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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) - MCU Retro Review

04.16.2018

Heading into the final few chapters of Marvel's Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we decided it was time to take a look back at the last ten years worth of films (18 in all) and re-evaluate them based on how well they hold up today and how connected they are to the greater MCU now that the films have advanced so far into the timeline, which culminates in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and it's untitled sequel. Are they as good as you remember? Do they still hold up today? Are the deeper MCU connections even deeper than before or weaker? Join us as we attempt to answer those questions and take another look at the last decade of Marvel Studios with our Retro-Review Series!

DIRECTED BY: Anthony & Joe Russo
WRITTEN BY: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
STARRING: Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Anthony Mackie (Falcon/Sam Wilson), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter/Agent 13), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Maximiliano Hernández (Agent Jasper Sitwell), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Georges St-Pierre (Batroc), Garry Shandling (Senator Stern)
STORY: As Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he teams up with a fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Black Widow, to battle a new threat from history: an assassin known as the Winter Soldier.

Every so often you get to write about a movie you absolutely love and it can be as daunting as it is exciting, especially if you're trying to be objective. However, even after our JoBlo.com internal voting, it was clear that it wouldn't be an issue writing about what I consider to be the best of the MCU films to date, seeing as many of my peers agreed. With so many entertaining, creative, fun, cool, and at the very least, enjoyable films in their 18-deep library, the question becomes what makes the best film of the bunch? While everyone has their favorites, it became very apparent which titles were vying for the top spot and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER took it easily (although, to be fair, it was not unanimous in our internal poll).

As a lifelong Captain America fan (I've been reading the comics for three decades) I was overwhelmed with comic nerd joy when I heard they were going to adapt Ed Brubaker's The Winter Soldier storyline from Volume 5 of the comics in 2005. It was such a great story and The Winter Soldier had already become a favorite character. I honestly never thought we'd see him on the big screen. Then came the announcement that Anthony & Joe Russo would be directing (after F. Gary Gray and George Nolfi bowed out). Having done mostly TV work on Community, etc. and directed WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD and YOU, ME & DUPREE, the wind left my sails and I was ready to settle for some crappy, heartless, amateur-hour superhero movie. And, holy shit, was I wrong.

Screenwriters Markus & McFeely deserve their kudos in crafting a hell of an adaptation that pays true homage to the original story and elevates it for the big screen, but The Russo Bros. did something none of us expected; they delivered not only one of the best superhero movies of all time, but one of the best action movies of all time. Who would have ever thought that these two guys would push the limits of the onscreen action to a point that it felt like we were seeing something truly special and exceptionally badass? Certainly not me. The amount of time, effort, energy and thought that went into the fight choreography and action set pieces is astounding. There are scenes that make you want to pause the film and watch it frame by frame to see how they did it. Obviously, CGI was used in certain spots, but it's so seamless that you have to work hard to spot it, if you even can. It's something they'd prove was no fluke when they followed up with CIVIL WAR, but THE WINTER SOLDIER was their intro to this world and it's one for the books.

Shaping the film into a conspiracy thriller was a smart move, aping the paranoia of 70's thrillers like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and MARATHON MAN, the film easily adapts the tone of those films, while also living comfortably in the fantastic, yet grounded superhero world of the MCU. Rather than flashy CGI superpowers and mind-boggling effects, THE WINTER SOLDIER instead builds the action around the characters and story (imagine that!) with mostly live-action, practical work, while putting these super-powered folks (limited only to two guys with Super Soldier serum) into the fray of a governmental conspiracy war between Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. It's a great pick-up from THE FIRST AVENGER, which captured the origin of Steve Rogers perfectly, diving into his journey to find his place in the modern world after being thrust into it during THE AVENGERS. The Man Out Of Time story is Steve's burden to bear forever and his ideals are a staple to what makes him such a compelling character and not some self-righteous, brainwashed propagandist. He's a symbol and he holds that close to his chest. Tackling that aspect in this film is the right evolution for Rogers and the filmmakers nailed it, along with Evans, who has the personality of Rogers down pat. He has proven to be an outstanding Steve Rogers.

