Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Review

With up to 9 movies (counting this one as well) and an additional spin-off TV show, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded into quite something special and extensive that hasn't been done in similar manner with other comic book movies yet.
Yet, with entries like Iron Man 2 and Thor 2, it shows that even considering how financially successful Marvel movies turn out to be, it doesn't necessarily translate 1:1 onto their quality.
Although still being quite far above average and serving at minimum good blockbuster entertainment, every Marvel movie entry has to maintain itself as an important standalone chapter in the universe and not just a "filler to bridge the time till the next Avengers movie comes out".
With that said, Captain America: The Winter Soldier poses as not only the first Captain America focussed adventure in today's age, but also has to redeem last year's dissappointment, which was Thor: The Dark World.
With strong plot points like the Winter Soldier story arch alone, there's quite some potential to this Captain America sequel.
Question is, does it use said potential or leave it behind to rather follow a more generic path?  

The plot:
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
Simultaneously, Captain America and Black Widow are working for and with Nick Fury when S.H.I.E.L.D. comes under attack. Unsure of whom, if anyone, to trust, they must uncover a hidden threat before it destroys them all. 

Generally it can be said that the goal of posing as a "sequel" is completely fulfilled through and through by Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But on top of that, Cap 2 is not simply a sequel but also a drastic game changer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Focussing far more on a good blend of spy-thriller and blockbuster action (although it' still a bit stronger on the thriller side), Cap 2 is a surprisingly bold and less comicy take on Captain America and Marvel movies in general.
The movie's themes mostly center around political "hot-button" issues like the global war crisis between nations, how to make the world a more secure place and what has to be sacrificed for this.
With that said, Cap 2 often feels like it's quite possibly the most adult entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date (at least regarding its themes), though still certain minor too-comicy aspects during the storyline (like a certain character's conscious being inexplicably transfered into a computer) tend to negatively stick out from time to time and hamper the immersion.

Another additional positive to the story however, is the amount of heartfelt and emotional weight, which is undeniably present in the movie.
Steve Rogers/Captain America himself is a man out of his time. It has already been hinted at in other Marvel movies that in order to fulfill his duty and always keep the world a safe place, Captain America has to change and adapt to his new modern surroundings.
This character development is established pretty well within Cap 2's storyline. Especially Captain America facing the sacrifices he had to make to become the role model hero he is are very well underlined here: Practically no private life, out of his time, having left behind/lost all the people he cared about back in the 1930/40s (like Peggy), make him a stunningly tragic figure here but luckily not as overly brooding as Batman or others.

One bad day for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Added to the framework of "facing his demons of the past", the titular villain the Winter Soldier manages to be a far more interesting and threatening antagonist in Cap 2 than even the iconic Red Skull from the previous Cap movie was in the first movie.
With the Winter Soldier boasting cyborg strength and assassin skills, the "quantity threat" of the Nazis/Hydra army from the first Cap movie is now mostly changed into a "quality threat". Captain America now finally meets his match with a villain, who happens to be (almost) exactly as strong as the Captain himself.
However, considering that Cap 2 happens to focus more on finding out who the real masterminds behind the attacks on S.H.I.E.L.D. and its operatives are, The Winter Soldier himself sadly quickly devolves into a sub-plot, making the audience probably wonder why he himself would be so important to even put his name in the movie's title.
Adding to that confusion for "non-comic-geek-viewers" is the backstory of the Winter Soldier, whose "Soviet" origin is not that well explained, easily brushed over and instead replaced with something that fits better into the contexts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Luckily this doesn't hurt the overall "staying-true-to-the-comics"-sense too much, even though it still raises enough questions for unaware viewers like "Why is this dude is even called WINTER Soldier?".

Yet what really makes Cap 2 stand out as something meaningful than "yet another Marvel sequel" (here's looking at you Thor 2), is the fact that its story offers plenty of events that turn out very influential on the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Without spoiling too much, the final outcome of Cap 2 leaves our heroes in quite an interesting situation, which will serve as an exciting starting point for them in next year's Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Therefore, Cap 2 managed to do what every Marvel movie should take as an example: it not only further develops its titular hero but also makes the events in its movie influential on the entire universe it takes place in and therefore evolves it as well.

