Let me start by saying Captain America: The First Avenger sucks. I didn't like it. I don't know why; it seemed like it had heart, but I just loathe it. I was not sold on the character of Captain America, though I do like Chris Evans in the role. Marvel's Avengers brought Cap back, and though I thought he was solid in it and brought team unity, he was nowhere as exciting as Iron Man and Hulk. Here comes Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it didn't look like Captain America 2, it looked like SHIELD: The Captain America Story. This concerned me. SHIELD was the least exciting thing about Avengers, they have a show on ABC that I don't watch, and I just didn't care to see them yet again so prominently. Well, I'll say again, I did not enjoy the first Captain America. As it turns out, that was not same for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Honestly, it didn't even come close.
Winter Soldier follows the life and times of Captain America/Steve Rogers, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Nick Fury/Nick Fury, and ya boy SHIELD after the attack on New York. Steve is doing fine, Natasha is doing fine, Nick is doing fine, and SHIELD is kicking tail better than ever. Steve has also made a new friend - Sam Wilson aka Falcon. After a mission on an oil tanker (like Captain Phillips with high tech weapons), it is revealed that SHIELD has been compromised. Steve and Natasha get framed and have to go on the run. When they figure out who is really controlling SHIELD and what their plans are, Steve, Natasha, Sam, and a couple other "trustworthies" must try to stop them. Oh, and there's also another small obstacle getting in their way - Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier. Bucky is a longtime friend of Steve, but parishes in the first Captain America. When Steve was recovered by SHIELD, it turns out Bucky was recovered by another significant group of people. He's been brainwashed and altered, and the only thing that goes through his brain is "kill my target". Steve and Bucky run into each other, and not in a normal way, and what follows is great characterization and stylized knife fights.
I loved most aspects of Winter Soldier, so I'll start by saying the few things I didn't. The early parts of the movie, even though it does a good job at establishing characters, is still pretty slow. The first action sequence on the ship felt like a low-rent episode of 24. The Falcon didn't add much to the movie. This bothered me the most, considering I was really anticipating him. It was good to finally see another super-suited minority hero in the MCU (after War Machine/Rhodey), but he was severely underused. I liked Sam; he was funny and he fit in well with the already established team, but honestly if you cut out all of his scenes, it wouldn't have changed the movie one bit. It felt like once he would get in, he would get right back out. His screen time just flew by (pun intended). Bucky as Winter Soldier provided plenty of outstanding action, but a little more Bucky as Bucky would've been nice as well.
There was also a lack of danger at times. I had this problem with Avengers too. The characters were hit with the elements: explosions, bullets, falls, punches, and even electrocution, but for the most part, they seemed to walk away unscathed. This makes what they're trying to accomplish feel too easy, especially for Black Widow. Yes shes the best at what she does, but will she ever get a noticeable cut? Falling off your bike in the park does more damage than hurdling through a window? Also, Steve and Natasha were confronted with a flash drive with precious data that they needed to extract. Like most movies, they got through the complex computer security, extracted the complex data, and found where they needed to go pretty easily. Can this plot point ever become a challenge? Also the score was forgettable, considering I've already forgotten it. The last problem I had was that damn shaky cam. It was headache by the first 15 minutes. It became less noticeable as the film went on, but I still wish it wasn't included at all.
These sound like major complaints that would put the film in the C-range, but it's not like that. My overall feeling on Winter Soldier was that it was well executed. For someone that thinks the first movie is complete doo doo, they really made it easy to enjoy this one. Winter Soldier had a lot more wit than I thought it would, with all the major characters contributing. And speaking of characters, other than than Falcon, they all have great development, especially Steve. Every new complex thing tossed at him brings out a new dimension in his character. The chemistry between the characters, Falcon included, was also very strong. The action scenes and combat were well executed, and you could feel the drama during the fights, giving the action another dimension. The acting was great - Chris Evans is Captain America, the story was coherent, and the effects for the most part looked top notch. Winter Soldier was a lot more enjoyable than Iron Man 3 and Thor 2, which is ironic considering of phase one, First Avenger was the only one I didn't like. Winter Soldier has also done the best job in establishing a base and creating anticipation for Avengers 2. The filmmakers wanted to deliver, and they did, shattering my mid-range expectations. It's hard to call this one out and fault it after being such a big improvement. Here's hoping Captain America 3 is...well you already know - Winter Soldier 2 and not First Avenger 2.