*. In years to come, if we’re still talking about the reign of the Marvel franchise over the film industry in the first decades of the twenty-first century, we may have to take seriously the various “phases” of the MCU. And if we do, I suppose we’d locate the high point of their creative achievement as being somewhere in the middle of Phases Two and Three. Here were the handful of movies I found to be the best, including Ant-Man, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Captain America: Civil War. I am excluding the two-part phase finale of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame because I thought those two were overripe disasters, but that’s another story.
*. The Winter Soldier is the first instalment in a two-part storyline that would be concluded in Civil War. Unfortunately, this saddles it with doing a fair bit of set-up work. I can’t say this was particularly interesting, but I did appreciate the way the story stayed somewhat on the ground. The directing team of the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo wanted an homage to 1970s political thrillers, and while this is depressing to contemplate (the road from The Parallax View and Three Days of Condor led to this?) it still made for something better than the usual MarvelCrap.
*. One big plus is the way the plot focuses on just a couple of bad guys who are at least semi-human (that is, not aliens or gods). Robert Redford feels too old for this shit, and I didn’t think he brought anything to the role, but Sebastian Stan is solid as the brooding killing machine. Given that he’s a zombie he doesn’t have to act much, but he looks the part.
*. Seeing as Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the ultimate straight arrow, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is placed in the position of providing most of the comic banter. This felt unusual, but it worked. Also lightening things up somewhat is Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Samuel L. Jackson as the irascible Nick Fury.
*. There’s nothing new here, but it’s all well done. There’s a smash-’em-up car chase that I thought was really good. Cap’s vintage leathers still score style points. Otherwise the Marvel men walk around in tight t-shirts to show that none of them miss biceps day. The climax has giant flying aircraft carriers blasting away at one another and crashing into the Potomac.
*. For straight-up superhero action, The Winter Soldier is perfectly fine. Marvel fans got what they wanted and the rest of the audience at least weren’t bored. If I had to knock it for anything it would be for the sheer silliness of Hydra and the fact that the film is basically just a placeholder. But even so it grades out as slightly above average from this studio.