Welcome to VOCIFERY, my attempt to re-watch every piece of media in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – every movie, every television series, every one-shot, every web series, and every tie-in comic book, using the Wikipedia entry on the MCU as a guide, before the release of Avengers 4 in May 2019. Join me as I write my thoughts about what I’m seeing, as I see it!
Also, spoilers follow – if you’re worried about that kind of thing, view before reading.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
A few weeks ago, after I saw Black Panther, I walked out of the theatre wondering if it was my new favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie – the film stuck with me for a few days as I thought back on how much I enjoyed it. And I began to wonder if it had unseated Captain America: The Winter Soldier as my favourite in the MCU.
However, after watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier again today, I can honestly say that it still holds the top spot on my own personal ranking of the films. Black Panther will have to settle for second place.
It’s no surprise I rate these two so closely, really. It is easy to see how the two are linked – at least in terms of tone and focus. T’Challa and Steve Rogers have fairly similar power sets: both have enhanced strength, reflexes and strategic skills. And both movies provide a take on the spy genre; Black Panther takes its influence from the Bond films, while Winter Soldier is an ode to the kind of conspiracy films that succeeded in the 1970s (such as Robert Redford’s Three Days Of The Condor).
But beyond all that, I think Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds for one key reason: it takes itself seriously.
Yes, I know some films can take themselves too seriously, where a lighter touch would serve best; think about Norton’s pouting performance in The Incredible Hulk. And sometimes these films don’t take themselves seriously enough – that is certainly one of my criticisms of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2, though oddly not of Thor: Ragnarok.
Winter Soldier approaches the subject matter in a serious way, but it never feels as though that approach doesn’t fit the characters and story the Russo Brothers – and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – are trying to tell.
They just got so much of this sequel right.
Like, having Steve working for SHIELD meant that he was still connected to the universe while he continued settling into our time. The choice of Hydra as the key villain – led by Alexander Pierce; the casting of Robert Redford is another piece of genius on this film – meant that the film stayed grounded, which matches with Cap’s power set; it would have been weird if he was fighting aliens all by himself.
Pairing Cap with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Sam Wilson/Falcon puts him with people who share his background and have compatible power sets themselves. And re-introducing his childhood friend Bucky Barnes – here as the titular Winter Soldier – personalises the events of the film and creates real stakes for Steve Rogers.
You also can’t overstate the effect this film had on the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, both in terms of style and story.
The idea of pairing the hero up with another major character – in this case, Black Widow – was used again in Captain America: Civil War (like, all of them), Spider-man: Homecoming (Iron Man) and Thor: Ragnarok (Hulk, Doctor Strange), and to a lesser degree Ant-Man (Falcon). It is an effective way of keeping everyone in the fold.
Winter Soldier was also the first film that couldn’t just be described as a superhero movie; it was clearly a political thriller in addition to the superhero aspirations it carried. And that shift in thinking gave creators and writers the freedom to think outside the box, and now every MCU film has a sub-genre: Ant-Man is a heist film, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a high school/coming of age movie, Guardians Of The Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok are space operas, etc.
The third Cap movie also changed things up for the universe as a whole. As we’ll see later this week, it had a profound effect on the story being told in Agents Of SHIELD’s first season, and it changed the dynamic of the Avengers – when we next see them in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, they are a standalone group operating autonomously and separately from any government agency (which, of course, leads to the events of Captain America: Civil War).
I haven’t even mentioned the terrific score by Henry Jackman.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favourite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – even on this, my tenth or eleventh viewing. And it marks the moment when the MCU transformed from a release date oddity to a real force in story-telling. I don’t know if any film will over-take its importance to me or the universe.
Next: Agents Of SHIELD: Season 1 Episodes 17-22!