The second movie they were showing, and the one my coworker and I both actually wanted to see, was Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. You might recall I absolutely loved Captain America: The First Avenger, so I was hopeful for this, but had some reservations. The first movie was a period piece, Cap got to punch Nazis, so certain inherent advantages there. Would they be able to do well when they moved him to the present day?
Assume SPOILERS past this point. I don't know what would qualify for a movie that came out 2 months ago, so better safe than sorry.
As it turned out, I loved this one as well, maybe even more than the first movie. Which of course, only served to make Amazing Spider-Man 2 look worse in comparison. There was not one thing I thought that movie did better than The Winter Soldier, and that includes the credits. Spider-Man's credits were the standard, boring "white text scrolls against a black background". Captain America had all these nifty visuals - apparently drawn by David Mack - for each of the main characters. Here's a handy link to some of them. They were striking, they were cool, it was a nice way to wrap things up.
I think mostly I was worried we'd get some morally compromised Cap, but the movie went at that head on by showing how Cap wasn't really on board with how Fury and SHIELD were doing things. I liked how Fury tries to compare what he's doing to what Cap and the Howling Commandos did during World War 2, and Steve ain't buying that false equivalence. Captain America not agreeing with the idea of sacrificing your liberties for some amorphous and ill-defined sense of "security" felt on the nose.
With Amazing Spider-Man 2, there were these seemingly interminable stretches where nothing interesting happened. Winter Soldier wasn't having any of that. It's like the directors, writers, and cast recognized this was an action movie and audiences want to be entertained. Every few minutes something cool would happen, or there'd be a nice bit of dialogue. Here's Cap running around taking out pirates and getting to fight Batroc. Setting aside my disappointment of no "Zut alours!", after a few minutes spent showing Steve's discomfort with how SHIELD operates, Nick Fury's under attack and involved in a car chase. Then Fury gets shot and Cap has a brief pursuit of the mysterious shooter with a cyborg arm. Then Cap's fighting in an elevator and taking out one of those hoverjet things. And so on and so forth. They kept things jumping, and they switched it up. Added different elements or characters, changed the stakes, kept thins interesting.
I know it would have been too silly, but I kind of wish that during the elevator sequence a random technician had wandered in among the goons, completely oblivious. Then Cap has to fight and protect the tech, who perhaps helps at a key moment, or not, but is the only one left in the elevator with all the unconscious dudes when the doors open.
I thought when Steve entered his apartment and some nice music was playing, that Peggy had found a way to get off her sickbed and come to his place for that dance. Instead it was Nick Fury. Never been so disappointed to see Samuel L. Jackson. But Steve and Peggy's conversation prior to that was really touching.
The movie does that surprisingly well. I thought they did an excellent job with the scene where Steve learns the identity of the Winter Soldier. The way he's simply shocked into stillness, but the Soldier keeps trying to kill him, only to be deflected by first the Falcon, and then the Black Widow. And Steve's still just standing there. The way he's so stunned he's oblivious to these people having to risk their necks to save his - the sort of thing that normally sets him springing into action - says a lot. It could have been silly, but I thought it worked well. Chris Evans sold it, Sebastian Stan sold it by not reacting initially. Oh yeah, the fights between those two guys were really good. I know a lot of that was probably stunt guys, and they also did an excellent job. The film mostly avoided the herky-jerky camera stuff, so the action was easy to follow, which is something I require from my action movies. Let me see what's happening, let me be impressed by your fight choreography.
The whole cast did a good job. Redford may have been wasted a bit, because the moment his character showed up, defending Fury, buddying up to all the good guys, he might as well have sprouted a Snidely Whiplash mustache and tried tying Natasha to a railroad (note I said "tried"). Anthony Mackie was an outstanding Sam Wilson. He's trying to help other people adjust, and in the process help himself a bit, but when the help required is a little more physical, he doesn't hesitate. Like Steve, Sam has a strong sense of right and wrong, and he'll follow it. I'm curious if we'll see them disagree on things in future movies, and how that'll be presented. They did a little bit here, with regards to whether the Winter Soldier could be saved or not, but since that was something for Steve to deal with alone, it doesn't really produce much difference of opinion.
Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow got to have a nifty arc. In Avengers, she wanted to stay in the shadows, where she'd always worked, didn't necessarily want to get mixed up in this public stuff. But I think she sees the advantages of being more public. It's easier to see who you're helping, easier to tell if you're doing the right thing, compared to carrying out secret missions for Nick Fury where you ignore the hostages to secure "vital" information. By the end, she's the public face of the whole thing about SHIELD. She's the one facing a bunch of blowhard politicians, while Steve and Sam prepare to hunt down and HYDRA, and Fury does whatever he was planning to do. It takes a lot of guts on her part, because she's the one with all the aliases, the one who ran a lot of missions that ruined other people's plans, that took the lives of people close to them. Now they know precisely who to blame, and she stepped onto the bullseye willingly.
Beyond that, I enjoy how she and Evans interact. Natasha respects Steve, but she's also pretty amused by him. He clearly has no idea how to do the espionage stuff - witness the sequences in the mall where he keeps getting ready to fight, and she keeps managing perfectly simple ways to avoid that - and she doesn't mind teasing him about it. Because she knows he won't be hurt or offended. If she tried it with Stark, he'd turn it into a pissing contest as a matter of ego, and that would get exhausting, but Steve goes along with it.
One last thing: I notice Captain America really likes jumping off high things. Elevators, helicarriers, airplanes, if it's high enough in the air, Steve Rogers wants to jump off it. I wonder if that's him reveling in the ability to do that, after all those years as a sickly youth? Or does he keep thinking he could have just wedged the shield in the cockpit to make that plane crash at the end of the first movie and jumped out, sparing himself 70 years in ice, and he's making up for missed opportunities?