6 years ago, Captain America: Winter Soldier released. And even today, after movies like Infinity War and Endgame broke every record there was, it still remains the best film ever made by Marvel. Change my mind? Uh, you can’t! Allow me tell you why.
There have been a few moments throughout the Infinity Saga that shifted the way the audience looked at comic book films. If Iron Man set the tone for all origin movies to follow, Winter Soldier was a bold kick on that same door about what those origin movies should be followed with.
The First Avenger, despite its lack of pace, was a decent movie that helped set up the character of Steve Rogers, showed his journey to becoming Captain America and improved on the mythology behind the star-spangled sacrificial lamb.
It had everything that you would expect from a ‘nationalist’ movie, so to speak. You put the Nazis in any film and you don’t have to give much explanation behind creating a chemically enhanced super-soldier. Nobody is going to question any secret government programme. They are doing it for the good, to fight the Nazis. You could almost hear a faint ‘USA USA’ chant in the background.
In 2014, the year in which the film is set, Captain America is definitely the most unfashionable. There was just something terribly wrong about a living breathing symbol of American military might draped in the stars and stripes of a bygone era.
But what Winter Soldier did so well was it took all that conviction of the glorified USA it had been given to work with and kicked it in the bollocks!
We had seen the government trying to nuke Manhattan in The Avengers. Steve Rogers was there. Even the film, in it’s first few minutes, gave Rogers multiple reasons not to believe the government, thus making Captain America, a sceptic.
Then Nick Fury got attacked and we were in for a good old fashioned ‘trust no one’ thriller.
Mind you, Steve Rogers was still draped in the flag, so to speak, and he was still kicking ass and throwing people off buildings and running past cars barefoot but he was doing all that with a newfound scepticism, like a disillusioned company man, unafraid to question the boss.
The Russo brothers made sure that they played in that fine grey area for the majority of the film until the film need to clarify the distinction between black and white. So they got Falcon to ask who the bad guys are to which Rogers says:
If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad.
That’s it. Now we know. But even before all these revelations come crashing in on us, we got to meet the Winter Soldier. And this is something all comic book movie directors should learn about- how to introduce a good credible villain!
You get them to catch Captain’s shield in mid fucking air with their bare hands.
One more thing the Russo brothers should be credited for was the bare minimum use of CGI in the film, something that was unique to the studio, and in a manner of speaking, still is.
The fight sequences in this film were legendary. The hand to hand combat was as smooth as it was destructive. Both Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes were superhumans and you could see that when they were bringing knives to gunfights and still winning.
Or when Captain was just beating the shit out of everyone in an elevator.
Or just beating up random HYDRA guys. Cos why not?
The Winter Soldier easily tapped into anxieties having to do not only with security or freedom but also Obama-era drone strikes and Snowden-era privacy. In fact, if the more you knew about these things, the more paranoid you became while watching the film.
But the film didn’t take itself too seriously. It was a comic book movie after all. So it did what all MCU movies did at that point – take you a step towards Infinity War. The film neatly set up the next few movies with ease and even after that big cinematic finish, gave the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s most adult film till date!