When I finally watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was not disappointed. The Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, who made the first movie good lives on in the second.
Though the plot of The Winter Soldier fails to rival most other superhero movies I have seen, it is stronger than that of the preceding Captain America movie The First Avenger. Characters like Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Steve Rogers’ new friend Sam Wilson add some twists and turns to the story. And even though Captain America’s World War II nemesis Hydra is predictably still at the bottom of everything, the Winter Soldier himself forms an interesting archenemy who easily outshines Hydra’s leader Red Skull from the last film.
What concerned me most as I began watching The Winter Soldier, however, was not whether the story would be better than The First Avenger. I was worried Steve Rogers would lose one of the qualities that makes him my favorite Marvel superhero: his high ideals. Faced with a new world, new ideas, and new dangers, would Captain America bend and become a pragmatist? Surrounded by the distrust, espionage, and lies of S.H.I.E.L.D, would he turn into a moral relativist like Fury or a compliant accomplice like Black Widow? Would he crumple and adopt “ends-justifies-means” in place of always fighting to do the right thing, even when it is hazardous? Conversing with the now-elderly Peggy Carter, Rogers admits, “For as long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. I guess I’m not quite sure what that is anymore. And I thought I could throw myself back in and follow orders, serve. It’s just not the same.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier reminds us that we will be faced with hard decisions of right and wrong, and sometimes we won’t be able to blindly follow orders – trusting that doing so is always right. Personal discernment is hard. Following orders without question is often much easier. After all, one can always explain one’s actions to others by claiming either that “I was trying to do the right thing” or “I was just following orders.” But are good intentions or blind obedience excuses for doing what one knows to be wrong?
Interesting characters, cheerful humor, and good messages help make The Winter Soldier a well-done and entertaining movie. But best of all, from start to finish The Winter Soldier contains reminders of what makes Captain America great. He was a hero before gaining super-strength and a shield, and will continue to be even if he loses these. His gallantry, his honesty, his selfless courage, his unbending ideals, and his willingness to put others’ lives before his own – not because he thinks his life is worthless, but because he estimates others’ lives as valuable – are what make Captain America a hero and his movies a success.