“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was Steve Roger’s second solo film, but in many ways it felt like his first. Sure, we were officially introduced to the “Star Spangled Man With the Plan” in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” but the origin story didn’t quite have all the essential elements of a great Cap story. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” on the other hand, did have all the essential ingredients; and boy did it have them in spades.
Old enemies, new allies, political intrigue and morally complex situations were all in abundance in Captain America’s 2014 cinematic outing. “Captain America: The Winter solider” wasn’t just a fun action flick, it was the quintessential Cap film and featured Steve Roger’s finest moments in the MCU to date. Join us as we take a look at why “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the best Captain America film.
SPOILER WARNING: The following list contains spoilers for all three “Captain America” films.
15. IT WAS (AND IS) RELEVANT
Like the super soldier serum running through his veins, Captain America’s relevance is what keeps the character feeling young and fresh. Ironically, such an old character has been used time and time again to explore ideas surrounding war, liberty and justice. “Captain America: The Winter Solider” is no exception.
Instead of just treating us to explosive action and great fight scenes — of which the film also has plenty — “Captain America: The Winter Solider” explores ideas about national security and what we have to trade off in order to be safe. The film revolves around the launch of S.H.I.E.L.D’s three new Insight Helicarriers — floating bases of operation capable of keeping the entire world under perpetual surveillance. As we continue to grapple with such ideas and questions presently, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” still feels extremely poignant and relevant, particularly in ways both “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Captain America: Civil War” don’t.
14. CAP MADE THE RIGHT CALLS
One of the defining traits of a good superhero is the ability to make ethically upright decisions when confronted with morally complex choices. This idea really was at the crux of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Throughout the film, Steve was notably uneasy about the shadiness of S.H.I.E.L.D and Nick Fury’s ability to let the ends justify the means. Eventually Cap rejects this ideology — especially since he finds out it has been championed by Hydra — and takes down S.H.I.E.L.D. When faced with questions about security verses individual liberty, the First Avenger boldly stood up for individual freedoms.
Taking down S.H.I.E.L.D to defeat Hydra wasn’t the only hard, but ultimately correct choice Steve had to make during “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” In order to take down the Insight Helicarriers and stop Hydra, Steve was forced to fight his best friend Bucky Barnes; a battle he fought bravely.
13. STEVE ALMOST DIED
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was no walk in the park for Steve Rogers. Not only did he find himself fighting undercover Hydra agents embedded in S.H.E.I.L.D, he also had to fight his best friend. After being mentally reconditioned and outfitted with a cybernetic arm, Steve’s best friend and battle brother, Bucky Barnes, had been turned into the Hydra operative known as The Winter Soldier.
The Winter Soldier was a cut above the rest of Steve’s usual enemies. He was an expert fighter, a ruthless assassin and his cybernetic arm gave him super strength — all qualities which provided him with the upper hand (literally) when he fought against Steve. With this in mind, it is not surprising that Steve’s final run-in with the Winter Solider was brutal. Although Steve was able to win the day and put the three Insight Helicarriers out of commission, he almost died in the process. Wounded and beaten within an inch of his life before plummeting into the Potomac river, Steve really did put his life on the line to protect freedom and individual liberty.
12. CAP ON THE LAM
After being branded a wanted fugitive by Alexander Pierce, Cap finds himself on the run from a compromised S.H.I.E.L.D. Being hunted by the organisation he once fought for and without many allies, Cap’s time on the lam allowed us to see a new side of the First Avenger. If nothing else, this turn of events gave us the wonderful visual of Captain America looking particularly out of place in an Apple store!
Although a skilled fighter and soldier, Captain America was clearly out of his element when he was thrown into a world of political scheming and betrayal. After all, even in the midst of war, you have allies you can rely on. In the world of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” no one was trustworthy, as anyone could be an undercover Hydra agent. Even though he was pushed into a murky world of espionage and treachery, Steve’s strong sense of morality and his enhanced physique allowed him to come out on top.
