Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, and Sebastian Stan

********* of 10

“The Winter Soldier” is a great movie to start the lookback with, because it is my favorite Marvel movie to date. Most Marvel sequels are overstuffed messes that give away character for more action. This movie is so successful because it does the opposite of that. This is by fay Marvel’s most character-driven film that currently exists. There is a lot of action, but there are plenty of quiet stretches, and all of the action scenes are very personal. Steve Rogers has accepted his role of Captain America, but is unaccepting of the world around him, becoming increasingly bothered by the tight control of secrets within Marvel superspy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. When S.H.I.E.L.D. is infiltrated, Steve has only a few trustworthy friends that can be used to save the world from the schemes of Hydra.

The thing that sets “Winter Soldier” apart from other action packed and darker comic book movies like “Batman Vs. Superman” or the mildly dark “Avengers: Age of Ultron”is the character development. For the first time in the MCU, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow becomes a person instead of a butt in latex. She gets an internal conflict, balancing her secrets against her allies and the government. Characters have long referenced her history, but this is the first time that it has mattered. It’s also the first time that she takes a leading role in the action. Steve is very conservative, not wanting to hurt anybody unless he absolutely has to, while Black Widow takes control of the plot, saving Steve multiple times and getting a few good action scenes. Johansson also gets to act with dialogue, something new for the character. Her laid back personality helps the tone of the movie to never get too serious, while not breaking the tension being built up by other parts of the film, and Johansson shows it without anybody telling the audience about her character. She has great chemistry with Evans, and thankfully two leads in a summer action movie can have good chemistry and not be romantically involved by the end.

Steve also has some of the best character development I’ve seen in a summer action movie. In the first solo movie and in “The Avengers”, Steve is usually the generic boy scout. In “The Winter Soldier”, he comes to realize that the world around him has changed, and being a pleasant boy scout now puts him directly against many people in the government, who favor more aggressive tactics. The balance between political ideologies is the center of this movie. The politics are accurate reflections of the time periods, as Captain America believes in old American principles like freedom and independence and peace, but the modern era of surveillance and control thinks that freedom is dangerous. For the first time, Steve has to step out of his comfort zone, learning a lesson that the screenwriters of most blockbusters could benefit from: morality is not black and white. Sometimes good people believe in bad things. It doesn’t necessarily make them villains, it just makes them on a different side of the conflict than the protagonist. While Hydra has taken over the power positions of S.H.I.E.L.D., it is very clear that not everyone involved in stopping Steve is part of Hydra, and most are just doing their jobs as they believe they should. In response, Steve has to stop believing in his old definition of morality, confiding in Black Widow, who is not a good citizen.

Unfortunately, the main villain is worse than the general body of villains. I am not referring to the Winter Soldier. The bionic assassin made out of Bucky is great, and his personal relationship with Steve further aids the idea that Steve has to completely throw out his old ideas about right and wrong. Alexander Pearce, the modern Hydra leader played by Robert Redford, is as ignored as most Marvel villains tend to be. He does a few menacing things, but he doesn’t have any character. The audience is supposed to just accept that he is evil and the mastermind behind getting rid of Captain America, without any knowledge of how or why he wants to, other than generally being evil.

The action scenes are very well shot, scored, and do a great job of holding suspense. I would not consider this to be a political thriller, but it does have some elements of that genre, usually used to build tension directly before the action starts. It’s more Bourne than Thor. CGI is definitely used, especially in the third act, but a lot of the fights are physical or involve cars. My favorite scene is when Nick Fury is under attack while trying to get away from his car. You think it ends, but more threats come out by surprise