Road To Infinity War: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a milestone of sorts within the Marvel catalog. Though The Avengers was an immense and thoroughly enjoyable achievement, not since the MCU’s inception with Iron Man had a film really shown what the superhero genre could truly achieve. The first Marvel directorial effort from Anthony and Joe Russo, previously known for directing television comedies, is a bravura combination of comic book & paranoid thriller. Not only does it take the already well drawn character of Steve Rogers to a whole new level, it packs in a relevant and welcome discussion of PTSD and veterans, witty buddy comedy style banter, incredible action set pieces, and one of the most underrated villains in the entirety of the MCU in Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce.

While Winter Soldier does deal with saving millions of lives and a giant conspiracy, it does feel smaller and more self-contained, something that usually bodes very well for MCU films. It feels deeply personal while also delivering some of the best action set pieces in the Marvel cannon. The elevator scene is one of the best fight sequences in any Marvel film. This is a movie that, without getting preachy or too obvious, asks what it means to be a true patriot, or in Cap’s case, a true soldier. He’s always been about doing what’s right, but in an increasingly gray and complicated world, it’s harder to know what right is. These are the kind of quandaries that make Captain America an infinitely more interesting character than fellow “all-American superhero” Superman.

It’s what makes a villain like Alexander Pierce possible. It’s fascinating to me that since 2014, Robert Redford’s villain has fallen out of the conversation. With the release of Black Panther and the discussion of its unforgettable villain, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, talk of the MCU’s greatest villains has brought up Loki and little else. But Pierce is a true 21st century bad guy. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Casting Redford is akin to casting Henry Fonda as Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West. We inherently trust The Sundance Kid. We don’t expect him to turn around and gun an innocent person down in cold blood.

The Russos’ film is one that delivers on all fronts, becoming the pinnacle of MCU achievement at that point in time. The film makes the world Cap exists in feel real and relevant to our own climate without needing to take things too dark or serious, attempting to ape the achievements made by Nolan in his Dark Knight Trilogy. It fits everything in within feeling overstuffed, overlong, or like it’s rushing from one thing to the next. And it’s currently the closest thing we have to a Black Widow film, in its perhaps unlikely, but wonderful pairing of Natasha and Steve. It is a remarkably well balanced, master class in tone management.

In retrospect Captain America: The Winter Soldier appears to be a turning point for Marvel, opening up a new spectrum of creative possibilities. With their main heroes introduced and the Avengers assembled they could turn their franchises in new and interesting directions. One of the greatest examples being their next film, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which not only expanded the MCU creatively but universally – literally bringing the MCU into the cosmos. Without the one two punch of Winter Soldier and Guardians Marvel could not have gone even further into the auteurist visions of Taika Waititi & Ryan Coogler. It’s hard to underestimate the contribution the Russo brothers have made to the MCU and the possibilities they opened up with Captain America: The Winter Sold