Captain America: The Winter Soldier (PG-13)
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This is the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, and the third movie in Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the ninth movie overall). It came out on April 4, 2014, but I didn't see it until December 31 of that year. I wanted to be sure I saw it before the TV series "Agent Carter," which starts January 6, 2015. Not that seeing the movie is a prerequisite for that, since the series is set in the past and the movie in the present. In fact, it would be more important to rewatch the first Captain America movie before the series. This movie's events have a greater impact on the TV series Agents of SHIELD (for the last 6 episodes of season 1, and all of season 2). Yeah, it definitely would have been nice to see this movie before the impact it had on that series began, but that wasn't an option for me, so... seeing the series first kind of spoiled a major plot twist in this movie. However, it's not like it's a twist that happens at the end of the movie, but rather a major plot point that I can't really describe the movie without divulging. I don't really think it constitutes a spoiler, because if it was, then all I could say is "This movie is about Captain America fighting bad guys," and make that pretty much my whole review. Which would be stupid.
So. As you know, the first Captain America takes place mostly in the 1940s, but at the end, Cap is frozen, and then reawakened in the present. The next time we see him is in the movie The Avengers, but this is the first direct sequel to Cap's previous movie. He's still having a bit of trouble adapting to the present, but he's doing his best to continue working for S.H.I.E.L.D. However, he has some disagreements with the organization's director, Nick Fury. One of these disagreements involves Fury assigning him to lead a S.T.R.I.K.E. team which includes Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) on a mission to rescue hostages on one of SHIELD's ships, which had been taken over by international pirates. The problem is that Fury had given Black Widow a secondary mission, which he didn't tell Captain America about. Another issue he has is that SHIELD is preparing to launch three Helicarriers, which would link with spy satellites in order to stop various acts of, you know, war or terrorism or whatever, before they happen. That's not Cap's idea of freedom. But Fury says he can't make choices based on how he wants the world to be, but rather based on how it is. (This is an argument on which I sympathize with both sides, and I can't help thinking it applies to various other subjects... but I won't get into that.)
Anyway, something happens which makes Fury suspicious that SHIELD may have been infiltrated by enemies, and he wants to delay the launch of the Helicarriers while investigating the matter. He asks his old friend Alexander Pierce (played by Robert Redford!), who I guess is the chairman of the committee (World Security Council) that oversees SHIELD, to convince them that the delay is necessary. Meanwhile, Fury doesn't get a chance to investigate, because he's attacked by a bunch of people who are driving police cars (but probably aren't really police). He barely manages to evade them, after a badass chase scene. Then he's stopped by the mysterious "Winter Soldier" (though we don't hear that name until a bit later, we can assume from the movie's title that that's who he is). Still Fury manages to escape, even though he's badly injured. He later shows up at Cap's apartment, and tells him that SHIELD has been compromised, and that he should trust no one. Before he can say any more, he's shot, and rushed to a hospital, while Cap pursues the shooter... who manages to get away. Fury apparently dies on the operating table, but that's something I would have doubted even if I hadn't already seen him show up on the TV show when he was supposed to be dead. (Later in the film, Cap and a few others learn that Fury is alive, but most of the world continues to believe he's dead.)
Cap gets some help from Black Widow in investigating Fury's murder, and she's the one who knew that the shooter must be the Winter Soldier, whom she'd faced on a previous mission. He's a legendary assassin who's been rumored to be playing an important behind the scenes role in world events for like fifty years, but most people who've heard of him don't believe he really exists, I guess. But before Cap and Romanoff can get far in their investigation, they're betrayed by the STRIKE team, and have to go on the run. It seems that SHIELD really has been compromised, but their investigation into that leads to a shocking revelation (I mean, shocking if you haven't already seen the TV show). HYDRA, the evil organization Cap had apparently ended during World War II, in the first movie, had rebuilt itself, hidden within SHIELD. And now it's unclear how many of SHIELD's agents are actually HYDRA sleeper agents, but it seems the problem is way more pervasive than Fury himself could have possibly guessed. And even those agents who aren't HYDRA are being lied to, and made to believe Captain America and Romanoff are enemies.
So... they have to expose the truth, as well as stopping the launch of the Helicarriers. (It's kind of ironic that HYDRA basically wants to use them for the same reason SHIELD did. Clearly HYRDA is more sinister, and their way of controlling the world would make people a lot less free than what Cap had been worried about earlier, but still... the parallel is kind of chilling.) Anyway, the two of them get some help from a friend of Cap's named Sam Wilson, a former member of the Air Force, who turns out to be more than he seemed. He has a cool "wingpack" which he can use to fly, and he's known by the codename Falcon. (Though I'm not sure why he still has access to that tech, after quitting the Air Force, but whatevs.) Um... we also learn that the Winter Soldier is actually Bucky Barnes, Cap's best friend and fellow soldier from the 40s, though Bucky hasn't aged, and has no memory of Cap or his own true identity. And we learn how that's possible. (The not aging part apparently involves cryonic suspension, which I suspect is where the "winter" part of his name comes from.) Anyway, Cap doesn't want to fight his old friend, but he kind of has no choice, if he wants to save the world.
And of course he and his allies do manage to stop HYDRA, but it means exposing all of SHIELD's secrets to the world. So, as I've already seen in the TV show, there basically is no more SHIELD, and the public (and government) will see all former SHIELD agents as potential enemies. In spite of SHIELD sacrificing its very existence to stop HYDRA, it seems not all HYDRA secrets have been uncovered, so there's still a lot more work to do, to stop all their other plans. But first, Cap and Falcon have a more personal mission, which I suppose we'll see in the next Captain America movie. Also there's a mid-credits bonus scene and a post-credits bonus scene.
I have left out some details (and some important secondary characters), but I fear I've given away far too much about the plot. Of course, it's a fun movie, with great action, some humor, personal drama, and moral dilemmas (which relate to real world issues). And Black Widow remains one of the coolest characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I'm not sure what else to say.