Considering that The Winter Soldier is one of my all-time favourite Marvel movies I'm a little baffled that I've never reviewed it before, but here we go: it's brilliant. Honestly, Phase Two was a mediocre period in general for the MCU, but it had some real peaks. Iron Man 3, Age of Ultron, and Thor: The Dark World are all fairly meh compared to their respective series, but Winter Soldier knocked it right out of the park and – more importantly – proved that Marvel movies could break free of the superhero mould.
Instead, we were given a proper spy movie, something that would hold up if you splashed James Bond or Mission: Impossible on the front cover instead of Captain America. Yes, the ultimate plot thread is extremely Marvel: Hydra, helicarriers, time-travelling retcons of beloved characters, and ridiculous hero team-up action sequences. But it's the journey of how you get to the big finale that sets Winter Soldier apart. It's tight, it's tense, and it doesn't pull its punches. It has twists and turns and a whole lot of excellent, practical fighting choreography.
Right from the initial sequence where Cap goes full stealth-mode, you know this is going in a different direction. That's a hugely enjoyable evolution of his character and really cements how much he has grown since we last saw him. Plus, the whole set-piece is beautifully filmed and perfectly paced. From there, we get a genuine insight into S.H.I.E.L.D, specifically how it now copes existing in a world of gods and monsters.That we get more Fury, Hill, and Romanov as a result is just the icing on the cake, particularly as we see these characters crumble and have the rug swept out beneath them. The car chase with Fury is one of the best I've seen in a long time, the elevator fight is iconic, and there are just so many fun beats as Bucky gets reintroduced and we begin to build up Falcon as a character.
Most importantly, particularly for a Marvel movie, the villain here feels real, well thought through, and consistent. Hydra are a great concept and I love that we get to see some of the more extreme ideas, like Zola being a digitised computer in the heart of the original S.H.I.E.L.D HQ. There are loads of neat nods back to both the first Captain America film and the future revelations that we learn of in films to come; everything just fits together so neatly.
Of course, you can't talk Winter Soldier or S.H.I.E.L.D without mentioning the spinoffs, but for once in the MCU it feels somehow right that they aren't directly involved. Obviously over on Agents the tie-in with Winter Soldier was a huge, defining moment for the show and just jumpstarted its success from fun mediocrity to greatness, but we also get some nice nods to Agent Carter without it ever feeling like these side projects are being ignored. It was a brilliant moment of multi-threaded storytelling and a huge success that should always be remembered as part of the legacy of this movie.
In other words, Winter Soldier remains one of the best Marvel movies made to date and continues to be a fun, well-crafted entry that brought something a little more to the MCU.