Weeks after seeing it twice, I find myself still thinking about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not just because of how its events will change future Marvel movies and TV shows, but also because its writing is so rock-solid. I’ve examined it from multiple angles, like a tourist circling a free-standing work of art in a museum, and while it’s not completely flawless, it’s so good that other comic book movie franchises that will remain nameless should be ashamed of themselves.
One thing that Marvel movies do with surprising adroitness and consistency is deliver characters with depth, nuance, and multiple dimensions. No single member of the Avengers cast feels flat or one-note. The only character who comes close to falling into that trap is Thor, and yet despite his Asgardian gravitas and hyperbole, there’s quite a bit to him. He loves his brother (even if he is adopted), he still revels in fighting, and he has a great deal of compassion for someone who’s primary means of interaction is hitting stuff with a magic hammer. This is even more evident in Thor: The Dark World, where he and Loki are the real highlights of the film and demonstrate that they have both grown as characters. But that’s a horse I’ve ridden before.
Getting back to Cap, I’ve written at length about the character before, and Winter Soldier delivers on a lot of the character’s promise. He is a man out of time, and out of his element, without a concrete villain to fight and ultimately betrayed by those he trusted. While he is learning and adapting to modern life, he is also holding onto his principles and his world-view, which he may personally admit is old-fashioned and even a little hokey. Yet those things are him, part of who he is, and part of what make his character so compelling.
Even more interesting is the character of Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow. Here is someone used to keeping people at arm’s length, lest she add more red to her ledger. We’ve seen her work undercover and in conjunction with a team of super-heroes, but Winter Soldier expands greatly on the other dimensions of her character. We see her expertise in action. We come to understand just how far ahead of the curve she operates. She’s a character who thinks on her feet, takes action in spite of her fear, and gets caught off-guard when people genuinely trust her. The fact that Scarlett Johansson pulls this off through facial expressions and posture as much as she does with dialog and action is just icing on the cake.
Marvel has always had a strong emphasis on interesting characters who are just as much human as they are super-human. Their Cinematic Universe is no different. With Agents of SHIELD going strong, and Guardians of the Galaxy coming this summer, I expect this trend to continue. It’s a very, very good time to be a fan. It’s also quite satisfying to tell people, when asked about good character-building and dialog, to say “You know that movie about the guy wearing the American flag who tosses a shield around? Yeah, watch that, and you’ll see what I mean.”