Out of all the Marvel films in Phase 2, this is the one I was worried about. Captain America was the only hero I was unsure would work outside of the Avengers in the present day and as such I was worried. Thankfully, I have to say that, out of the ones released so far, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best of the Phase 2 films.
The plot concerns Steve Rogers aka Captain America, who is now a full time agent of SHIELD, finding out about some of the more unethical things that SHIELD is planning to do in order to keep the world secure. Into the mix comes the Winter Soldier, an figure involved with major assassinations over the past 50 years who attacks Nick Fury, which eventually leads to Rogers going rogue. Now that is as far as I will go with the plot as there is a major event halfway through the film which has dramatically changed the Marvel Cinematic Universe which I will not spoil here. What I like about the plot is how it goes more along the lines of a political thriller instead of the traditional action films. There are a lot of elements of the film that feel reminiscent of the NSA surveillance, which feels pretty big considering that the film started filming a few months before the Edward Snowden leaks. I also like how a major part of the film concerns the role that Captain America can play in the modern world and his reaction to him being in the modern world. However, if there is a problem with the plot it is The Winter Soldier himself. Whilst on a character level and for setting up Captain America 3 the character is important, in terms of the plot of the film, the character could have been cut out of the film and the same film would have been made. Even with the more serious plot there are still elements of humour in the film, mainly the interaction between Captain America and Black Widow and a few in-jokes, mainly a little reference to Pulp Fiction at the end of the film. This is also the first film outside The Avengers where some major events are more important because of the other parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, mainly that what happens and is revealed about one of the characters is more impactful after watching Agents of SHIELD (by the way, once series 1 has ended I'll do a review of the show).
The acting in the film is excellent as well. Chris Evans continues to prove how excellent he is as Captain America and Scarlett Johansson is great as Black Widow. The main reason why the interaction between Captain America and Black Widow is so good is because of how well Evans and Johansson play off each other. Samuel L Jackson does his best work in the series as Nick Fury with his character being really fleshed out, giving a lot more power to his scenes that wasn't present in any of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Out of the new cast members, Anthony Mackie is the standout. He brings a lot of charm to his character (Sam Wilson) along with a sense of trust that lets you understand why Rogers would trust him whilst Robert Redford brings a lot of gravitas to the role of Alexander Pierce, whilst further establishing the political allegories of the film. The only real problem in the cast is that a few of the actors don't really get much to do, mainly Cobie Smulders and Emily VanCamp who, whilst giving good performances, don't have a lot to work with in terms of the script.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. This has easily the best hand-to-hand fight scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, along with the more explosion heavy action scenes and car chases being incredibly well directed and shot. It's all the more impressive considering that the directors of the film, Anthony and Joe Russo, have not directed any action films before, instead directing comedies, mainly episodes of Arrested Development and Community. For first time action directors, this is incredibly impressive work and I really hope they get more action work in the future. On a design level, whilst SHIELD headquarters doesn't have a really unique style, other elements of the film, such as the Smithsonian Exhibit for Captain America are excellent and, on a character level, the design of the Falcon wings is excellent, being one of the best pieces of technology created in these films.
Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a brilliant film. Sure there are a few shortcomings in terms of the character of the Winter Soldier and some of the cast members are wasted but this is more than made up for by brilliant direction, a great central performance from Chris Evans and a really intelligent script.
My Rating: 4.5/5