“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a prime example of the growth of the Marvel film series. Just as the first “Captain America” film led into the events of “The Avengers,” “The Winter Soldier” also serves as a setup for larger events to come. Even though the movie connects with a much bigger plot, it still manages to tell an entertaining, self-contained story. “The Winter Soldier” is a fun, thrilling superhero flick that beautifully mixes serious action with funny humor and likeable characters.
After the events of “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles with adapting to life in a modern age while embodying the role of Captain America. He stays loyal to the country by continuing to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. and its head, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Finding a plot in the works to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. down from the inside, Captain America works with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and former soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to stop forces that plan to simultaneously assassinate millions of citizens. Meanwhile, the three are stalked by a mysterious enemy, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who poses a deadly threat to the team.
Marvel films tend to include an appropriate amount of humor in their plots and often use it more naturally than the gritty DC Universe films. “The Winter Soldier” follows this trend, as most of the jokes stick while every subtle, humorous gesture possesses great timing. These action scenes are phenomenal and well-paced while maintaining a constant, pulsing thrill. The action-loaded climax, which takes place on a monstrous Helicarrier, demonstrates the excellent pacing and brutality of each punch.
The effects, despite relying on an overload of CGI, seem real enough to enhance the setting. The story features a few gimmicky, predicable plot elements, but it unfolds with a smart instinct for audience expectations and is richly entertaining. References to other Marvel heroes and villains are dropped constantly, yet they feel like natural universe-building, not forced synergy. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo show a clear knack for balance as they paint a fun comic book story with heavy action and complex character relationships.
Evans steps up his acting game as Cap, who finds his loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and his country tested. But it is clear that Johansson and Mackie are the real acting powerhouses. Johansson has Widow pegged as a sardonic, but dangerous, heroine who is enchanting in almost every scene. Mackie, who plays Falcon, is also a humorous and effective character who commands the camera. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, who actually has a larger role in the film than he has had in any other Marvel film, and it seems that he has perfected a formula that keeps his performance of the character from growing stale. Robert Redford plays a big role in the film, dominating as a powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. official. Oddly enough, the titular antagonist is surprisingly underplayed. The Winter Soldier is offered as a small tool of a larger threat. Stan, who played a role in the previous film, portrays him as overly mysterious, and while he looks extremely cool with his robotic armor and lethal persona, he lacks much of a character. The Winter Soldier is more of a force of mayhem than a fully realized villain.
Overall, “The Winter Soldier” is perhaps the best Marvel offering since “The Avengers.” Its great action and fantastic story present pure blockbuster entertainment. Mixed with stellar performances and well placed humor, the film proves that Marvel has succeeded in finding the balance that keeps superhero movies fun without being too gritty or campy. Despite being considered a prequel for next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “The Winter Soldier” is a great blend of elements that make an incredibly powerful superhero movie.