11. MAN OUT OF TIME
Apart from the super soldier serum and Steve’s strong sense of right and wrong, there is something else that has become a key part of the character of Captain America. We are of course referring to Steve’s temporal displacement. After defeating the Red Skull at the end of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Cap crashes the Red Skull’s plane into the Arctic and becomes encased in ice. He wakes up nearly 70 years later to find that the world is a very different place.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” capitalises on this, and really shines light on the fact that Steve is a man torn from his own time. Fun gags like Steve’s list of things to catch up on, his joke about his barbershop quartet all being dead or Black Widow’s playful jab at him essentially being a living fossil all remind the audience that Steve is still adapting to life in the 21st century.
10. CAP WAS PUSHED TO HIS LIMITS
Taking down Hydra and defeating the Winter Soldier wasn’t just a worthy obstacle for Captain America, it took everything he had. On a physical level, the Winter Soldier was very much Cap’s equal. Not only could the brainwashed Bucky Barnes handle the shield as well as Cap, he was also just as strong, thanks mostly to his cybernetic arm, and just as skilled in combat. On an emotional level, having to fight his oldest friend almost tore Steve apart.
In the film’s final fight scene — which featured Captain America squaring off with the Winter Soldier in the hull of one of the Insight Helicariers — Steve finally begins to crack under the emotional strain of having to fight his best friend. After completing his mission, Steve refuses to fight Bucky, trying his best to talk reason into him. Even as Bucky lays into him with his robotic arm, Steve continues to try and reach his old friend.
9. SHARON CARTER
As well as the titular Winter Soldier, “Captain America: TWS” saw the introduction of Sharon Carter into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although there certainly seemed to be romantic tension between Steve and Natasha Romanov, the real chemistry was just starting to brew between Steve and Sharon.
Really an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D posted to protect and monitor Captain America, Sharon posed as Steve’s next door neighbour. Pretending to be a nurse, Steve was completely oblivious to Sharon’s real identity as a S.H.I.E.D agent until she barged into his apartment with a pistol in her hands! Her time in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” may have been relatively brief, but her appearance did sow the seeds for a romance between her and Steve that were subsequently harvested in “Captain America: Civil War.” Given that Sharon Carter is both the grand-niece of Peggy Carter and Steve’s love interest in the comics, it only seems fair they would eventually get together on screen.
8. MESSED WITH STEVE’S NEW LIFE
One of the strongest aspects of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was the way it emulated the strengths of writer Ed Brubaker’s legendary run on “Captain America.” As well as adapting Brubaker’s “Winter Soldier” story arc for the big screen — arguably streamlining the story and making it significantly more accessible — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” also disturbed Cap’s life a very significant ways. This takes a leaf out of the Brubaker playbook, a creator who seemed to delight in dredging up something from Cap’s past in World War II to mess up his life in the 21st century.
At the beginning of the film, Steve is somewhat comfortable in the 21st century and is beginning to get control over his new life. This sense of control soon vanishes when Bucky Barnes reappears as the Winter Soldier and Cap realizes that Hydra not only survived, it now controls S.H.I.E.L.D from the inside!
7. IT WAS CAP’S MOVIE
“Captain America: Civil War” felt more like an “Avengers” film than a Captain America flick. Sure, Cap got plenty of screen time, but so did Iron Man and with the impressive roster of other superheroes in the film it was really hard to think of “Captain America: Civil War” as Steve’s movie. If anything, it was a vehicle film, moving the Marvel Cinematic Universe into its next narrative phase.
Even though “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” introduced an array of important new characters — namely Sam Wilson, Sharon Carter and the Winter Soldier — it was still Cap’s movie. Sure, there were huge ramifications for the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the consequences that felt like they mattered most were the ones regarding Steve’s life and worldview. At its heart, “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is about Captain America and how he takes on his old nemesis — we are of course talking about Hydra — in the 21st century.
6. BLACK WIDOW
The relationship between Steve and Black Widow was one of the many highlights of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” A veteran of espionage and spy shenanigans in general, Natasha acted as Steve’s guide through the world of treachery and intrigue he found himself plunged into. Although they had differing philosophies on the role of S.H.I.E.L.D, Natasha and Steve made a good team and learned from each other during their time on the run. Over the course of the film, Natasha slowly starts to emulate Steve, and whether she likes it or not, begins to mimic some of his starker senses of morality and stronger moral fibre.
Cap and Widow’s time on the lam climaxes in an old S.H.I.E.L.D warehouse. After uncovering the truth — that Hydra hid itself within S.H.I.E.L.D — Steve risks his life to Save Natasha from a missile strike targeting the bunker. Despite all his lectures about morality and liberty throughout the film, the First Avenger is certainly not all talk and wastes no time grabbing Natasha as he dives out of the way of the blast.
