Sick of films from Marvel Studios? Think list articles are cliche? If your answer to either of those questions is ‘no,’ then there is a chance you will not hate this countdown of the best (and only) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
This film felt like a turning point for the MCU. The Avengers seemed to give the franchise a new lease on life after a series of financially successful yet artistically lifeless films. Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World seemingly put the franchise right back into that artistically lifeless state (all the while being financially more successful than their respective predecessors). The Winter Solider stopped the sudden return of bleeding and gave the MCU a much-needed kick in the ass.
SHIELD crumbles as everything about the institution is essentially proven to be a lie. Captain America, going through a quarter-life crisis in the face of this ugly world he woke up in, is excommunicated by the corrupt new head of SHIELD (did we mention Nick Fury gets “killed” in the first act of the film), and then he and Black Widow end up in a buddy-cop film where they need to bring down the newly-revealed, corrupted SHIELD organization. While The First Avenger suffered from being about a character with child-like understanding of right and wrong in a black/white time period (World War II), this film added some much-needed shades of grey into Cap’s corner of the MCU.
After building up Cap’s credibility as a man of integrity while he was confronted by Nick Fury’s overly weaponized/fear-inducing version of SHIELD, it didn’t matter as much that the final battle was largely a battle between the righteous agents of good and the misguided agents of evil (Hydra). The film added a wrinkle to that though by bringing back Bucky as the Winter Soldier that Cap has to confront at the very end of his journey.
The film borrows the best elements of 70s spy/conspiracy films and 2000s action films to put together the most-complete film in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe while featuring the best performances yet from the majority of the actors in the universe.
Chris Evans *is* Steve Rogers by this point, and he nails every scene. Scarlett Johannsen has the unenviable job of being the “jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none” role for the MCU, and she once again fits like a glove in yet another film. She always manages to add more layers to her character, and by the end of this one you’re left wondering why Black Widow isn’t the lead of her own film yet (or her own Netflix spy series). Robert Redford gives the film and his villainous character some credibility and weight that elevates everything about the film. Samuel L. Jackson finally gets more to do than just “EYEPATCH!” Anthony Mackie brings endless amounts of charisma and charm to Falcon, and he’s clearly capable of leading his own film sooner rather than later. We also get the usual great work from Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, Garry Shandling, and Cobie Smulders as they all continue to bring depth to the MCU. (Sebastian Stan appears to be the weak link in this corner of the universe at the moment, but he was at least not asked to do much besides look dangerous. He did that just fine.)
The worst aspect of the film: DEATH IS MEANINGLESS
They do the death fakeout with Nick Fury. It elevated the tension in the film and raised the stakes for the other characters. It forced Rogers, Widow, and the audience out of their comfort zone. Was it worth it to bring him back? I don’t think so to be perfectly honest. Samuel L. Jackson has not gotten much to do in the MCU yet, but he seems to be sleepwalking through most of his scenes. His character seems to be “EYE-PATCH!” and “Look kids, it’s Samuel L. Jackson!”
He stepped up a bit in Winter Soldier and showed flashes of a more interesting/dangerous side (try not to get goosebumps when he says, “Keep on steppin’). He just hasn’t been great as a political operative who has to make the hard sacrifices from time to time (which is theoretically what the Nick Fury character has been positioned to do so far). Perhaps Nick Fury will come to mean more in the MCU going forward, and Samuel L. Jackson will get better opportunities to showcase how menacing he can be. Unless such a time comes, I think this movie and the MCU would have benefited from Nick Fury staying dead.