Long story short: The fight choreography soars past Avengers and Cap 2 has a darkness unlike any Marvel movie since Spider-Man 2.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier will remind you of: Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Star Wars, The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Identity
Review: Although we're still waiting for a Marvel film to top the technically-perfect Dark Knight, things keep getting better for the DC Comics rival and Hollywood behemoth. 2012's The Avengers is widely considered the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But not anymore. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has supplanted Joss Whedon's film as the new standard and it's done it by basically evolving what was accomplished in Avengers. The two films are inextricably linked.
Both Avengers and Winter Soldier are S.H.I.E.L.D. movies, centered around the futuristic spy agency. That means giant Helicarriers and Quinjets and CGI. And that's cool, that stuff looks great, but where the movies differ is on the ground. First of all, if you take Hulk out of The Avengers, I really don't think this is much of a question. But leave Hulk in. Where they differ is on the ground. Winter Soldier just kicks Avengers' ass in the hand to hand department. Plus, Cap's suit is wayyyy better.
Hong Kong fight masters like John Woo and Yuen Woo-ping would be down with The Winter Soldier. The action sequences are immersive and shot at every angle. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (Community, Arrested Development) show a deft hand filming the fight choreography and the result is a perfect combination of the old and the new. The Winter Soldier looks like The Avengers with meticulously constructed fight scenes like The Bourne Identity and District 13. But the action's elevated by the context. The fights are electrified by the superheroes, especially by Evans as Cap himself. He's insanely violent, punching a guy into a jet propeller in one scene and finally using that shield as a force of destruction.
That's how Cap 2 beats Avengers in my book. Both films are visually amazing, but The Winter Soldier feels more real. Punches leave marks. The film also has a sharp sense of humor about the violence. Cap is simply explosive and we're treated to a litany of uneven matchups that play like early Mike Tyson fights. Dudes get rocked by the Captain, blasted into walls, through them, through the wall behind the wall. It's real comic book stuff and Marvel freakazoids will cry it's so fantastic-looking and hilarious at the same time.
Honestly, we have The Avengers to thank. Winter Soldier resurrects the spirit of those fantastic Hulk punches from Whedon's film and updates it en masse with Cap in the Green Guy role. Loki doesn't get rag-dolled. The Avengers still has that. But pound for pound, Winter Soldier matches The Avengers comic book freak show violence and ups the ante by mixing in world class fight choreography when Cap meets his match, the Winter Soldier.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins with a light-hearted prologue that introduces Falcon (Anthony Mackie), though we don't see his wings until later. Then, the first Avenger is off on a mission with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) to the high seas. He bombs out of a S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjet and the camera follows the hero as he scales a ship and races around clubbing bad guys with video game proficiency. The sea rescue mission yields a flash drive that Romanoff tries to keep secret. Trust is a big thing for the Captain and right away he has his patience tested. Public Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn't help things by trying to get Cap onboard the spy agency's post insane-events-that-happened-in-Avengers plan: Project Insight. Utilizing satellites, S.H.I.E.L.D. has guns drawn on just about everyone on earth. Huge new Helicarriers have been outfitted with an insane amount of firepower and all of it makes Cap wary.
Soon, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised from within. Is it Fury? Or senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford)? Cap isn't sure, so he enlists the help of Black Widow and Falcon and sets out to decrypt what's on that flash drive. In the process, he's under constant attack. Most notably by the fabled Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a "ghost" of an assassin and a key piece in unraveling the mystery of who's behind the S.H.I.E.L.D. takeover. This guy is legit with a metal arm like Colossus and a kind of Undertaker thing going on. And Stan is possessed by the furies, growling though his performance as Cap's bizarro version. The hero is great; the villain is great; but this is far from a perfect film—just as Avengers was far from perfect.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's script starts out well and has a number of stellar comic exchanges, but struggles as it goes along. Like most of the Marvel films, Cap 2 can't give us an ending we haven't seen before. There's a certain level of formula you have to accept in these types of movies, even The Dark Knight isn't immune, but it's tough to sit through something so impressive only to be let down at the end. It's either a testament to how good the first two thirds are, or how bad the ending is. I lean towards the latter.
But the good far outweighs the bad in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It establishes a sense of peril around Cap so you're not just blindly cheering during a fixed fight. More than the other Marvel movies, it's an adult film. As in Spidey 2, the hero gets banged up a bit. The Avengers, for all its thrills, never really gets its hands dirty. The scope is so big, the action so huge, it's much more of a spectacle. The Winter Soldier has those kinds of sequences (Falcon's flight scenes are especially impressive) but the biggest moments hinge on a human element, not anything supernatural. You can believe in Cap because you can see the blood and sweat on him. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is next. The bar has been raised.