Black Panther is a very, very close second, but no matter what, I still think Captain America: The Winter Soldier will be my favorite Marvel movie. There’s just something about the combination of small scale “friendship” vibes and conspiracy/political attacks that, when combined with Bucky Barnes’ emo ass, makes for such a unique addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hint: this whole review is going to just be me raving about Cap and Bucky.
The story goes… following the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) takes on various assignments for S.H.I.E.L.D. (founded by the only true Marvel hero, Peggy Carter, who we meet again here) along with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). That’s when Rogers discovers that Black Widow is carrying out a secret mission to retrieve computer data for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). As it turns out, that computer data is linked to the complete corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Hydra’s leader Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) within its ranks. His whole mission is to configure a bunch of Helicarriers to preemptively eliminate potential threats (the name Stephen Strange is brought up as an example - wink wink).
At the same time, a mysterious and dark assassin (the Winter Soldier, obvi) is out to whoop everyone’s ass - from Nick Fury to Black Widow to Captain America. One of my favorite fight scenes in all of the MCU is the highway fight that culminates with a really great knife fight and hand-to-hand combat between Winter Soldier and Cap. And that’s when it’s revealed that Winter Soldier is actually Bucky fucking BARNES (Sebastian fucking STAN), Steve’s uber bestie/boyfriend from The First Avenger! Ugh, my HEART! And what’s really great about this scene is that, just like in The First Avenger when Bucky inadvertently picks up Cap’s shield before he dies, Bucky is seen holding the shield once again before his identity is revealed. In fact, there are actually countless times that Bucky holds the shield here. These Marvel folks have been dropping Drax-sized turds of Captain America hints from the very beginning and they’re not joking, bitch! And this whole scene is that much more elevated with the perfectly crafted scratchy, scream-o score by Henry Jackman.
We learn that when Bucky Barnes first fell to his death in the first movie, he was abducted by Hydra who experimented on him (hence, his metal arm) and continually wiped his memory for DECADES to turn him into a killing machine. But when he vaguely recognizes Steve from the highway, my heart just shattered - his story is so tragic! Eventually, after some more fighting and world-saving, with the help of Anthony Mackie as Falcon, we meet the Winter Soldier again who’s out to kill Captain America.
That ending scene of them dueling it out on the burning helicarrier is SO GOOD. Steve helps Bucky out from a pillar and refuses to throw a punch at Bucky, who has no problem knocking Steve out. They’re both exhausted and hurt and that’s when the damn music starts to swell. Steve takes off his mask and DROPS HIS RARE VIBRANIUM-MADE SHIELD and says, “I’m not gonna fight you… you’re my friend.” Bucky’s memory is completely jogged and all over the place, and he aggressively tackles Steve, yelling “You’re my mission” (and again, for emphasis). And to that, Cap responds, “Then finish it, ‘cuz I’m with you ’til the end of the line.” Poor Bucky’s eyes get so big and watery as he comes to some sort of revelation but then the whole helicarrier explodes, just like my bleeding heart. Cap drops to the ocean, and in a theater of silence, we see Bucky rescue an unconscious Steve from the water before walking away.
What I love so much about The Winter Soldier is that, while it has all the same elements of action and fighting and things blowing up as the other Marvel movies, there is still such a strong emotional core that grounds the movie. It, along with Captain America: Civil War, is all hinged upon Steve and Bucky’s undying love for one another. While I'm sad that Chris Evans’ contract as Captain America will very soon be coming to a close, I’m that much more excited about the fact that Sebastian Stan’s contract is still holding strong, just like my love for Bucky. Who doesn't love a good anti-hero, and we all know Bucky’s going to be the next Cap anyway, RIGHT???