Ever since Marvel Studios smelled money in the water by in-sourcing its superhero universe with essentially unified storytelling, instead of farming it out to the highest bidder (other studios still control Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four), the genre has been a blockbuster of blockbusters: Franchises stacked upon each other, with occasional crossovers whether small (Nick Fury appearing briefly at the end of one movie) or extensive (2012’s The Avengers). There’s Iron Man 1-3, Thor 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk (just one, thank you), the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron and a planned Black Widow. But of all these, the one that stands apart has been Captain America.
First, with 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and now with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we get a superstud who exists in a kind of separate sphere. In First Avenger, it was literally a journey across time: Cap (Chris Evans) was a WWII hero, and it took some fancy maneuvering to deep-freeze him in 1945 and revive him 65 years later (muscles intact) to join the modern-day heroes. First Avenger looked nothing like the other films: It was muddy and sepia-tones, like old news reel footage, and the costumes were intentionally muted and old-school, as if derived from technology (and fabric) long past. It had grit and a John Wayne-esque moral center: Captain Steve Rogers is a Boy Scout — a terrible liar who truly stands for something better in ourselves. It was corny, but not cloying, and it worked.
It works again with The Winter Soldier which, despite some dubious choices of technique, may be one of the best of the Marvel movies to date … second only to The First Avenger.