The Marvel Movies Debrief: Captain America – The Winter Soldier Recap, Legacy, and MCU Connections
A sharp spy thriller with emotional heft and franchise-shaking ramifications, Cap's second solo outing introduced the Russos to the MCU...
This article comes from Den of Geek UK. It contains spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the wider MCU.
More often than not placed near or at the top of Marvel Cinematic Universe rankings, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is beloved by fans and movie buffs alike, and was perhaps the first stepping stone towards the critical acceptance that has (so far) peaked with Black Panther’s Oscar nominations.
A brilliant sequel to The First Avenger, an expansion of ideas introduced in The Avengers and a near-perfect spy thriller all in one, The Winter Soldier is endlessly rewatchable and an important status quo-shattering installment of Phase Two. It also introduced directors Joe and Anthony Russo to the MCU – the sibling duo who would go on to pit Cap against Iron Man in Civil War and take over the reins of the Avengers saga with Infinity War and Endgame.
When we’re reintroduced to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), he is still getting used to the 21st century (“Internet, so helpful”) and – having only “recently” escaped the horrors of World War II – taking the events of The Avengers much more in his stride than Tony Stark. He meets fellow veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and, after his suspicions are raised by some of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and SHIELD’s more aggressive tactics, begins to question his role in things.
After SHIELD is revealed to have been developing a HYDRA renaissance within its ranks since Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) was recruited after the war, Steve and fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) must go rogue to take them down and – in the process – dismantle everything they know about themselves and their missions thus far. There’s also the small matter of the Winter Soldier, who is actually Steve’s old best bud Bucky (Sebastian Stan) – saved from his icy death and conditioned to be a ruthless HYDRA assassin.
This unveiling provides yet another emotional throughline for a film already teaming with moral quandaries for its hero, and in the end, we see Steve attempt to redeem his old friend through any means necessary. But, while this is definitely a film focused on developing Steve as a man out of time, it has a co-lead in the form of Natasha.
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In fact, it’s as close to Black Widow solo story as we’ve gotten, and the most Nick Fury we’ve seen on screen before this year’s Captain Marvel. As such, it feels like a team-up movie in a way that other solo outings struggle to, and both Bucky and Wilson, aka the Falcon, have since been folded into the Avengers proper.
The Winter Soldier is really the film that made Captain America the leader of this sprawling franchise and the MCU almost unimaginable without Chris Evans’ steady hand. With all its breathtaking action set pieces, callbacks to past films, and genuinely ballsy plot progression, it’s also a desperately sad portrait of a man who’s lost everything and is about to lose even more.
With its character-driven story, interesting politics, and rich, emotional relationships, the film engaged a hugely diverse audience, too. The MCU takes great pains to appeal to everyone, of course, but the community that’s built up around Steve Rogers is something else entirely and has helped fuel the popularity of these characters.
Put simply, The Winter Soldier is Marvel’s first great sequel – one that surpasses its predecessor in almost every way, and one that sets up an arc for its leading character that’s still waiting to be resolved five years later.
Standout scene: Every action scene in the film is top-notch, but the film never quite peaks above the initial chase sequence between Fury and the fake police officers. As he uses his tank-esque SUV to protect him and argues with the UI, it’s edge-of-your-seat stuff that still manages to be hilarious – everything Marvel does brilliantly. That’s before landing the gut punch that Fury might actually die in this film, raising the stakes even before Cap gets involved.
Best quip: “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” On paper, this wouldn’t be half as memorable as it is in the context of the film, as Steve warns the rogue agents collecting around him in a crowded glass elevator that an attempt on his life isn’t going to end well. It works brilliantly on the first watch as the tension climbs, but even on revisits you can’t help but cheer Steve on as he effortlessly disposes of a dozen HYDRA agents without even breaking a sweat.
First appearances: The biggest one here has to be Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, who is introduced via a meet-cute with Steve in the park and quickly becomes his most trusted confidante and ally in the fight against HYDRA. It’s a pitch-perfect introduction for a character who fulfills his purpose as a sidekick brilliantly – he’s stable, charismatic, and as capable in a battle as any of his superpowered friends. Less successful is Sharon Carter, who is referred to simply as Agent 13 in this movie but will later be revealed as Peggy’s niece in Civil War. Clearly intended as a love interest for Steve in a film where he’s already got way more important things (and important people) to be dealing with, she’s a spare part that only sticks out more in future installments.
