIELD. Heck this movie was so good it made me want to try watching AoS again.
By now, the storyline for Feige’s Phase Two, Three (and Four) has been set and that TWS manages to be such a good film while still fitting in all that backstory is a miracle. The storylines of Agent Sitwell, Senater Stern and Hydra all get ended or advanced. (In fact, I’m now eagerly awaiting my rewatch of Civil War which made very little impression on me when I saw it.) For that you must credit the Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who, with the exception of the awful Thor The Dark World, have supplied the MCU’s most memorable moments.
From a technical standpoint, The Winter Soldier finally melds the person to person fights with the CGI/second unit stuff. Although the movie does fall prey to the cheesy blue/grey set design and cinematography of too many Marvel films, the action scenes are so good you don’t care, powerful fights and clear, impactful storytelling. So many of the shots involve people looking down on the world: it’s a visual reminder that the people of earth are just pawns for the machinations The Deep State, wherever you think it’s coming from. It also has some great lines that foreshadow a lot of what’s to come. “My grandpa loved people, but he didn’t trust them,” says Nick Fury.
And later on Pierce (an effective Robert Redford) explains that since 9/11 the world has been thrown in to so much chaos that “they’re willing to give up their freedom for safety,” continuing the through line of the Cap/Iron Man/Bucky/9-11 themes.
As strong as the filmmaking is, a ton of credit must also be given to Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, whose run on Captain America created the Winter Soldier. Bucky and Uncle Ben were the thid rail of comics resurrections – their loss so integral to the origins of their respective heroes that to bring them back would remove their motivations. But Brubaker had the right idea at the right time and the chops to pull it off. A resurrected Bucky as a Russian assassin was perfect for the post 9/11 world, when America’s belief in the safety of the Post World War II was shocked by the revelation that there are other countries on earth. And of course, the through line of the narrative runs right to today’s headlines. (If you’d like to revisit the comics there’s actually a reading order for them.)
Bucky’s resurrection also plays on an early Marvel trope where no physical body is ever wasted. In his original comic book origin, The Vision was given the memories of Wonder Man (unceremoniously killed in Avengers #9 for being boring) implanted in the abandoned body of the original Human Torch. I remember reading this as a kid in Avengers #135 and finding it creepy as hell:
This kind of thrifting from the Golden Age is an ongoing theme of comics: creators who don’t want to abandon a good idea they once loved, but also the somewhat eerie idea that when yuo find a corpse it can be salvaged to make a new hero. Arnim Zola’s electronic resurrection echoes this idea as well.
As for Cap and Bucky/Stucky, with the benefit of a little hindsight, I can see why this is the most popular ship of all. As the movie opens, the main plot seems to be “We need to get Captain America laid!” but given the state of sexual emanciation in the MCu, it may be a long time before that happens. I’m not sure the Russo Bros. and Whedon knew that a supposedly virgin super soldier and a disabled/mind wiped anti-hero would singlehandedly keep Tumblr and fanfic going for years, although even as I typed that I realized as storytellers, how could they not know the power of the tropes they were playing with?
WOULD I REWATCH: I have and will. Even picking the stills for this post gave me nostalgic little heart tugs the way the best movies do.
Next time: The Ecstasy and the Agony: Guardians of the Galaxy
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.