One of the great things about Marvel’s expanding universe at this point in its development is that there is a back-story and relationship with a majority of these characters that we have gotten over these 7 previous films. That was a big key in “Captain America: The Winter Soldiers,” to rely on new and old characters to provide more dynamics than the rather one-dimensional Steve Rogers. To top that off, Marvel also produced their smartest and most relevant film to date.
There is an inherit problem with super heroes that made adapting them for film difficult for a long time – the fact that they are just that, super heroes. Outside of Batman, most of the recognizable heroes are pillars of morals, or simply invincible. That makes adapting characters like Superman, the Hulk, and Captain America difficult. In Marvel’s previous entry with the All-American hero, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Steve Rogers was most interesting when he was a scrawny kid who still tried to stand up for what’s right. Once he became the hero and started battling Hydra, the film surprisingly became less interesting.
In “Winter Soldier,” we get jacked up Cap from the get go. They try to make his adjustment to modern day times a small part of his character development, but it is mostly glossed over. Rather, they continue to put him on the moral high ground from scene 1 as he rallies against the idea of trying to recognize threats before they even are. It’s not that we want him to toy with the line too much, but the fact that he doesn’t develop through the events of the film make him less interesting. Chris Evans plays Cap fine, but it's hard to judge when he doesn't have much to do outside of look tough and sound patriotic.
That’s why it is so good that they made “Winter Soldier” kind of like “Avengers 1.5.” Cap’s not taking on all these enemies on all by himself, he needs to rely on Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon to help get the job done. Cobie Smulders also returns to lend a helping hand. They are not only there to help kick the bad guys’ butts, they also bring much needed dynamics to the film. Their banter, witty one-liners, and overall chemistry helps each character, but most of all Captain America. These same qualities are what made “The Avengers” such a success.
Thankfully, the writer’s also knew that they couldn’t just have a special effects driven baddie for this film. To challenge a hero who only has a shield to do battle with, they had to make the antagonist more complex. This is where “Winter Soldier” turns into a quasi-political thriller, with the question of what is freedom, and how far is to far to protect it? It’s something that has made headlines in the last year with the NSA scandal; there is even a scene early in the film when one agent literally tells people to hack and listen to anything and everything they have to so they can find their target.
Because of this it also made the actual Winter Soldier that the title is based off of less of a factor. We don’t even see the character until nearly an hour into the film. The end of the film and post-credit scene make it seem like that will be changed in the third film.
Speaking of that, the action wasn’t what we’ve come to expect for Marvel movies. Not that the action in the film was any less grand than predecessors, it was just more spread out. What filled the gaps was interesting enough to keep our attentions, but it was surprising that a Marvel film would take this much time away from action and explosions and it would work as well as it did. Of course they more than made up for that with the final battle scene.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” definitely is one of the more well done films from Marvel since they created this expanded universe. They took a different route to get there, with a much stronger emphasis on story and how it relates to today’s world, rather than a wisecracking or awe-inspiring hero. Now if they can just take that aspect with the type of character development they employed in the first half of “The First Avenger” it may just be time for “Iron Man” to step down as Marvel’s poster boy.