Bucky/The Winter Soldier is every bit a menacing villain here; like a Terminator from the future (past), there's no doubt of his ruthlessness. Sebastian Stan returns to the role and makes the transition from war hero to villain seamless, all the while making us want Bucky to revert to the good guys, rather than die a Hydra stooge. He's complex and cool and the reception to him as a steadfast character in Steve's life is well earned. Scarlett Johansson is at her best in this as Black Widow, as we get to peel back her layers more so than any of the other MCU films and see the conflict of her being a S.H.I.E.L.D. super agent that will do anything and everything to accomplish the mission and what that's cost her. Rogers sees right through her and their scenes together move the story along, rather than muddle it in some half-assed romance (ahem, Age of Ultron). Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson/Falcon is the new intro hero for this film and a welcome addition to Steve's gallery of trusted compatriots. I honestly couldn't imagine anyone else in the role that would bring the same level of brash energy and humble friendship. Lastly, we have Robert Redford, playing a S.H.I.E.L.D. boss that is ultimately revealed to be a Hydra agent. Ironically, he's also the star of the film's inspiration, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and his presence brings a true sense of gravitas. While I had hoped from the beginning of his casting that he'd be revealed to be the Red Skull, he ultimately measured up on his own to be a great villainous traitor we could all hate and that accomplished the mission well enough.

Watching the movie again for this review was nothing more than a treat. Not only do I see this as a great comic book film, but a great film in general. It's most certainly one of my all-time favorites and one that yanks your attention to the screen from start to finish. You're not going to be grabbing your phone and checking Instagram on this one. I was glued, just as I have been each and every time I've watched it. From the bone-crunching fight choreography to the grounded-yet-emotional performances to the glass-shattering stunts to the record-screeching, pulse-pounding score by Henry Jackman to the geopolitical intrigue that speaks volumes about our world even today, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is what happens when all the elements align. A clear vision for the end product and an execution that far outperformed anything any of us could have predicted, this is, without question, the MCU film to beat, let alone the action film to beat in any genre today.

READ THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL REVIEW!

Honestly, this whole film is a cool moment. That may sound like hyperbole, but who cares? It's true. The opening insertion onto the Lemurian Star is our first taste of action, where we see that Captain America has developed his fighting skills to a level that far exceeds what we saw in THE FIRST AVENGER or THE AVENGERS. He's sharp, fast, acrobatic and his super strength is on full display. The shield action is also top notch, as The Russo Bros. take full advantage of its physics-defying attributes, making it part of his fighting style rather than just a gimmick.

The next coolest moments comes without any involvement of Cap whatsoever, as Nick Fury is attacked by Hydra agents in Washington D.C. where he makes one hell of a daring chase/escape. Again, The Russo Bros. put their action prowess on full display here; the action is kinetic. Glass and debris shatter all around us as Fury attempts to evade his captors and the resulting sequence is absolutely thrilling, complete with smashed, flipping cars, gunfire and one hell of an intro for The Winter Soldier.

The assassination of Fury by The Winter Soldier is a short sequence, but no less thrilling as we again are shown that Steve Rogers is more than just a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but a super soldier, smashing through doors and bouncing off walls as he gives chase. It's a wonderful thing, really, seeing that attention to detail paid in full. And seeing Bucky catch the shield and throw it back at the end of the sequence is nothing short of badass.

The next sequence is, without a doubt, a classic at this point. The elevator scene was rehearsed for months prior to shooting and choreographed to the letter. This isn't some shit that they blocked out on the day. This is what real action filmmaking is supposed to be. After his trustworthiness is questioned by Pierce, Steve is "trapped" in the elevator with his teammates and peers, quickly figuring out that it's an ambush. What follows is a close-quarters brawl for the ages that is an epic show of who Rogers is and who he has become and his resulting escape on motorcycle vs. Quinjet is the icing on the cake.

