As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.
We are SO overdue for some Captain America action watching the movies in story order like this – it’s been, like, 9 movies! In his sequel, Cap takes us inside post-alien invasion S.H.I.E.L.D. and shit. gets. real.
Hero: Steve Rogers / Captain America
“The price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
A dedicated S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, our Captain is forced to go rogue in order to do the right thing. It won’t be the last time.
- Nick Fury
- Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
- Maria Hill
- Sam Wilson / Falcon
Villain: Alexander Pierce, Leader of Hydra, and Dr. Arnim Zola, its Artificial Intelligence
“HYDRA created a world so chaotic that humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom to gain its security.”
Working underground since Red Skull’s defeat, Hydra has been growing in secret, a parasitic fascist network operating within all levels of the American government – from the legislature to S.H.I.E.L.D. to the World Security Council. Meanwhile, they’ve been using The Winter Soldier (a biologically improved, periodically frozen, regularly brainwashed Bucky Barnes) to seed chaos and terror for the last 50 years.
Villain Complexity Rating: 4/5
In The Winter Soldier, Hydra is poised to unleash their full power, using the weapons of international security against the populace in order to achieve order through fear and control. Mapping behavioral patterns from the data gathered from citizens’ personal communications and tech use, Hydra believes they can predict when an individual person will flex against the system in any way, and with their weaponized 100% coverage surveillance network, can assassinate anyone who may push back before it even happens. It’s all a little too close to our current reality and the effect is visceral.
“What’s at Stake” Rating: 4/5
Hydra will murder 20 million people in order to take over the world by military coup. If successful, the entire world will live in fear – in which any act of resistance is punishable by death, before it even happens.
What did our hero(es) learn?
Though the Captain’s name is in the title, this really feels like the second Avengers movie. The Captain, Natasha, Fury, Maria Hill, and Sam Wilson learn that they can trust one another to be on the right side of things. Fury learns that the era of control, compromise, and diplomacy is over and that the Captain really is the boss. Natasha learns, again, that she has been fighting for the wrong side. Steve asserts himself, again, as the only guy whose moral compass can truly be trusted.
Heroism Rating: 5/5
Ratchet the heroism up to 11 already! In addition to kicking so many bad guy asses so hard so many times throughout the movie, the Captain gets shot, stabbed, then shot again – and still manages to take down 3 Helicarriers in, like, 5 minutes, orders their destruction while he’s still on board to make sure they can’t hurt anyone, and then chooses to save his best friend’s life (even though he’s trying to kill him) instead of bailing out and saving his own.
It’s not just Cap, though – everyone’s hitting the heroism points. Natasha sacrifices herself to make sure Fury can unleash the story of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption to the world, Fury fakes his own death to suss out who he can trust and then cedes his own leadership to Steve before he assassinates Hydra’s leader…. And then there’s Sam Wilson, a combat veteran who leads group therapy sessions in order to help vets overcome their PTSD and return to civilian life, who throws his own hard-won quiet life into chaos by throwing himself into a super dangerous war with a bunch of rogue spies and superassassins, because he believes so completely in the Captain. And then at the end, Bucky saves Steve’s life. I can’t even handle it.
Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 4.5/5
This film is stylistically tight in a way that no other film in the MCU has been up to this point. The fight choreography is super fierce, and the action sequences are riveting and suspenseful. The way the production frames up The Winter Soldier every time he comes on the scene – through his character design, sound design, etc., is eerie and intense, elevating the mythos of the ghost story he’s become. CGI use is slick and minimal, giving life to the possibility of Helicarriers rising out of the Potomac and making S.H.I.E.L.D. user interfaces a helpful support for the narrative action. The pacing is fast and tense and the contrast between the brightly lit corridors of S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ and the dark corners our heroes occupy adds both to the narrative crescendo and to the character’s journeys. It’s not flashy and outrageous like Thor and some of the films to come, but it really works.
Heroic Cinema Saturation Index
Betsy Rating: 5/5
There is a ton that works about this movie. I love a Captain America-gone-rogue storyline, the action scenes are incredible, and the story has tangible gravity and real-world grit in a way some of the more fantastical MCU films don’t… but for me – the center of its greatness is its emotional depth and resonance. It’s so rare to see male heroes who are emotionally connected and compassionate, and the space this story gives Steve – but also, Sam and Bucky – to be soft, sad, wounded, grieving, lonely, isolated, etc. gives true, personal weight to their choices. I think that’s why Steve Rogers is so powerful, and why his courage is truly inspiring – because its roots grow from from vulnerability, humanness, and connection.
