There's one moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that perfectly instills what Steve Rogers is about. He's not throwing his star-spangled shield. He's not sacrificing himself or delivering a rousing speech. Instead, he's driving a stolen truck. Black Widow rides in the passenger seat and tries toying with The First Avenger.
"Where did Captain America learn to steal a car?" She tries drawing him out
"Nazi Germany. And we're borrowing - Get your feet off the dash." He replies unfazed.
It's true, too. She knows it. The audience know it. If not for their destination being reduced to fiery rubble Steve would not only return the truck, but he'd probably explain himself to the owner. In the meantime, they're going to treat someone else's property with respect. It may seem like a small moment when you consider the dizzying finale, but one that boils down the man who's ability is just as much contagious integrity as it is super-strength.
In his original outing, the earnest attitude sits quite comfortably in the setting of World War II. Not only are the Russo Brothers careful to contrast Captain America's values In the espionage-tinged present day, but they work better than ever. "With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned," says Coulson to Cap in Avengers, and he's right; Rogers is the bastion of righteousness, like the family member you look up to. When Cap's Stealth-Team take the Lemurian Star, Cap finds Black Widow has a mission of her own which almost leads them to getting blown up. "That one's on me," Widow quips, hoping to avoid confrontaion. "Damn right, it is," Cap fires back. She looks down crestfallen; the last thing anyone wants to do is disappoint Captain America. And yet, while the motif is honorably carried on from his origin film, and to a lesser extent Avengers, it doesn't undermine the different direction that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is committed to taking.
Taking their cues from Ed Brubaker's acclaimed run on the Captain America comic, the Russo Brothers were steadfast in bringing something that had the hardened edge of Cap's shield. Although they're careful not to lose his spirit. It's no accident that he dons his original WWII suit for the final act. While you can't go so far in tone as to remove the film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's as much a spy thriller as Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera. The color palette is muted compared to the first installment, loyalties of allies are questioned and our protagonists end up on the run as enemies of the state. Even though Fury put the Avengers team together, Steve is just as mistrusting of him.
"Anyone else know about this?" Cap asks the injured Fury.
"Just my friends." Fury confidently replies
"Is that what we are?"
It may have been set up earlier following Cap's annoyance at Fury compartmentalising mission objectives, but it says just as much about Cap. After waking up he's done everything to adapt to the new age. He's learned new combat styles, clearly brought himself up to speed with technology, but the spy trade has made him guarded and kept him distanced from those that surround him. It's a somber idea that Cap has no one since spending time as a Capsicle. Not only does this make the visit with Peggy Carter all the more heartbreaking - his last link to the life he knows lost in the turmoil of dementia - but it legitimises Steve's unshakable pursuit of Bucky. He has to bring him back...what else has he got?
Let's not forget that this is still comic book movie and we still want heart-thumping action in amongst our character development. You'd think with all the effort put into the storytelling that the flick would be spent come the time to inject adrenaline, but it has car chases that rival Frankenheimer's Ronin and a hellicarrier-hoping climax that could stand toe-to-toe with Avengers' Manhatten-saving climax. Just like the boy from Brooklyn, there's a lot more to Captain America: The Winter Soldier than meets the eye.
4* - All The Commander's Men
Others in the series: