Steve Rogers is a man out of time.
2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger told the story of how this regular kid from Brooklyn with the heart of a hero was so determined to serve his country and fight the forces of evil during World War II that the short, scrawny asthmatic agreed to be the guinea pig in the Super Soldier experiment. Dr. Abraham Erskine’s Super Solider Serum enhanced Rogers’ physicality to superheroic proportions, and the young man became Captain America. Backed up by a squad called The Howling Commandos, Cap was a great aid to the war effort and ultimately brought an end to the evil schemes of Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. The Red Skull, leader of the rogue Nazi offshoot Hydra. Unfortunately, after defeating The Red Skull, Rogers was stuck on a plane full of dangerous weapons and was forced to crash it into the Arctic. The plane wreckage was lost in the icy wasteland for decades, Captain America frozen on board.
Thawed out in modern day, Rogers is now struggling to adjust to a world that has advanced seventy years without him. While 2012’s The Avengers showed him returning to active duty in a big way, the film had to juggle so many characters that it largely had to gloss over the issues Rogers was dealing with. Now that he’s back in the lead for his second starring vehicle, the filmmakers are able to give more attention to the personal problems Captain America is faced with. Not only does he spend his downtime trying to catch up on all of the best movies, music, and TV shows he missed, he also has to cope with the fact that almost everyone he ever knew is dead… Everyone except Peggy Carter, the girl who owed him a dance when he disappeared in the Arctic and who he visits in a very poignant scene. He’s still youthful and extraordinarily fit, she’s now a bedridden ninety-something.
An agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), Cap is regularly sent on anti-terrorist missions around the globe, backed up by other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents like fellow Avengers member Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow. But even the ways battles are fought and threats dealt with have changed since Rogers’ day, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new initiative called Project Insight, which involves satellite-linked, DNA-reading, heavily armed warships that will perpetually patrol the skies, doesn’t sit well with our heroic representative of the American spirit.
Rogers was right to question S.H.I.E.L.D. Soon its director Nick Fury is shut out of the system, attacked by an immensely strong, metal-armed assassin called The Winter Soldier (who has fifty years of kills on his résumé), and accused of being a traitor. S.H.I.E.L.D. bigwig Alexander Pierce then orders the agents under his authority to track down Captain America and Black Widow because of their close working relationship with Fury. Their own organization working against them, Cap and Widow have to go on the run, seeking to clear Fury’s name and get to the bottom of what’s truly going on at S.H.I.E.L.D.
Along the way, they find an ally in war veteran Sam Wilson, who dons a winged flight suit to become the hero called Falcon, and Rogers makes shocking discoveries about several characters, including the villainous Winter Soldier.
Captain America: The First Avenger was a straightforward 1940s comic book adventure and my favorite of Marvel’s “Phase One” set of movies that built up to The Avengers. As of now (there is still this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy to come before next year’s Avengers sequel), Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite of “Phase Two”. It’s also a much different film than its predecessor, shifting gears to fit our more convoluted times and dropping our noble hero into the middle of a darker, more serious political espionage thriller… Albeit one that still has plenty of outlandish comic book elements.
TWS even does something that I wish comic book movies did more often – it includes a lower-level villain from the source material in a “hero doing his job” sequence. Ever since 2002’s Spider-Man, I’ve wanted to see bad guys who aren’t necessary fit to be a movie’s main villain turn up in these movies just long enough to be thwarted. Why not start off a Spidey movie with an action sequence in which someone like Shocker is put out of commission, or instead of having him face off against random bank robbers in the middle of a movie, why not have have the bank robber be Rhino? Well, they do something like that in this movie, having Cap free a hijacked ship from the clutches of a group of mercenaries led by comic book villain Batroc the Leaper in the first action sequence.
I was also quite glad to see Brock Rumlow, a.k.a. Crossbones, a villain I’ve had a soft spot for since reading Cap comics in my childhood, established with a prominent role in this film, although he’s not yet calling himself Crossbones.
The scope of the film is massive, the action plentiful and awesome. Captain America’s enhanced physical abilities are well displayed during the fights, as is just how cool and useful his vibranium shield can be. Black Widow is no slouch, either. Sam Wilson/Falcon is a very likeable character and a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Winter Soldier himself is a very powerful force, his threatening presence bolstered by a creepy theme in the score provided by Henry Jackman.
While continuing to expand the MCU, the story of this film also takes things in some very surprising, universe-shaking directions. Risks are taken that leave this world in a very interesting place as the Marvel machine steams forward… It also leaves viewers with the question, where was Hawkeye when all of this was happening? It’s hard to believe Clint Barton wouldn’t turn up to help Rogers and Romanoff if he heard they were in trouble.
And I’m left wishing I were Captain America/Steve Rogers. He is my favorite of this assemblage of heroes. He’s such a good, pure, noble man, dedicated to doing the right thing no matter the cost, even if it requires self sacrifice. He’s an inspiring character, he makes me want to be a better person. And to get into much better shape.