Steve Rogers isn’t the only reason this movie works though. This and the next Captain America film are both more of an Avengers-style team-up than a singular hero story, which makes sense because the Captain is the leader, and a leader needs a unit. Natasha and Steve join forces in a way that will define both of them in future stories. We’ve seen Natasha kick ass in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, but in Winter Soldier, it’s so fun to get to see her spy skills save the day – sneakiness is her real superability after all. I hope we get a lot more of in this Black Widow movie they keep teasing us about. Fury is unkillable and consistently just barely one step ahead. Sam’s Falcon brings a needed normal guy perspective to the crew, and Maria Hill even gets to do some sneaky badassery.
And then there’s The Winter Soldier. Sebastian Stan brings depth to his character’s warmth and kindness in Steve’s memory – so much so that his blind viciousness is deeply unnerving. So vulnerable and damaged, still a captive after 50 years – his pain cuts deep and true and the hope for redemption that the ending dangles at you is potent. Though it sold itself as a political spy thriller – and it does excel at that, in its heart, The Winter Soldier is also an exploration of the lasting trauma of violence, the transformative power of friendship, and the inherent risk in choosing to trust.
Justin’s Rating: 5/5
Finally, phase II of the grand MCU experiment bears substantial fruit with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This is a considerable relief given that Thor and Iron Man’s 2nd and 3rd respective offerings were basically filler. By comparison Cap’s first sequel is practically bursting with revelatory content and inspired character development/relationship building.
Though The Winter Soldier is a vital piece of the puzzle here, subtitling the film after the character is a misnomer. This might have been an intentional misdirect on behalf of the film makers, since The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have left little to speculate on for fans. Still, Cap’s discovery that his childhood friend has been exploited as a freeze-dried Hydra monkey boy for the last 70 years is a bit of a blow for our guy, and it informs some key decisions he makes down the line. Bigger than all this, though, is Cap’s ethical conundrum concerning his relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D., who he’s already fed up with when he learns of their plans to build a global panopticon called Project Insight, equal parts surveillance and death from above via some hot Stark Industries tech. As one might imagine, Steve Rogers has a problem with the enforcement of thoughtcrimes. Fury, ever the booster of contingency and security, is of another mind until he discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D has been compromised by a HYDRA sleeper cell. This conflict is a big pivot point for the MCU as a whole, though we don’t realize it until later films. Without going into detail, the events of Captain America: TWS resolve with Fury faking his own death, S.H.I.E.L.D completely dissolved, Cap and Black Widow going dark, and The Winter Soldier on the lam. So not a great place.
The action that gets us there is great, multi layered cloak and dagger stuff. For the first time, we get to see the tactical genius of Nick Fury on full display as he orchestrates maneuvers to expose Hydra’s plans to use Project Insight basically the way S.H.I.E.L.D. intended to, but more um, Nazi-ish. Romanoff is in full blown spy mode here as she allies with Cap to glean what they can through espionage. It’s really great that there’s so much room in this film for these characters to breathe and grow into themselves a bit. In fact, there’s even enough room for future Avenger Sam Wilson to make his entrance as a combat veteran who quickly develops a soldier’s bond with Cap. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deftly manage multiple layers of conspiracy over threads that converge and intersect with real emotional impact. Captain America is the star here, but everyone involved gets love, including Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. In relatively little screen time, Barnes imparts a deep sadness and animalistic sense of survival that hits hard, especially for those who recall his relationship with Cap from the first film. It’s genuinely touching film making.
In addition to all this, the action and fight choreography is the best yet offered by an MCU film. Cap, Natasha and Sam all enjoy combat sequences that showcase their abilities and weaknesses. The visceral nature of the action in this film is a constant reminder that only one of these heroes has super powers – the rest are just people. That feels appropriate for Cap, who’s already armed with the most devastating weapon of all – The Truth!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is available to rent online through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores. Not only is The Winter Soldier a critical piece of the MCU puzzle, it’s also just a great standalone movie. Of the entire first HALF (and yes, this is the halfway point folks!), this is the film we recommend you revisit or check out for the first time. It’s dynamite.
YOU’RE INVITED! We got our tickets to see Avengers: Endgame today! If you’re in the Twin Cities and would like to join us, we’re going to the 8:30pm at the Rosedale AMC on Thursday, April 25th (opening night). Let us know if you plan to come – the more the merrier.