Marvel knew it couldn’t rest on its laurels after The Avengers. It would be too easy for super hero fatigue to take hold if they kept hitting the same note. So each movie of Phase 2 has been a take on a different genre; Iron Man 3 was an action comedy, Thor: The Dark World was a fantasy epic, and now Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political thriller. All of them are also super hero movies, but it has been an effective way to keep familiar heroes from turning stale. And if there’s anybody who needed to be protected from becoming old hat, it’s our blast from the past, Captain America.
Chris Evans is back as Steve Rogers, whose life has changed rather profoundly since The First Avenger. He’s now technically in his nineties and trying to figure out how exactly he fits in this new world and his new role as SHIELD’s top agent. Or at least one of the top two, as he spends this movie fighting alongside Black Widow, (Scarlett Johansson) who continues to be surprisingly awesome for a character I didn’t really know anything about before Iron Man 2.
Right when Cap decides to voice his concerns to Director Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson, who is used in this movie better than any of the others so far) shit starts going down. The Winter Soldier, a legendary Russian assassin appears in Washington DC and goes after Cap and Fury. All the while, Fury and Alexander Pierce’s (Robert Redford) latest program is just days away from launching but the question is: should it?
This is a movie with a political agenda, although not an incredibly deep one. Basically drone warfare is morally wrong and big brother spying on everything is creepy. But still, some people will probably cheer when Captain America says “this isn’t freedom, this is fear.” And hey, they should. Mostly, I liked the way this story leaned into Cap’s outdated personality, making his hokey old-timey beliefs into something heroic. Also the addition of Anthony Mackie’s character, a councillor at the VA, is a nice touch too. Plus Mackie brings so much fun and energy to the movie that I hope we get to see more of him.
Captain America’s powers aren’t very exciting compared to Thor or Iron Man, he’s pretty much a dude who’s just better than everyone at everything. He’s strong, but not Hulk strong. He’s fast, but he can’t fly. If he wants to shoot somebody, he’ll do it with a gun, not lasers or lightning bolts. Those limitations are this movie’s greatest strength, as it lets the fight scenes mostly be just Cap versus regular soldier guys. And man, regular grunts don’t stand a chance. None of the fights in this movie felt extremely CG-heavy, and they all felt totally brutal. Watching Cap knock fools 20 feet away with a single blow is awesome. Judged purely for its action, this is maybe the best Marvel movie yet.
Then there are the people who are interested in the bigger picture, people like me. While you could make the case that the ending of Iron Man 3 was a game-changer, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first Phase 2 movie to actually alter the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What happens in this film immediately affected what was going on in Agents of SHIELD (for the better) and the aftereffects will surely will still be felt when Avengers: Age of Ultron comes around next year. So, even if you don’t think you care about the captain, if you’re at all interested in cinema’s grandest experiment, don’t let this one get away.