5. SAM WILSON
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” introduced one of Cap’s quintessential allies: the Falcon. In the film, the Falcon — also known as Sam Wilson — is a United States Army veteran. Ditching some of the goofier aspects of the character — such as Sam’s ability to psychically communicate with birds — the Marvel Cinematic Universe Falcon is an ex-soldier who specializes in using a highly advanced flight suit called the “EXO-7 Falcon.”
Like Steve, Sam is displaced and still getting used to civilian life after leaving the army due to PTSD. To Sam, Cap is more than just a war hero and superhero; he is a kindred spirit. This is reflected in Sam and Steve’s relationship. Although Sam takes orders from Cap and blindly follows him into battle, this is a product of Sam’s trust in Steve and his judgement, rather than a result of hero worship. Indeed, Sam and Steve are equals; battle brothers ready to put their lives on the line for each other.
4. GOING DOWN
One scene in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” displayed Cap’s fighting chops and physical stamina like no other. We are of course referring to the elevator fight scene. After Steve refuses to give information handed to him by Nick Fury to the acting director of S.H.I.E.L.D — Alexander Pierce — he is confronted by a squad of goons in an elevator. Steve’s solitary elevator ride was rudely interrupted as more and more S.H.I.E.LD thugs piled into the elevator. In a stern voice, Steve utters the bad-ass line, “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”
What followed was a brutal, close-quarters fight scene that showed off Cap’s martial prowess. The scene also displayed Cap’s strength as he broke free from electro-magnetic handcuffs pinning him to the side of the elevator and endured an assault from a taser baton. In a film full of great fights and amazing action, this brawl inside the elevator stands out as one of the best.
3. BUCKY BARNES
We would be amiss to talk about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” without talking about the titular Winter Solider. The Winter Soldier was the perfect enemy for Steve. Like Cap, the Winter Soldier was a man out of time, he was an expert hand to hand combatant and he had superhuman strength thanks to his cybernetic arm. He also happened to be Steve’s best friend: James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes.
The return of Bucky Barnes as a villain — albeit a reluctant one — was a truly brutal way to bring Cap’s World War II sidekick to the 21st century and made for some emotional fights. It was heartbreaking to watch the two former friends on opposite sides and Steve was clearly torn at having to fight his oldest and dearest friend. In short, it was a real treat to see one of the best parts of Ed Brubker’s legendary “Captain America” run, brought to a second life (which is thematically appropriate) on the big screen.
2. HUGE CONSEQUENCES FOR THE MCU
Even though it was very much about Steve Rogers, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” had a colossal impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only did the film introduce the Winter Soldier to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a character who would play a major part in Steve and Iron Man’s relationship falling apart in “Captain America: Civil War” — it completely destroyed the status quo. The film was nothing short of a game-changer.
Up until “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” S.H.I.E.L.D had been under the direction of Nick Fury, and although its actions had sometimes been shady, the organization had always acted for the good of the free world. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” changed this completely when, for a good part of the film, S.H.I.E.L.D was actively hunting Captain America. The biggest change — the repercussions of which still echo across all of Marvel’s television and films — came in the form of Steve destroying S.H.I.E.L.D.
1. HAIL HYDRA
Who would have thought a simple whisper would change everything we thought we knew about S.H.I.E.L.D and the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe? The two fateful words — “Hail Hydra” — not only shocked viewers, it tore Steve’s world apart. In “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Cap almost dies trying to stop the Red Skull and Hydra. Although he ends up surviving and waking up almost 70 years in the future — all thanks to the super soldier serum running through his veins — he is forced to sacrifice his life in the world of the 1940s to defeat them.
The only thing is, it turns out he hadn’t. After the fall of the Red Skull and Germany’s crushing defeat in World War two, Hydra went underground and hid itself within the newly formed S.H.I.E.L.D. To make matters worse for Steve, not only had Hydra taken over S.H.I.E.L.D, they had taken over his best friend — turning Bucky Barnes into the ruthless Winter Soldier.
Do you think “The Winter Soldier” was the best Cap movie? If not, which one was? Let us know in the comments!