My usual caveats: 'ware spoilers, but especially for this post. There are some big ones.
Okay. I have to say it: it was better than Avengers. Now, before you rise up as one to murder me, hear me out: Avengers was an excellent ensemble film. If there is one thing Joss Whedon is good at, it's juggling a large cast while still giving everyone their moment. Unless you make a seven-hour movie, however, there is no way to get into the same character detail that you can achieve while focusing on one protagonist. Cap 2 is a pure and total love song to Steve Rogers, and it nails it. I'm kind of leaning towards dividing the world into two types of people: those who love Steve and those who don't. It's not good for you if you're one of the ones who don't. This Steve is very different from the Steve of the Avengers and, IMO, better for it. Not a slam against Joss, as the deleted scenes of the Avengers make it clear that it was presenting a Steve still reeling and depressed, while Cap 2 is Steve starting to recover and become himself again. And that Steve is a snarky bastard. I have to laugh every time Steve is reduced to the perfect, obedient soldier, because hell no. Steve Rogers is a horrible soldier. I don't think he's followed a single order across all three of his film appearances. Steve Rogers does what Steve Rogers thinks is right, and he gets away with it because he's such a genuinely good man while he sasses you the entire way. The Winter Soldier is a movie about identity and trust, about the dangers of becoming so embedded in your own worldview that you don't realize when the rot has infiltrated. (And a complete damnation of NSA tactics and the modern trend of constant observation, which was fantastic.) No other Marvel hero than Steve could have pulled that off. He's the only one who could ask people to choose between freedom and fear and not have it play as unbelievably corny. Old-fashioned values, indeed. I cannot wait for the shake-up that this movie is going to deliver when it comes to Avengers 2.
And now that I've made a completely ridiculous fangirl of myself over Steve Rogers (which is admittedly not new), can we talk about Natasha? And I can I bitch and moan yet again that we're getting Ant Man and a goddamned talking raccoon before we get a Black Widow movie? Natasha isn't quite into the love-her-or-you're-wrong territory with me that Steve is, but only because the Red Room hasn't quite become canon as far as the MCU is concerned. I don't think it's been entirely ruled out yet, because Natasha is freaking my age and yet somehow worked for the KGB (do you have gaps that you can't explain, Nat?) and Scarlett took on a lot of in-character cagey facial expressions. Until that's canon, I get that you might not have my sad little redemptionista tendencies and can't forget that she's a scary person used to doing Very Bad Things. Which is a little bit why I love her, but okay. We just need our freaking Black Widow movie all ready (if you think I'm ever letting that go, you are adorable) to bring in the Red Room backstory. Then she will join my unapologetic Steve Rogers territory. And when we get the Black Widow movie, we also get...
...another way for Sebastian Stan to fulfill his nine-movie contract with Marvel by continuing to break my freaking heart. I've had a soft spot for Bucky Barnes ever since my Marvel conversion of a few years back; if you asked me to choose between him, Steve, and Natasha, my response would probably be to fall to the floor and cry until I died of dehydration and it didn't matter any longer. This movie nailed him. Sebastian Stan was actually the first casting choice that didn't cause me to tilt my head a little where Marvel is concerned--I really need to stop doing that--since RDJ as Tony Stark. He was amazing. Maybe ten lines in the whole movie, but watch his eyes. And if you don't have a moment at "But I knew him" then maybe you're in the don't-like-Steve-Rogers box with me.
When the Black Widow movie happens (YouTube a good RickRoll, and you're welcome for the ear worm), I hope it has a healthy helping of Fury and Natasha interacting with each other, as their warmth towards each other was tremendously enjoyable. You sort of got the sense that, behind the scenes since Natasha's conversion to SHEILD, they developed an almost paternal relationship in the most unlikely way possible. I hope the inevitable BW movie (TALKING RACCOON, MARVEL) also features Sam Wilson, as I was enthusiastically won over to Falcon as his MCU incarnation after really just not liking him very much in the comics. I loved that he, like Steve, was just a good man with no caveats to that. Marvel has proven themselves to be masters of working the "good is not boring/dumb" philosophy. Not to mention how much I loved that the All American Hero team featured two women (Maria Hill is back, competence kink in full force as always) and two black guys. Marvel superhero movies aren't perfect on representation, but they honestly try, and they furthermore try without expecting head-pats for it. I really do appreciate that.
Aaaand I've exposed all of you to enough of my fangirl lunacy for one day. I'm much more about character than I am about clever plot twists, but the movie works a sense of a good 1970s spy thriller while maintaining the Marvel tone. Watch it. Watch it more than once. I'm going to give you all a little bit of a breather from the geek-gasm I just dumped all over you, but only because I want to think about the MCU vs. comics interpretations of Falcon some more and then come back to 'gasm again about how perfect the interactions between Sam and Steve as alternate timeline mirror selves were.