While I enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger well enough, to say it was at the top of my list of favorite movies would be a lie. I was entertained by it, and I liked Chris Evans in the role, but the character was never really one of those I followed. When I first started comics, I was a kid and how could a boring guy with a shield stand up to characters like Wolverine with claws that poked through his skin? I mean, claws!
When I got older and started branching out, I realized that Marvel didn't always use him as jingoist propoganda, which by his costume would be the perfect role. They did stories that put him at odds with the government, where he questions authority and blind obedience. Those were pretty great stories.
Winter Soldier is one of those stories that eventually leads to Captain America's role in Marvel's Civil War and his assassination after defying the government's call for super power registration. It's unlikely that Marvel Film's version of the universe will ever take the characters that far down the road, but this one story arc is a welcome place to set the second movie.
I don't want to give away a lot of plot details, since this movie does run some circles before getting to the end, so I'll keep it short. I don't want to accidentally write any spoilers. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is running a SHIELD strike team that includes Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), who is also known as Crossbones in the comics. After finding out that some of the ops they've been running are questionable, Rogers decides to investigate.
And that's all I'm going to give you.
Old timers like Samuel L. Jackson and Colby Smulders reprise their roles as Nick Fury and Agent Maria Hill, while some new guys join the Marvel Cinematic cast list. I'd never thought I'd see the day, but Robert Redford is in this movie. Anthony Mackie and Emily VanCamp also join the family. There are a few other surprises and some old faces returning, but I'll leave it to you to look them up if you want too.
The movie is a treasure trove of comic culture references, and again I can't name them all or it will ruin the movie. If you're a Captain America fan (or at least one that isn't currently complaining online about how the blue of his suit doesn't match the shade they use in the comics) then the number of supporting characters making an appearance in this film will make you want to fall on your knees and kiss the feet of the filmmakers.
And don't forget to wait until the end of the credits. No, not the end of the main titles sequence with the pretty pictures. The END of the credits. There are two extra scenes after the main film is completed, one that leads into whatever big crossover the big wigs are planning for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and another little one that foreshadows the third movie in the Captain America sub-set, in which we will undoubtedly see more of this movie's eponymous villain.
There are points in the film where one of the characters will discover what's going on and you don't scream in your head, "Bullshit!" The pieces of this little drama seem to fit and the pace is drawn out just right so it doesn't feel sudden or forced. You're left saying, "Well, damn! That's how they did it!" or "So that's what's going on." because you're suspension of disbelief is never penetrated by shenanigans.
Action scenes are also a high point in the film. It's hard to believe that the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo did such a fantastic job because their experience has largely been on TV. But then again, these guys were responsible for episodes of Community, Happy Endings and Arrested Development, all fantastic shows that focused on intelligent humor. I'm eager to see what they'll do with the third installment if they do decide to stay on.
It's been a week now since I saw the film, and I still feel that the blurbs about it are true; this IS the best Marvel movie to date, even better than Avengers. While it still hasn't surpassed Thor as my favorite, I have to admit that it is better put together, and far more accessible to non-Marvel geeks.
Hell, any movie that can give you an Arnim Zola that you can swallow is a winner.
Damn it! So close.