Captain America: The Winter Soldier helped change the MCU forever, both on screen and behind the scenes. The result of which would lead directly into this weekend’s Avengers: Endgame.
The MCU would not be what it is today without the team of directors Anthony & Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. The four of them crafted Captain America: The Winter Soldier and would go on to make Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. Each one redefining nearly every aspect of the MCU as we know it. The changes began in Winter Soldier, with the earthshaking revelation that SHIELD was really being run by HYDRA for years.
It’s easy to look at the HYDRA reveal as just a major shift for the MCU, because it is that. But it’s also a major development for Captain America. SHIELD is the one thing he could hold on to from his life before the capsicle years. It was the foundation he had to keep going. SHIELD was home for Steve, especially given that it was started by Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, two of his most trusted allies during World War 2. To have him come out of the ice, start adjusting to the world, and finally begin to feel comfortable, only for the rug to be pulled out from under him, is major. It’s something you can’t come back from, and it’s something that puts Steve in a corner and says, where do you go now?
The good thing is, the film gives Steve someplace to turn in the Winter Soldier, aka Bucky. Yes, he has Black Widow, Nick Fury, and now Sam Wilson. But Bucky was his best friend. Bucky knew who he was before he was frozen for 70 years, and now Bucky is in the same spot Steve is. A man out of time, with super human strength. Steve can grow close to the rest of the Avengers. He can find a sister in Natasha, and a brother in Sam. But there will always be a connection that no one else can replace in Bucky. Giving him the hope for a better life in Bucky, changes everything for him and gives him even more reason to keep going.
But what makes Steve truly great is the fact that he’s willing to risk his life to stop Hydra once again, even if it means he doesn’t get to reconnect with Bucky. When he tells all of SHIELD that he’s willing to die to take down HYDRA, he means it. To be honest, if he had died, it would have made sense and it would have been deserved. Steve already sacrificed himself to try to take down HYDRA once, and he wasn’t successful. If he did go down with the three Helicarriers, it would have completed an arch that began with The First Avenger.
But, when the Helicarriers do begin to fall, Steve doesn’t stay to take down HYDRA. He doesn’t stay because he has a death wish. He stays because, unlike First Avenger, he has a chance to save his life beyond the role of a soldier. He can stay aboard that ship and save Bucky, giving him one last chance to connect to the world he lost. It’s an interesting parallel to the first Captain America film, and one that evolves one of our Marvel heroes more than any other sequel thus far.
That’s one of the things that truly makes Winter Soldier stand out. Before it’s release, we had been given Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World. All films that hypothetically should expand the stories of these heroes, but rarely do. Winter Soldier expands every character involved, Steve, Natasha, Fury, and in doing so makes almost all of the MCU stronger. The good thing is, Marvel seemed to take this success and run with it. The bad thing is, we would have to wait a while for Cap to take any major leaps.