Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I can't approach this review with the same depth of comic book knowledge as many of my colleagues out there... I grew up a Marvel kid, but I was pretty focused on Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man with a few detours into Hulk and, strangely enough, The Defenders. I'm not even going to get into my love of the What If books, but suffice it to say I don't know Cap's history backwards and forwards.
I'll leave the source material discussion to brighter minds than mine, but I do have some thoughts on Captain America: Winter Soldier as a film and how it fits into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Much like Steve Rogers in The Winter Soldier, Marvel seems to be hitting its stride right now. I'm not putting down their early films at all. Iron Man is still my hands down favorite Marvel film so far. However I do think setting up and executing The Avengers so perfectly has emboldened Marvel Films in a way that is seeping into their Phase 2 run. They're comfortable telling their stories they way they want to tell them, not shying away from pissing off fans or tackling typically tough genres. Iron Man 3 was not a safe choice for them to make storywise. Take Tony Stark out of his armor for most of the movie? Switchy-poo with Mandarin? Not safe.
Thor 2 embraced the fantasy at a level that surpassed the first one and both films just kind of slipped comfortably on, if that makes any sense. I sensed no hesitation on their end. There were no visual or story cues that betrayed a heated discussion of execs trying to hit the widest possible audience base. What I felt was a studio that isn't about giving their audience what they're asking for, but rather showing them what they need.
Marvel has a focused vision right now that is incredible to watch unfold movie by movie. They're breaking ground in a way that I've only seen a couple of times in my adult life. The Lord of the Rings movies did it, shooting all three back to back and building a multi-book arc into one streamlined vision. The Harry Potter series did it as well, to an even bigger extent. They set the template for their respective genres and Marvel is doing the same right now.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier just feels effortless. It is at once the bleakest Marvel film to date and the most exciting. There's so much charisma oozing from every aspect of this film that you're not bogged down by the depressing aspects of this particular story. After an alien invasion in The Avengers, you'd think that the stakes would be an issue in these non-Avengers movies, but in a very real way the stakes in The Winter Soldier are actually much higher than in Avengers. It's not quite as big and full of spectacle, but the consequences of Cap failing at his objective are worse than if the aliens had taken Manhattan.
Corruption is at the core of this story. I don't think it's too spoilery to say SHIELD isn't as perfect of an organization as we'd want it to be and as Cap starts pulling at that thread the whole organization begins to unravel at an alarming rate.
Comic and film fans will be ecstatic at the action, which consistently gives us brilliant super soldier serum powered beat downs, aerobatic antics courtesy of Falcon and Black Widow's James Bondian badass gadgets/hand to hand brutality. Not only that, but the heroes don't do all this with no consequence. It's amazing how seeing these guys shot, cut, swollen and bleeding really ups the ante scene to scene. The limits to Steve's strength and agility are tested and without Black Widow or Falcon at his side there's no way he could have even come close to seeing the whole picture let alone stand a chance to stop the evil at play.
The more I think back on the movie as I write this up, the more excited I get to see it again. I'm not sure I'd say it's a more fun movie than The Avengers, but I will confidently state that it's better made. It's certainly better shot, achieving a particularly cinematic look that just made the cinephile in me super happy. Not only is the plot reminiscent of '70s political thrillers, the look of the movie is, too.
As much as I enjoyed Joe Johnston's Captain America I had nitpicks. I felt he nailed the casting and the pre-serum Rogers perfectly. I loved the newsreel Cap and the transition to becoming the warrior he always was in his heart, but I felt like there was 20 minutes missing from the movie... and it was those 20 minutes that would have had what I really wanted to see: Cap and his Howling Commandos actively turning the tide of the war. We get that in a montage, but that didn't quite satisfy me and as a result the movie felt like it rushed to its finale.
I have no such issues with Winter Soldier. It's well over 2 hours and it just flew by for me. Every single beat feels right, every success feels earned and every failure hits you in the gut. I love that there came a point pretty early on that I wasn't sure Cap could save the day. In this day and age of overpowered superheroes that's a hell of an achievement.
Marvel's at the top of their game right now and there has been no Phase 2 movie to underline that as strongly as The Winter Soldier. I'm dying to see how far their winning streak lasts. Right now I don't see any cracks in the foundation. They somehow made The Winter Soldier the most grounded Marvel movie to date and still included some of the geekiest characters and references.
Winter Soldier is legit. We live in an amazing time. Soak it and enjoy it. There's been no better time to be a geek than right now.