Well out of all the movie theater experiences I have had this year, that was the absolute worst! (And the best! Also known as, I’ve only seen one movie in theaters this year, and this was it.)
Light spoiler potential within, though most can be inferred within the first ten minutes or so of the movie.
I went into this movie with the understanding that we would be dealing with a S.H.I.E.L.D. that has started coming apart from the inside out. The trailers do more than hint at this, and anyone watching AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. will know that the focus of the most recent several episodes has been the dissolution of trust among the various people involved in the intelligence organization.
I suppose I should have realized that a lot of this movie would harken back to the first, but I did not really give it much introspection and so the factors that carried over from THE FIRST AVENGER seemed a bit… out of place?
Gone is the good ol’ days, old-timey feel that permeated, even defined, the entire first film. In a way that makes sense, because, as every major character in this film must come to terms with in their own way, the good ol’ days are well and truly gone. This places Captain America in a much more modern conflict than did THE AVENGERS. In that movie, the problems Rogers faced came down to stuff he knew how to do: lead a group of soldiers (albeit a few with superpowered abilities, rather than just a superpowered mustache), and punch things for liberty! THE WINTER SOLDIER forces Rogers down a different path than that, dealing with the backstabbing and sly manipulations that surely existed back in his day, but in which he played little part.
It may sound, up to this point, like I did not enjoy the film. I did, quite so, and I think it did basically everything right. (Except for Winter Soldier’s heavy-metal-emo appearance. Why? Just… why?)
The movie is definitely trying to, on some level, call attention to recent revelations about our own alphabet agencies. One of the main conflicts Rogers has with S.H.I.E.L.D. regards just how far the agency should be allowed to go to protect the people.
Villains who come across as cackling maniacs are easy to dismiss. Regular folks who are in a position to do something bad to try and prevent something worse muddy the waters a bit. THE WINTER SOLDIER‘s bad guys would have seemed pretty relatable in their cause if they had not been juxtaposed to the raving lunatic seeking to conquer the world and rule it under a crimson thumb, Red Skull.
Now, I liked Red Skull as a villain in the previous movie. He made sense for that story, and H.Y.D.R.A. with him.
Red Skull does not appear in THE WINTER SOLDIER, but he does cast a shadow upon the events that transpire.
Having H.Y.D.R.A. appear as a threat in this movie feels like a distraction. The story would have held together just fine without a previous evil organization coming back to haunt Captain America. In fact, I suspect it would have been a stronger story without it.
But the story was in no way weak. Everything lined up well enough, made sense in the context of things happening in the Marvel Studios universe. Seeing some substantial character development for Captain America, Black Widow, and even a bit for Nick Fury was refreshing. (Fury comes off as a bit one-dimensional in previous films, but I don’t care, he’s still my favorite.) Somehow, they managed to introduce Falcon without it being totally lame, and Mr. Pierce as the charismatic S.H.I.E.L.D. advocate on the World Security Council was effective.
One minor disappointment was that the events of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. did not make even the slightest bit of difference to the movie. Only one (previously non-film) character from the show made an appearance, and I have not yet figured out why the writers decided to use Agent Sitwell instead of, you know, anyone else. I was hoping that, because the events transpire at the same time, at least Colsoun would make a token appearance, but because things are supposedly happening simultaneously, that might have been difficult to pull off.
Still, overall, I enjoyed the movie and I recommend that any fans of the comics, of fun action, of light espionage thrillers, of decent writing and character development check it out.