Sagas in Panels #9

Jeff Hargarten

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has broken April box office records, nearing the $100 million mark. Critics and fans alike have raved about the film, and with good reason.

Aside from just being a fun, extremely well-done movie filled with fan-service driven Easter Eggs, it’s probably the best Marvel film since “Avengers.” Its impact will be felt across its shared universe, raising the bar for future entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon and even dramatically diverting ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” off its beaten path.

Though Chris Evans told Variety he’s ready to hang up Cap’s shield after his multi-film contract is over, his earnest and convincing performance as a 95-year-old supersoldier Rip Van Winkle trying to find his way in a brave new world is the story’s heart. Instead of working as a science fiction film or a period piece war movie like “Captain America: The First Avenger” was, “Winter Soldier” is a political thriller and astutely tackles real-world contemporary issues like information overload, big data, surveillance by government spy agencies and preemptive covert war.

“Winter Soldier” is a story based on a Captain America story arc by Ed Brubaker (who gets a brief cameo in the movie, along with longtime Cap writer Stan Lee). I’ll try not to spoil the plot for anyone, but comic fans will find one of the film’s big reveals to be a no-brainer. Overall, the movie tells a story true to its comic book roots. The Winter Soldier character is very faithful in mannerism and appearance, as is nearly every other character weaving through this story. Yet, there are still some dramatic surprises in store for Marvel devotees.

While seeing “Captain America: The First Avengers” is recommended because it’s good, the story in this sequel smartly explains everything any newcomer would need to know in the first thirty minutes of the film.

Samuel L. Jackson has his biggest and best outing as Nick Fury, who besides just being a badass, proves himself a challenging ideological contrast for Captain America, whose idealism often clashes with Fury’s cold pragmatism.

Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow also has her most significant Marvel role yet, delivering a strong performance as a character who ultimately confronts the prospect of having her lifetime of moral ambiguity shared with the world.

The film introduces Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, Captain America’s longtime flying protégé from the comics. His involvement in the story is organic and the Wilson character gives Cap a reliable ally when there are few others he can trust.

For Cap, it’s a different time where enemies no longer march around in jack boots and swastikas and instead operate beneath the radar. This covert war allows Captain America to work with S.T.R.I.K.E., a counter-terrorism team from the comics, just one of many nods to possible stories to come in future MCU films. Cap even finds himself in the vicinity of Agent Brock Rumlow, the man who would become Crossbones,the assassin who killed Captain America in Marvel’s massive “Civil War” story arc.

Speaking of expiring contracts and character deaths, in the comics, Winter Soldier famously donned Cap’s star-spangled uniform and took up his shield following the assassination. This holds some promise for Captain America to continue his presence in the MCU long after Evans bows out.

Even though the film is absolutely fantastic for both fans and casual viewers alike and comes with a strong recommendation, it’s one of the two button scenes during the end credits that is perhaps the most exciting part, giving us a glimpse at what’s in store for “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which is filming right now and set to drop May 2015.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a fun summer popcorn movie with brains and brawn in equal measure — and it’s only April. That presents plenty of time for repeat viewings until “Guardians of the Galaxy” arrives in August.

Other entries in this series
Sagas in Panels #1: Best in the pages, on the screen
Sagas in Panels #2: Sorting the unified universes
Sagas in Panels #3: Understanding retcons, reboots, relaunches and multiverses
Sagas in Panels #4: Unveiling Guardians of the Galaxy
Sagas in Panels #5: Comparing digital comic subscriptions
Sagas in Panels #6: Touring the DCAU
Sagas in Panels #7: The Flash and other upcoming comic-based television
Sagas in Panels #8: Happy Anniversary Batman!