The next notable cool moment is one of the coolest action scenes ever put to film; the causeway sequence. After capturing Jasper Sitwell, Cap, Widow and Sam are on the highway when The Winter Soldier ambushes them. What follows is a series of set pieces that unfold like a Shane Black wet dream (and I mean that in the best possible way). Creative, brutal and rousing, we see The Winter Soldier and his goons attempt to take out the three heroes, as they evade bullets and grenades, taking the chase into the city. Seeing Steve take a 40 mm grenade to the shield, fly off the causeway and smash into a moving bus was simply amazing. It's that kind of stuff that reminds us we're in a comic world, but it's done in such a realistic way that you feel every impact.

The fight between Bucky and Cap that immediately follows is the true highlight of the film. The choreography is outstanding; every blow is felt, every move fierce and brutal. The Winter Soldier using all the weapons at his disposal before going hand-to-hand is perfection. It's a fight that unfolds and leads to a dramatic reveal. This is crafting the action around story and it works flawlessly. It's one of the coolest movie fights I've ever scene and it never loses its luster.

The final battle is an epic one and again, built around the story. Cap dons his old uniform in an effort to show where he stands, as well as remind Bucky who he is. It's an assault to take down the three hellicarriers that are primed to wipe out millions of lives and it's a brilliant display of matching action as Cap, Falcon, Black Widow, Nick Fury and Maria Hill dismantle both Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. in one fell swoop. From Falcon's mid-air shoot-and-fly maneuvers to Cap kicking ass with fist-and-sheild to Hill controlling the situation from afar and Widow infiltrating with her spy prowess, everything comes together as it should.

The characters are all in place and the action is fast and blistering. The final fight between Cap and Bucky is just as strong as their prior battle, but this time it boils down to Bucky finally realizing who he is and finishing his "mission". By the time it's over, looking back, the coolest thing that sticks out is that the action that stands out the most in the entire film is simply that of mano y mano brawls, orchestrated with finesse. That says a lot when looking at all the other entries in the genre that rely so heavily on the showy effects and fireworks. THE WINTER SOLDIER bypasses all of that, while never forgetting that it IS still a superhero film and that's an achievement.

Steve Rogers: "Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?"

Smithsonian Guard (Stan Lee): "Oh, man, I am so fired."

Black Widow (to Steve and Sam): "Hey, fellas. Either one of you know where the Smithsonian is? I'm here to pick up a fossil."

Nick Fury (to Alexander Pierce): "I know you erased my password. Probably deleted my retinal scan. But if you want to stay ahead of me, Mr. Secretary...[removes eye patch]... you need to keep both eyes open."

Nick Fury: "Well... It looks like you're giving the orders now, Captain."

The Winter Soldier: "Who the hell is Bucky?"

Nick Fury: "You're wrong about me. I do share. I'm nice like that."

Steve Rogers (to Fury): "By holding a gun at everyone on Earth and calling it protection."
Nick Fury: "You know, I read those SSR files. Greatest generation? You guys did some nasty stuff."
Steve Rogers: "Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so the people could be free. This isn't freedom, this is fear."
Nick Fury: "S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we'd like it to be. And it's getting damn near past time for you to get with that program, Cap."
Steve Rogers: "Don't hold your breath."

Black Widow (telling Steve about The Winter Soldier attacking her and showing her bullet scar): "A Soviet slug, no rifling. Bye-bye bikinis."
Steve Rogers: "Yeah, I bet you look terrible in them now."

Black Widow (to Alexander Pierce after stopping his plan): "I'm sorry...(takes off face mask)...did I step on your moment?"

Brock Rumlow: "This is going to hurt. There are no prisoners with HYDRA. Just order. And order only comes with pain. You ready for yours?"
Sam Wilson: "Man, shut the hell up."

Brock Rumlow: "Whoa, big guy. I just want you to know, Cap, this isn't personal!"
Steve Rogers: "It kinds feels personal."

Steve Rogers (talking to Peggy Carter): "For as long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. I guess I'm not quite sure what that is anymore. And I thought I could throw myself back in and follow orders, serve. It's just not the same."

Dr. Arnim Zola (to Steve): "We are both men out of time."

