The Marvel Cinematic Universe has to be the most surprising film franchise ever. Not only was Kevin Feige (the producer behind this series) and company able to successfully tie all of the plot threads and characters together in what is arguably the biggest film ever, The Avengers, but the MCU series has somehow found a way to remain interesting even as the series moves onto its ninth film and further on. That ninth film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, picks up with what Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and S.H.I.E.L.D. have been up to in a post-The Avengers world. While Captain America: The Winter Soldier still relies on geeky references and a sense of humor like the rest of the films in the MCU have, The Winter Soldier still finds enough new ground to remain interesting including a new style of action sequences and a charming homage to espionage thrillers.
It was quite worrying to see Kevin Feige pick Anthony and Joe Russo to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Russo brothers did solid work on Community, but after seeing another TV director Alan Taylor whiff on Thor: The Dark World (which I would argue is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s only miss so far) this just seemed like another cost cutting maneuver instead of a maneuver that was trying to maintain the creative integrity of this series. Luckily, I was very wrong as the Russo brothers do a fantastic job of directing this film. They find a way to make this a film that seems apiece with past films in the series while seeming like a genuine homage to espionage thrillers of years past. Even more shocking is that the Russo brothers bring the best action set pieces in the entire series to the film. The hand-to-hand combat is brutally awesome and while some of it verges into incomprehensibility with the quick editing it never completely does so.
Also helping this film is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier may have the best cast of any MCU film. Chris Evans (who was a little outmatched in the star-studded The Avengers) reasserts himself as the right man for this role. Captain America is a very boring hero on paper and that is quite the tough role to play. Evans just has the right amount of charisma to make a man with very little internal conflict interesting nonetheless. Meanwhile, Sebastian Stan is stuck with another difficult task. He must take a poorly developed character from the first film and make him a fully dimensional villain. Stan, for the most part, does just that and I’m very interested to see where they take Bucky Barnes next. Other standouts include Anthony Mackie (finally getting a much deserved good role in a good blockbuster), Frank Grillo (doing much more than any actor playing a henchman has the right to), Robert Redford (giving depth to a character that easily could have been window dressing) and Samuel L. Jackson (doing his best work as Nick Fury yet).
Ultimately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t reach the heights of the much more contained Iron Man, Iron Man Three or Captain America: The First Avenger as it does try to do a little too much but as a sequel to The Avengers this is quite a good film.