Week of April 24, 2022:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier released April 4, 2014 (where to watch)
Scott Hardie | April 7, 2022

This remains one of Marvel's very best productions. If anything, it seems even better in hindsight, after having a bigger picture of the MCU. Here are three reasons why I think it was such a success:

1) Most superhero and action movies have cycles of building up tension and then releasing it with action scenes and then having to build it back up again. This film borrows the air of mystery and paranoia from 1970s spy thrillers (casting Robert Redford was genius) and uses that to sustain tension, such that action scenes like the assassination attempts on Nick Fury serve to increase tension instead of dissipating it. The film builds a great mystery early on, and manages to sustain a relentless, edge-of-your-seat intensity for most of its running time that most other MCU films haven't even attempted. This is an exceptionally entertaining thriller.

2) Captain America needed modernizing. The classic 1940s hero was invented for a different, simpler time, and his Nazi-punching, good-guys-vs-bad-guys morality doesn't fit with the complex shades of gray in our modern world. (Say what you want about America's grave misdeeds both foreign and domestic since the 1940s; I'm not going to get more political than that.) You could drop any Marvel hero into a spy thriller and it could be a fun movie, but it wouldn't shock them or challenge them the way that the twists of this plot affect Steve Rogers. He needed this story about moral compromise in order to continue to function in subsequent productions. And he was uniquely positioned to bring necessary change to the MCU: No other hero would have had the clarity of vision to argue that S.H.I.E.L.D. had to be destroyed too in order to eliminate Hydra completely, but he did and he was right.

3) Nearly everything about the production is top-notch. Marvel was flush with success at this point and could afford the best technical and creative teams in Hollywood. The action and stunts are extremely well done. The production design and costume design are superb. Henry Jackman's propulsive score is one of the MCU's best. The cinematography is engaging and playful without being distracting. (Critics often sneer at the Russos for their plain camerawork, but I can count numerous unexpected shots in the elevator fight and the street knife fight alone.) Everything just clicked and there was barely a false note in the entire two-hour film, with one exception:

The only major complaint that I have is the screenplay's silly idea about Steve and Sam having to do manual replacements of the over-sized microchips on the three airships. It's just incredibly dumb, like the Death Star having one shaft that Luke Skywalker can shoot into that blows the whole thing up. How did Maria Hill get a suitcase with the three replacement cards? How is the most complex and intelligent predictive program in history encoded on a plastic card that must remain inserted for it to work? How are there no security locks on the computer core in each ship? If all three ships must get their card replaced for the mission to succeed because any one of them is enough for Insight, why did Hydra build three ships? How did the targeting system load all of Insight's targets into memory and then instantly forget them as soon as Steve pulled out the last card? How did Hydra not assign one of their own to the launch terminal? There are just so many things wrong with this idea, and I don't want my effusive praise for the rest of the film to imply that I'm fine with this aspect of the screenplay. (Other minor quibbles: The CGI isn't great, especially on elderly Peggy, and the Natasha-matchmaker jokes don't land.)

For me, this is firmly in the top three of all MCU productions including television. There are few other titles that I remember this fondly or that I consider this much of a success. Truly excellent. I could watch this over and over. (9/10)

Scott Hardie | April 7, 2022
This comment contains spoilers for Doctor Strange, Black Widow, and Moon Knight. Reveal it.

Want to join the discussion? Log in or create an account to comment.

Return to the main menu of The MCU Project.