A strange one when you consider his pivotal role in the comics is Crossbones aka Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), who is introduced here as a double agent and general hulking threat before being trapped under a building and rescued in the final montage. Grillo is great in the role, however, and we’re sure to discuss him more in our Civil War recap. There’s also Cameron Klein (Aaron Himelstein), who was originally just supposed to be a featured extra but became a fan-favorite after the character stood up to Rumlow on Captain America’s behalf. As a result, he later appears in Age of Ultron having been recruited by Fury, and is the last name Maria Hill mentions before she is dusted in the Infinity War post-credits scene.
So long, farewell: Though it is far from the last time we’ll see her on screen, this marks the last appearance of a living Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in the present, as she dies early on in Civil War without appearing on screen. In The Winter Soldier, we see her suffering from Alzheimer’s and struggling to comprehend Steve’s return in the present. She did, however, appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man via visions/flashbacks, as well as her own TV series, Agent Carter.
It’s also a case of hello-goodbye to screen legend Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a senior SHIELD official and Fury’s old mentor who’s later exposed as an evil, high-ranking HYDRA agent. “You know, there was a time I would have taken a bullet for you,” Fury says, before putting two in Pierce’s chest.
If you count Arnim Zola’s computerized brain as an appearance, then this is the character’s final hurrah in the franchise. It’s a pretty impressive one, though, as he is basically revealed as the mastermind behind this universe’s shady building blocks. Elsewhere, Agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández), who appeared in Thor and The Avengers (as well as a couple of One-Shots and several episodes of Agents of SHIELD), and Senator Stern, who appeared in Iron Man 2, both meet their end here as their true allegiance to HYDRA is revealed and Sitwell is killed by the Winter Soldier. Stern gets off more lightly and is arrested by the FBI.
It’s all connected: There are more than a few links to Marvel movies past and future in The Winter Soldier…
• Nick Fury’s line “The last time I trusted someone I lost an eye” has retroactively been made into a joke by Captain Marvel’s reveal that the injury was the result of a scratch from Goose the Flerken. Bad kitty.
• A brief glimpse of the Winter’s Soldier’s kill order for Howard Stark and his wife is seen during Zola’s info dump, and this – specifically Steve’s knowledge of it – will go on to play a huge role in his and Tony’s falling out in Civil War.
• The Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian features references to Bucky, the Howling Commandos, President Matthew Ellis (who first appeared in Iron Man 3), and Steve’s motorcycle and old costume from The First Avenger.
• Part of Peggy’s dialogue from the scene in the retirement home is used in the trailer for Avengers: Endgame… “The world has changed. None of us can go back. Sometimes the best we can do is start over.” Whether this appears in the actual film is unknown.
• When Sitwell is explaining who HYDRA considers a threat, the names Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Stephen Strange are cited, meaning the latter was on the bad guys’ radar even before the events of Doctor Strange. Either that or Strange is actually set before Winter Soldier. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige has suggested it’s the former, by saying that HYDRA would have been aware of Strange as a “very well-known” surgeon and “a talent…that could cause trouble for their agendas”.
• The Photostatic Veil used by Natasha to disguise herself as Councilwoman Hawley is seen again in Agents of SHIELD. Additionally, for obvious reasons, the fallout from this film – and the revelation that HYDRA has infiltrated SHIELD – has huge ramifications on the franchise’s flagship television spin-off, particularly in the latter half of its first season.
Credit check: Bucky visiting the same exhibit that Steve had been frequenting at the end of the film foreshadows the character’s ultimate redemption arc, and his ability to recognize his friend and their relationship come their reunion in Civil War. More concrete is the first appearance of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, kept in vaults by Wolfgang von Strucker somewhere in Sokovia. We briefly witness their powers and, as we know, they will play a key part in Avengers: Age of Ultron and beyond.
What are your thoughts on Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Have we missed your favorite moment or reference? Let us know in the comments below…