Senator Stern: "Hail HYDRA."

Steve Rogers (to Sam Wilson): "No. If you're gonna fight a war, you got to wear a uniform."

Alexander Pierce (to the Winter Soldier): Your work has been a gift to mankind. You shaped the century. And I need you to do it one more time...

Alexander Pierce: "Fine. But you got to get Iron Man to stop by my niece's birthday party."
Nick Fury: "Thank you, sir."
Alexander Pierce: "And not just a flyby. He's got to mingle."

Steve Rogers (to Bucky): "You're my friend. I'm not gonna fight you."
Bucky (punching Steve repeatedly): "You're my mission!"
Steve Rogers: "Then finish it. 'Cause I'm with you to the end of the line."

Steve Rogers: "On your left."

Captain America's new outfit is a callback to his Super Soldier outfit from the comics.

Black Widow is seen wearing a necklace with an arrow point at numerous points in the film, a nod to her relationship with Hawkeye.

While showing Captain America the new hellicarriers, we see that they are powered by repulsor techology. Cap asks if it's Stark tech and Fury replies "He had some ideas after having a closer look at our engines." In THE AVENGERS, both Stark and Cap have to fix the rotary wing of the hellicarrier they were on when it was attacked by evil Hawkeye.

The Triskelion makes its first appearance in the MCU as the main base of operations for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Washington D.C. In the comics, The Triskelion serves as the headquarters for The Ultimates (aka the "new universe" Avengers). The Triskelion would again appear in a flashback scene from ANT-MAN, along with Agent Peggy Carter and a young Hank Pym.

When confronted (and kicked off a building), Hydra agent Jasper Sitwell spills the beans on a few of the targets that Hydra are looking to eliminate, citing "Stephen Strange" as one of them. This is before DOCTOR STRANGE, so it's a nice little revelation and his first mention in the MCU. He also mentions Bruce Banner, who we know as The Hulk. A third person of interest he mentions is a man from Cairo. It's subtle, but he could very well mean Marc Spector aka Moon Knight, who gets his powers from Egypt. We'll have to wait and see if that ever pays off as Moon Knight has yet to appear in the MCU.

The Lemurian Star is the name of the ship that Cap and his team infiltrate at the beginning of the film. It's a nod to the Lemurians, an underwater race of people from the comics.

Nick Fury's headstone at the end of the film reads "The path of the righteous man: Ezekiel 25: 17" which is a nod to Samuel L. Jackson's role as Jules in PULP FICTION.

Avengers Tower is seen for the first time since THE AVENGERS as the hellicarriers begin capturing targets. We see that the tower is one of the targets and get a brief glimpse. We also get a glimpse of President Ellis' name as the White House is also targeted. President Ellis made his first appearance in IRON MAN 3, as played by William Sadler.

Senator Stern (the late Gary Shandling) appears in the film, who we last saw as a thorn in Tony Stark's side in IRON MAN 2 and now revealed to be a Hydra agent with "back problems".

There's a nod to the Ultimates comic origin of Captain America when he jumps from a plane without a parachute, as he does here. In the film, one of the agents asks if he was wearing a parachute, while in the comic, the question is answered by a soldier on the plane as "he thinks parachutes are for girls."

The Winter Soldier creator and architect for this story, comic book writer Ed Brubaker, makes an appearance as one of the scientists tending to The Winter Soldier (look for the beard and glasses).

Post Credits: We are introduced to long-standing Cap villain Baron Von Strucker who is seen in a compound in Sokovia where he is conducting experiments with Loki's sceptor, which contains the Mind Stone, attempting to create super-powered people. It's revealed that many have died as a result, except for the Twins, aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, both of whom would appear in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and are teased briefly here.

End Credits: We see that Bucky is on the run and in civilian attire, visiting the Smithsonian Captain America installation, obviously trying to reconnect with who he was.

There are quite a few notable comic character additions to the MCU in THE WINTER SOLDIER. While we were already introduced to Bucky Barnes in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, this is his first outing as The Winter Soldier (played again by Sebastian Stan), who continues to gain in popularity and appeared in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, the end credits of BLACK PANTHER and will next be seen in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.

