"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" brings the spotlight of the Marvel Cinematic Universe back to Steve Rogers and finally pays full attention to the story of a World War II hero waking up in the modern world. Things get a little complicated, however, when a friend reappearing from the past isn't as happy an occasion as Cap might imagine.
Chris Evans' third full-time turn as the star-spangled man is Marvel's darkest, most complex movie to date and largely succeeds by fitting the superhero movie into the trappings of a political thriller.
There are a lot of reasons to check out "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," but these are the nine I think are the most important.
Cap Is Marvel Studios' Best Character
Yes, Iron Man is the character that makes the big bucks, but that's largely due to how good Robert Downey Jr. is at playing Tony Stark and how cool the suit looks on screen. Captain American is Marvel's best character right now because he's the best example of why their movies work so well. Character comes first.
Sure, Cap is super strong, but he's still that skinny kid from Brooklyn trying to prove himself. "The Winter Soldier" pushes forward that idea and makes it even more complicated by fully exploring the fact that Cap has been ripped out of time and thrown into the future.
I Might Have Almost Teared Up During One Scene
Yeah, so? So what?!
Marvel Didn't Ruin The Winter Soldier
One of the ways that Marvel Studios has played the adaptation game smartly is that they stay truest to the characters, first and foremost. Everything else from the source material can be bent to whatever shape they need it. (The Cosmic Cube is now an Infinity Gem? Sure!) But here's something that Marvel Studios adapted pretty literally and got away with.
Ed Brubaker reintroduced Bucky only ten years ago, but Marvel has very lovingly brought him to the big screen in a way that shows a real respect for the comics. Sebastian Stan's take on the Winter Soldier not only kicks ass, but also has the same the conflicted mystery to him that made him so compelling in the books.
Robert F---kin' Redford
There was no reason to believe that Redford's work as Alexander Pierce was anything but a paycheck for the acting legend and Academy Award-winning director. And that's probably what it was for Redford, but in the terms of the actual movie, his work is much more important than it ever needed to be. Pierce is a complex character, and Redford does an adequate job getting that across.
And now he can go back to doing whatever it was he was doing before.
The Russos Can Direct Action
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has the best action direction in any Marvel movie yet, and it's so good that people who never notice that kind of thing will be impressed.
The Women of Marvel
In the past few years, the call for a female-led superhero movie has gotten more and more popular. Fans want to see different kinds of heroes on the screen — not just white dudes — and while Marvel hasn't remedied that yet, female characters like Black Widow and Maria Hill are playing bigger roles than ever. With three appearances so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson's super assassin has become one of its most regular stars, and here, her character is fleshed out even further.
Big Implications For The Universe
I won't say how or why, but Marvel isn't afraid to put game-changing plot points in stand-alone films.
These Aren't Superhero Movies Anymore
Aside from the fact that Captain America has his origins within the pages of a comic, nothing in "The Winter Soldier" feels that much like a superhero movie. There's no origin story, no super villain. The threat here is an extremely heightened version of the country's ongoing conversation about privacy. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a modern thriller that just happens to have a superhero in the lead role, and that, ultimately, is the kind of flexibility that will keep Marvel movies viable for a long time to come. (You also get a lot of the clichés of a thriller, so there are a few too many escapes and betrayals. But that's a minor complaint.) The studio's interest is in the characters, and those heroes can be thrown into any kind of story the filmmakers want. It's why we're getting a space opera next. Marvel isn't beholden to formula. Their only obligation is toward the audience and telling fun stories with compelling characters.
The Mid-Credit Stinger
Again, no spoilers, but it's a really good one.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" opens in theaters on April 4.