I know I basically said that Thor: The Dark World was a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s more a collection of little details. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, however? This is a huge moment in the franchise, splitting everything into “films before” and “films after.” It’s also the first MCU film by the directors of several episodes of Community, Mr. Joe and Mr. Anthony Russo. Oh yeah, they both directed the pilot and Joe also directed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, A Fistfull of Paintballs, and For a Few Paintballs More. That probably explains why Danny Pudi (AKA Abed from Community) was working for SHIELD… They also directed Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, so that’s probably more relevant to MCU March.
Responding to the hijacking of a SHIELD ship, Captain America, Black Widow, and SHIELD’s STRIKE team–led by Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo)–sneak aboard and save the hostages, including SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell. Steve has questions as to why they’re actually there, especially when he finds out that Natasha’s mission was to collect data for Nick Fury. When confronted, Fury shows Steve SHIELD’s Project Insight, a trio of helicarriers that can take out targets before they can be a problem. Steve’s not a fan. Things escalate when Fury is nearly killed by a bunch of agents disguised as city cops. He goes to Steve, but is shot dead by the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a metal-armed assassin with impressive skills. Steve is asked about what happened by senior SHIELD official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), and when the super soldier doesn’t give any answers, SHIELD is given orders to take Captain America down. Rumlow and STRIKE fail to stop him, but they do give us a really cool elevator fight sequence. Not knowing who to trust, Steve encounters Natasha who tells him about her run in with the Winter Soldier. He trusts her and they track the source of Fury’s data to the military base where Steve was trained. In a secret basement they find Arnim Zola alive… in a way. He downloaded his brain to a massive 70’s computer and monologues that Hydra is not only still around, but has been a secret part of SHIELD since the organization was founded. Rumlow? Sitwell? Pierce? Senator Stern from Iron Man 2? All Hydra.
Steve finds a place to hide with his new friend, former soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who is very eager to help Captain America. They abduct Sitwell and find out that Project Insight is a Hydra plot to predict who might stand in their way and kill them before they can. But then the Winter Soldier attacks, killing Sitwell in a very cathartic way for people watching the movie for the first time and are still reeling from the revelation. It’s during this fight that Steve sees the Winter Soldier’s face, and it’s… Bucky?! Steve, Natasha, and Sam are captured by STRIKE, but escape with help from Maria Hill. Turns out Nick Fury is still alive and a little upset that the organization he devoted his life to was a puppet of evil. Deciding that both Hydra and SHIELD need to be taken down, they form a plan to turn the helicarriers on each other. Cap and Sam–now with military-grade metal wings and going by the Falcon–manage to sabotage two of the three ships, but the Winter Soldier shows up to stop them. It comes down to Steve versus Bucky, but Hydra’s brainwashing is pretty thorough. Meanwhile, Natasha and Fury corner Pierce, release every file on Hydra and SHIELD to the internet, and kill the Hydra loyalist. Cap manages to sabotage the last helicarrier so the ships turn their fire on each other, but is too wounded to make it out before it crashes. He tries one last attempt at reaching Bucky and it seems to work since the Winter Soldier saves his life before leaving for places unknown. Hydra is exposed, SHIELD is in tatters, and Nick Fury is thought dead by the world. With Sam at his side, Steve vows to save Bucky.
The mid-credits scene shows a Hydra base where Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) reveals that he’s willing to sacrifice lesser facilities to the Avengers in order to keep his special project a secret: using Loki’s scepter (from The Avengers) to give volunteers superpowers. Those volunteers? Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively). The post-credits scene has the Winter Soldier at a museum’s Captain America section, reading up on who he used to be.
The repercussions of this movie were felt for years. SHIELD is no more, leaving the Avengers without governmental support and/or oversight, leading to Captain America: Civil War. The Winter Soldier/Bucky’s long history of assassinations also ties into that movie. Strucker’s project leads directly to Avengers: Age of Ultron. And more relevant to the year 2021, the Winter Soldier, Falcon, and Sharon “Agent 13” Carter (Emily VanCamp) are all going to be recurring characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Disney+ show debuting next week. Hell, even Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), the mercenary who took the ship at the beginning of the movie is supposed to be in the first episode. And on top of all that, this is a really enjoyable political thriller and spy movie. Maybe more explosions than your typical spy movie, so basically along the lines of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond films.
COMIC BOOK FUN FACT! There used to be a saying among comic nerds: “Nobody stays dead except Bucky, Uncle Ben, and Jason Todd.” These characters had been dead for so long that the idea of bringing them back was laughable. I mean, until it wasn’t. Sure, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben is still dead (ignoring alternate reality versions that show up every so often), but the entire premise of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that Bucky came back. Retroactively revealed to have died at the end of WWII in Avengers #4 (1964), Bucky would eventually be revealed to be alive in Captain America #6 (2005). Now the Winter Soldier, he was a brainwashed assassin taking orders from the Russian government, doing things like assassinating the Red Skull. His memories were eventually returned to him thanks to the Cosmic Cube–the comic book equivalent of the Tesseract–and he would eventually take up the mantle of Captain America after Steve died in Captain America #25 (2007) immediately after the Civil War event. And as for Jason Todd, I talked about him in the Batman: Under the Red Hood post, but all you really need to know is a whiny, teenage version of Superman pounded on the walls of reality and that caused Jason Todd to instantly revive in his coffin, and anybody telling you otherwise is a revisionist and a liar.
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