Captain America: The Winter Soldier should probably have been subtitled something else. Maybe—
• A Study in Bomber Jackets
• While You Were Spying
• or Ladies Do It Better
It is directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, which doesn’t make any sense since the Russos usually direct a) comedies on b) television. Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier has less than 20 minutes of screen time, total, probably; although the one-armed assassin really is the reason everyone who matters looks so serious. (The people in the movie who don’t matter look serious for a bunch of other reasons and cleave all policy decisions into dichotomies — order/chaos; freedom/security; Robert Redford/Samuel L. Jackson. Ignore their frowns.)
For the first time since Joss Whedon’s Avengers, MCU returns to the concern of itself, and to the spying agency (S.H.I.E.L.D.) that is its fulcrum. This sequel is a reckoning of sorts, nothing like the resoundingly dull perpetual motion machines Thor 2 or Iron Man 3. As such, its politics are of central importance while also being totally impotent, approaching silliness. So much chatter about old/new world orders (mind the dichotomy) from characters who obviously don’t have any attachment to each other. Scarlett Johansson kind of cuts right through everything else. This is America! What would be the point of ruling? Natasha Romanoff’s success is the largest in the story.
I think The Winter Soldier is the best film in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe since The Avengers. It’s long but not slack, without quite achieving leanness; its moral simplicity is not staged simply. And it’s fun! Often visceral. In the field, Chris Evans’ Captain ping-pongs like a patriotic earthquake with a serious allergy to pan-national security apparati. His favorite weapon is a shield. The symbolism now tracks. Is this the death of technocratic neoconservatism? How weird is that? The post-credit tag introduces Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and both of them seem neat. This is how we talk about movies now.