It's no secret that I positively adore the way Marvel Studios has crafted their Cinematic Universe. And the acquisition by Disney has, in my opinion, only expanded their ability to tell brilliant stories. Even the integration of Agents of SHIELD on television has been fantastic (despite a bunch of bellyaching from entitled fanboys, but I ignore that. Agents of SHIELD is awesome and anyone who says otherwise is selling something).
I managed to stay spoiler free for this movie for the most part (and here is where you should look away if you still haven't seen the movie)... ... (spoiler buffer)...
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I knew that the Winter Soldier was Steve Rogers' childhood friend, Bucky Barnes because the fans of the comics pointed that out in the lead-up to the movie. And that's about where my knowledge ended. But I was NOT prepared for the onslaught of new information this movie presented.
First off - I have to talk a little bit about some misleading information in the trailer. It's obvious from the trailer that Robert Redford is the villain of this piece (and I'm glad that he was because I'm not a fan of the guy on principle and it would have made my skin crawl to actually have to cheer for him in a Marvel film), but it was starting to look like Nick Fury was even at odds against Captain America. And I am very glad that did not turn to be the case. But what did turn out to be the case - holy cow! Let's just start from the top -
I love that we get to see Steve more or less integrated into modern life, but still working out a few things (all this time and he still hasn't see Star Wars??) He meets a war veteran by name of Sam Wilson while he's out on a run in the park and the rest of us think "Yup - second tier Avenger, right here!" Now, Steve's still the same nice guy that we all know and love - but he's also a SHIELD... not agent, exactly. More like a highly-skilled operative. Steve learns that SHIELD has been developing an arsenal of helicarriers (that Tony Stark advised on a bit, apparently) that will enable SHIELD to take out baddies before they do anything at all - this project is known as Insight. The theory of the idea sounds okay on the surface, but in practice it doesn't sound real great to Steve. He realizes that he doesn't like being just a pawn in Nick Fury's chess game - and things really have changed from the world that Steve knew before he because a super soldier. Against this backdrop, Steve visits his old flame from the WWII pre-SHIELD, Peggy Carter, who looks to be suffering from some type of dementia or Alzheimer's (nope, you didn't hit nothing important - just my feels), and then he takes a trip to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian, which results in even more feels. If ever there was a fish out of water, it's Steve Rogers.
Meanwhile, back at SHIELD, Nick Fury is having a hard time accessing a super-high-tech flash drive and it's bugging the crap out of him, so he asks a buddy of his, played by a very crusty Robert Redford, to delay Project Insight. Long story short - a bunch of thugs attack Fury and he dies. But not before he gives Steve the super-high-tech flash drive and tells Steve not to trust anyone at SHIELD because they've been compromised. During this, Steve encounters a mysterious assassin that all the trailers and posters have told us is the Winter Soldier.
When Steve refuses to tell SHIELD the details of Fury's death, SHIELD operatives try to capture Steve and he ends up on the run along with Natasha Romanoff. Along their merry adventures, they discover that Hydra (remember the Red Skull and the Nazis in Captain America: The First Avenger?) has been manipulating SHIELD into creating Project Insight for them and that the world is a lot more complicated than anyone initially thought. They've kept Toby Jones's (of all people) brain downloaded on ancient data tapes locked away in a basement that can only be accessed by the super-high-tech flash drive. Basically, Hydra's gone underground in their quest for world domination. And the Winter Soldier is a key component of that manipulation, assassinating people who get in the way of Hydra's plans (including, it is inferred, Howard and Maria Stark - from a headline clear in the heck from the first Iron Man movie. Never let it be said that Marvel doesn't know its own story). The way Hydra intends to continue their domination is by spying on everybody - knowing everything about their lives and using that information to predict how they will act, so they can take out anyone who might be thinking of rising against them. Which immediately reminded me of this:
(Harold Finch is one of the Avengers and no one can convince me otherwise).
Oh, and by the way, Steve finally finds out that the Winter Soldier is his old pal Bucky that he thought was dead. And Hydra's been doing some nasty experimentation on Bucky since he was captured in 1944. Bucky doesn't remember Steve - the poor guy doesn't even remember his own name!
This whole story is so heartwrenching from beginning to end. I knew Marvel was going for the emotional twists in Phase 2 and I'm really glad they are - but man, I almost can't take it! I mean, our heroes win (more or less), but SHIELD is in shambles and Nick Fury's on the run (oh, he's really not dead. Even when he "died," I kept waiting for him to come out of the shadows and have a plan. Which he did - but not necessarily the plan I wanted). The way it ended - I wonder if the characters from Agents of SHIELD are going to make a movie appearance at some point. Because the Hydra goonies are still out there (at least one of them is - that guy who was fighting Sam Wilson at the end. Oh yeah - Sam is actually the Falcon, by virtue of these super-cool mechanical wings that he was trained to fly with in the war. Which is about the coolest damn thing ever!) and nobody trusts SHIELD and Natasha's cover is blown to pieces (wait a minute! Where the crap was Hawkeye in all of this??) - they need to rebuild SHIELD somehow. And the players are there, if they want to bring in Agents of SHIELD. Which, I think they will. And the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron will probably bring that into play.
(Calling it now - Agent May from AoS is a Hydra operative. Guess I'll see tomorrow night).
Some more about Bucky (oh my poor, poor heart - the post-credits scene in the Smithsonian...) I loved Bucky in Captain America and I was mad that he died in that movie. But, this being the comics, no one ever stays dead. Honestly, I think Bucky has the potential to be a character like Loki - someone who you should hate, but you can't for Reasons. Where the Reasons for not hating Loki is that he's a charismatic bastard, Bucky's Reasons are going to be that he's got a lot of backstory to tell and a lot of material to work with. There is a lot they could do with him, which is unusual to happen with a Marvel villain (at least, up to this point in the movies). Mostly, they've just dispatched the bad guys and gone on to the next plotline, but they've left Bucky's ending hanging, which intrigues me endlessly (maybe he'll get his own movie at some point - who knows? Hell, there have been rumors of a Loki movie, so why not?)
Loved this movie, loved how intense it was (there were points that I thought Steve was done for), loved how it's integrated elements from other Marvel movies (even that douchebag senator from Iron Man 2 was a Hydra guy! I thought we were done with his crap) - this is Marvel at it's uttermost best and I'm glad that I wasn't spoiled for the twists and turns. I love how complex this universe is getting and just how good the stories are. These may have started out as action-y popcorn flicks, but there is some meaty storytelling going on here, and as long as they keep giving me that, I will keep spending money to see these films.