Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first sequel to the Captain America movie series and the third film in the Avengers Phase Two series.
Two years following the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) lives in Washington, D.C. and continues to train regularly. He introduces himself to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a war veteran and PTSD counselor. Wilson makes a suggestion to Rogers in terms of familiarizing himself with the culture he missed out on in the past 70 years before Rogers is called for a S.H.I.E.L.D. rescue mission by Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson). A small task force rescues a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship from Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) and a gang from Algerian pirates.
Following the conclusion of the mission, Captain America discovers that Black Widow was tasked with a different task; retrieving information from the ship’s computer system. Furious, he confronts S.H.I.E.L.D. directory Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury insists that compartmentalization is necessary to prevent important information from being leaked into the wrong hands. Fury then shows Rogers an almost-completed development, Project Insight. It consists of three helicarriers (upgraded from the model used in The Avengers) armed to the teeth with the intention of preemptively eliminating threats. Rogers questions the morality of it, eliminating people before crimes have actually been committed and how the project infringes on personal liberties in the name of international security. Fury has a rendezvous with Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) about pushing Project Insight with other important figureheads. Afterward, while organizing a meetup with Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Nick Fury is attacked by a large group of assailants disguised as police officers and The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a mysterious assassin responsible for a couple dozen high-profile assassinations. Fury barely manages to escape and informs Rogers that the amount of knowledge that the assailants had means that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised.
As with the other Marvel movies, a lot of the characterization has been established with previous movies. Several characters are reintroduced, including one Agent Sitwell (Maximilliano Hernandez), who first appeared in Thor and has made frequent appearances in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Other characters who were not expanded on were given further character moments, such as Black Widow. New characters, including Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and Alexander Pierce, allow for the expansion of S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives and an idea of just how big the organization is.
The overlying themes of the movie include withholding information from trusted people, re-acclimating to surroundings, and the argument of liberty over security. There are a few moments where Rogers has to come to terms that a lot has changed since he first became Captain America, from meeting an aged love interest to catching up with popular trends of various time periods.
Other characters face a similar problem. Sam Wilson is shown counseling a PTSD session for returning veterans while coming to terms with his wingman being killed in action during his tour.
As you could have figured out, the movie takes its name from the story arc and character The Winter Soldier. The arc was created by Ed Brubaker (who makes a cameo in the movie if you look close enough), but takes several liberties with the story. Given that the movie has to be separate from the comics they were based off of due to contemporary standards and proper pacing, it’s an acceptable change. Though the characters are kept pretty close to the source material.
Plot: 8/10 (Captain America and other members of S.H.I.E.L.D. investigate The Winter Soldier and the compromise of the secret organization)
Characters: 9/10 (Several have already been introduced, new characters are interesting and well-rooted)
Language: 8/10 (Nothing that would confuse the regular movie-goer)
Theme: 10/10 (Withholding information, returning to “normalcy,” liberty vs. security)
Music: 7/10 (Other than the action score, there are pieces of music that reflect Rogers’s original time period and music he needs to familiarize himself with)
Spectacle: 9/10 (Lots of fast moving moments and fantastical structures)
Star Power: 9/10 (Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson)
Who to watch with: 8/10 (Comic book fans of course, continuing from the popularity of the Marvel movies)
Post-movie thought: 8/10 (While the movies are part of a large scale universe, this one makes active attempts to keep it self contained in its own title, as well)
Source Material: 7/10 (Several liberties from the original story taken due to the nature of the film universe)