Captain America is one of the most beloved characters in comics and the MCU. However, the adoration he has earned in the MCU is due in large part to Joe and Anthony Russo’s film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As Marvel Studios adjusted to its new partnership with Disney, its movies were becoming more lighthearted and a bit heavy-handed on the jokes. When The Winter Soldier released, it tapered back many of those qualities and established storytelling ideas that would follow the films all the way through to where the franchise is today.
The Winter Soldier was such a hit in part because of how well the creators knew the character and the story. When Captain America: The First Avenger was released, it painted Steve Rogers as a bit of a boy scout and didn’t have the time to dig deeper into why he is the way he is. The Winter Soldier decided to expand on his character and really develop the fish-out-of-water story and how that has affected his beliefs.
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Before he picked up the shield in the comics, Bucky Barnes was the Russian assassin known as the Winter Soldier. The story, based on a comic by Ed Brubaker, brought Captain America into the modern age. The concepts of the past haunting Steve were borrowed directly from the comic, along with some iconic moments like Bucky punching the shield or saying, “who the hell is Bucky?” These moments, however, only served to enhance the story being told, rather than lead it. That style of storytelling is something Marvel would take into its future films.
Captain America’s history has gone in every direction and featured some outlandish ideas and characters. The Winter Soldier manages to take these and inject more grounded realism. Rather than an outrageous villain in Batroc the Leaper, viewers are shown a terrorist who also happens to be a Savate master. Instead of showing a giant robot with a TV for a chest, Arnim Zolla is relegated to a supercomputer. It keeps the characters’ spirits alive but brings them into a world that works without watering them down.
That realism can also be found in the themes that the film focuses on. At its heart, The Winter Soldier is a political thriller. Steve is at odds with the organization he believes in because they do not match the ideals he lives by. On the surface, it’s pretty straightforward, but with Steve being from a different era, the entire film feels like a crisis of consciousness as he is forced to adapt to a changing world that isn’t as honorable as it used to be. This isn’t the first time that the character has encountered a conflict of beliefs, but it was easily the most personal. After this, most Marvel films would adopt a similar approach for each new film.
That personal feeling is also felt in the film’s choreography. In earlier comic book films like the original Batman films, there wasn’t much attention on the fighting techniques so long as they looked good. However, in The Winter Soldier, each character has a fighting style unique to their personality that is faithful to the inspiration. For example, Black Widow is a sneakier fighter than Steve, who is very straightforward. The elevator scene is still the best way to see his power and grace as a fighter compared to other heroes.
Fans and creators all agree that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a turning point for Marvel Studios. It changed how the studio approaches movies. Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the next project coming, and all fans can do is hope that it is worthy of taking up the shield from its predecessor.
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