He is called Winter Soldier 'cause he's COLD AS ICE!

Actingwise, there's nothing too remarkable that overcomes the boundaries of Marvel movies in Cap 2.
Yet still, the spotlight in Cap 2 is obviously put on Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.
While Chris Evans is given a whole lot more material for character development with plenty of heartfelt, quite deep and emotional scenes, it's especially the conversations and general team-up he has with Black Widow, which significantly make them more relatable characters and give them an interesting and very appealing chemistry together, that hopefully gets followed upon in future Marvel movies.
Accompanying the character driven protagonists is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who is also given more insight to his previously questionable methods of preserving world safety (in the Avengers movie). Surprsingly enough his character also manages to be the most comedic out of the entire cast with some well delivered, subtle and not too goofy "badass-gags" here and there.
An interesting match to him comes in form of Robert Redford playing senior S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce, who supports the same goals als Fury but just through different methods to stop the threats.

Looking at the supporting cast, Cobie Smulders, who only has a very brief and minor role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in the Avengers movie, is now a remarkably more fleshed out sidekick of Fury's, while another newcomer comes in the form of Falcon played by Anthony Mackie.
Mackie as well as Smulders are charismatic and likable enough to pose as good sidekicks to Fury and Captain America, but never elevate further up to generate a true character of their own. Their presence is therefore appreciated and most notably entertaining, but hopefully to become more three-dimensional in further Marvel flicks.

Without spoiling too much, Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier himself is decidedly kept very low key characterwise in benefits of the plot/storyline in Cap 2. He basically poses as a relentless assassin, killing machine and pretty much a counterpart of Captain America. And in that regard he serves pretty well.

There is quite an interesting chemistry between the two.

As already mentioned, Cap 2 keeps a remarkably great balance between spy-thriller and action blockbuster, through which it seemingly exactly knows when to start set pieces and when to keep it low to further develop the story, characters and build up tension.
Through the main-plot point of "finding out who, from where and how the mastermind behind all the attacks on S.H.I.E.L.D. is opperating" the thriller aspects are well connected with the action segments focussing on attacks by the Winter Soldier and his assassin comrades.
Action sequences themselves are expectedly very well paced and choreographed, featuring exhilirating car chases and chaotic fights mid-city, in which all of the protagonists from Fury over Falcon to the Captain himself are put to great dynamic use against their skillful threats, which now come both in terms of quantity. (Winter Soldier's comrades) as well as in quality (the powerful Winter Soldier himself).
And even if the final showdown on multiple of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s giant helicarriers might throw a bit too much of bombastic action and spectacle at once at the audience, it still makes for a quite satisfying finale in Cap 2, thanks to its ultimately very game-changing outcome.
The fact that Cap 2's effects are expectedly very well executed and nice to look at doesn't hurt either though.

That's gonna leave a mark.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is without any doubt more than just a lackluster filler to bridge the time till the next Avengers movie. Instead, it's a movie built on the foundation of character development and game-changing events, twists and turns that change the entire starting situation of the Avengers team.
With the help of effective emotional scenes, plenty of well choreographed action segments and a great balance between a spy-thriller- and action blockbuster pacing, Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands out as one of the most entertaining and adult entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet and is easily superior over the first Captain America flick.
With that said, the movie still has its share of minor too-comicy aspects and some very predictable plot twists, yet nevertheless, those are just minor nitpicks when considering that the overall package Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers features so much passion and effort to keep things in the Marvel Universe changing, evolving and therefore fresh.

Non-believers of Captain America will most probably be surprised at how much standalone power he delivers in this well crafted sequel, while die-hard Marvel fans will be pleased with the amount of brave risks and chances Captain America takes.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows that the Marvel movies have grown into such a state, that they are not afraid to approach their audiences with bold new ideas and paths, while at the same time keeping old school action and comic book spectacle intact.   

Final Verdict: 8 out of 10 

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