After “Thor: The Dark World,” and the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” tie in episode, a “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” related show was expected. The “Dark World” entry was admittedly tangential, relating to the box office counterpart in passing. However “The Winter Soldier” erupted into cinemas, shattering the world we’d grown to love. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” emerged not only as arguably the best Marvel flick to date, but one of the greatest releases of 2014.
Set after the events of “Thor: The Dark World,” we pick up with Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) in the present day. Poor Cap is having some difficulty adjusting to present times, and must catch up on everything from pop culture references to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s current operational habits. Rogers and comrade Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) partner with a S.H.I.E.L.D. team under the command of Agent Rumlow (Frank Grillo) to liberate hostages on board a hijacked S.H.I.E.L.D. ship. During the mission, Rogers realizes that Black Widow has an alternate objective: retrieve data from the ship for Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Captain America is furious over the need-to-know operation, prompting Fury to enlighten Rogers on Project Insight. The program consists of three Helicarriers which communicate with satellites. Insight, Fury explains, is meant to eliminate threats before they happen. Still grappling with modern times, Rogers questions how punishment can be allotted before the crime occurs. Unfortunately for Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra has resurfaced within the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. no less. Colonel Fury is attacked by Hydra loyal, including the shadowy Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
“The Winter Soldier” is unique in that it successfully, and resoundingly, united the Marvel cinematic and television universes. Hydra was first introduced in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) was captured by Captain America and brought to the United States for interrogation. It’s revealed in “The Winter Soldier” that Zola infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., and Hydra followers span the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. The central plotline of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” season one focused on a lurking threat to the organization. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” unmasked the menace, Hydra.
Yet “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was not simply a fantastic culmination of Marvel threads. The standalone film delivered a poignant political thriller, complete with relevant commentary on real world spy tactics. Multiple well-known characters were identified as Hydra sleeper agents. Chris Evans played a brooding Captain America, torn between the idealistic WWII era and present day paranoia. The unlikely duo of Cap and Black Widow felt natural due in part to strong on-screen chemistry between Evans and Johansson. Anthony Mackie lent his humor and wit as Sam “Falcon,” a retired Air Force paratrooper. The always on point Robert Redford captivates as Alexander Pierce, elite S.H.I.E.L.D. leader. This combination of intrigue, continuous surprises, and seasoned acting made for arguably the best Marvel cinematic release.
The “Winter Soldier” legacy lived on after the credits rolled, and yes even past the post-credits sequence. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” picked up right where the film left off, and to now rave reviews. This sequel served as the turning point which propelled “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” critical reception from lukewarm to trending. However, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a great show before. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” merely realized the ambitious project that was the Marvel universe. It was at this point that the justification for the expansive term “universe” came. A phenomenal standalone film, or as part of the overall Marvel puzzle, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” proves that franchises often get better with age.