Also introduced her is Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), who would later become a regular in Captain America's rogues gallery as Crossbones. He would next appear in CIVIL WAR in the full Crossbones get-up, although it's sadly a short-lived moment.

We meet up with Peggy Carter, again played by Hayley Atwell (in make-up, of course) and her great niece, Sharon Carter (introduced undercover as "Kate" here, until the end of the film). Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is also known in the comics as Agent 13 and is characterized by a white jumpsuit (think Black Widow only in white) and has long-served as Cap's girlfriend in the comics. She would again appear in CIVIL WAR, although still no white jump suit.

Alexander Pierce makes his first foray into the MCU as well, albeit in a much older form. Robert Redford portrays the relatively unknown comics character, who was a trusted ally on the page and the exact opposite in the film.

Cobie Smulders' Agent Maria Hill makes a surprise appearance at the end of the film. Hill has been a mainstay in the S.H.I.E.L.D. world since THE AVENGERS (and a main player in the comics just the same) and has appeared in numerous MCU films since.

Lastly, we get our first introduction to Falcon, a long-standing Captain America character created in 1969 by Stan Lee and Gene Colon and portrayed by Anthony Mackie. Falcon would again appear in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, ANT-MAN, CIVIL WAR and INFINITY WAR.

This is also the first appearance of Batroc, known as Batroc the Leaper in the comics. Played by Georges St-Pierre, Batroc, as in the comics, wears a gold and maroon costume and is known for his acrobatic prowess, all of which are on display here.

And, of course we have the requisite Stan Lee cameo, this time as a security guard at the Smithsonian who discovers something very important is missing from the Captain America display...

What's unique about The Winter Soldier is that the key "villain" falls more in a gray area. The Winter Soldier aka Bucky Barnes is Captain America's oldest and best friend who has been brainwashed to do Hydra's bidding and enhanced with a version of the super soldier serum. The Winter Soldier is ruthless and cold under the spell of Hydra and relentless in his pursuit of accomplishing the mission. This gives Steve one hell of a challenge, as he must figure out a way to reach his friend, while still accepting that he will have to stop him at all costs. It's a symbolic battle for Cap, as his struggle to do the right thing is always at the forefront, while his desire to help his friends, especially someone like Bucky, is uncompromising.

Alexander Pierce is elevated with the performance by Robert Redford, who lends serious weight to the role by just inhabiting it. We don't learn much about Pierce other than that he has a long history with Nick Fury, but he's no less menacing as a turncoat Hydra agent in disguise. Prior to the film's release it was suspected that he may be the Red Skull, which I still think would've been a cool reveal, but that doesn't make Pierce work any less as a Hydra operative dug into S.H.I.E.L.D. and controlling The Winter Soldier.

Brock Rumlow doesn't become Crossbones in this film, but he's still a force to be reckoned with here. He starts off as seemingly friendly with Cap as his Strike Team Leader, but reveals his cards as ruthless Hydra operative. The betrayal of both Pierce and Rumlow make for an interesting twist in the film, as you almost hope that both of them will turn out good, even if we know that's not possible. I think it's more of a testament to the actors and Grillo is an actor that can toggle the switch from good to bad with relative ease.

Ultimately, the biggest villain of the film is Hydra itself, which is revealed in all its forms here. Agent Sitwell, Senator Stern and at least half of S.H.I.E.L.D. are revealed to be Hydra agents and Cap's position on dismantling both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra ends up changing the status quo in the MCU in a big way (even if it's reversed later on).


IRON MAN - RETRO REVIEW

INCREDIBLE HULK - RETRO REVIEW

IRON MAN 2 - RETRO REVIEW

THOR - RETRO REVIEW

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER - RETRO REVIEW

THE AVENGERS - RETRO REVIEW

IRON MAN 3 - RETRO REVIEW

THOR: THE DARK WORLD - RETRO REVIEW

Source: JoBlo.com

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