Characters or plot?
One of the many reasons I think that there’s controversy over Tony Stark (besides the Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man that dates back to approximately the first trailer for Civil War) is that his movies got the short end of the stick. Sure, Iron Man had a great plot. After that, it slowly seemed to go downhill. His character still sparkled, but the plot (specifically of Iron Man #3) was somewhat lousy.
Captain America? Not so much. His movie trilogy had a great balance: loveable characters and a rock-solid plot. The heart of that trilogy, The Winter Soldier, seems to check off all the marks: humor, explosions, cool action scenes, metal arms, SHIELD vs. Hydra, blah blah blah. While the heart of the story has always been Cap’s personal evolution (from midget to mighty man, from costumed-performer-in-tights to fighter, from Brooklyn to Germany), Bucky has always been the sideshow. When someone mentions Steve Rogers, his loyal (or…not-so-loyal, depending on the movie) sidekick always comes to mind. Why?
We had an entire movie to get attached to him.
There’s nothing worse than an author expecting you to immediately fall in love with their precious baby … for absolutely no reason. For one, we haven’t had the time to get attached. For two, show me a reason why I should love them. It’s not like I’m a story ogre or anything, my favorite hobby is falling in love with fun characters/broody anti-heroes that really just need a cinnamon roll.
Before any of the twisty plot-ness/major emotional punches of The Winter Soldier, we got to experience Bucky’s best side: how he protected Steve in Ultimate Big Brother Mode, how he was a bit of a flirt, his sense of humor.
We already knew the strength of their bond.
I’ve always had a feeling that patriotism spurred Steve as much as being a tag-along. Whenever I watch The First Avenger, I keep picturing a baby Steve tugging on Bucky’s coattails, being all “I wanna go toooooo and fight bad guys like Bucky.”
The tables are flipped when it’s Steve who has to actually put on his Captain America tights and go save Bucky in Germany. If Steve would ditch his orders, endanger others, and go into enemy territory with nothing but his Amazing Shield…then we know how far they would go for each other.
No one went easy on the characters.
For starters, the movie could have devolved into an entire therapy session for the Winter Soldier. But, it didn’t. There was no miracle moment where Bucky remembers Steve and his past life, throws off years of torture and murder, and everything’s a Disney-worthy happily ever after. It wouldn’t be realistic in that story world. What was realistic was what we got: Hydra sent in their best fighter against Steve Rogers, and Captain America had to choose.
The strength of the movie, emotion-wise, was Bucky Barnes turned Winter Soldier. In the end, I’m thrilled with Marvel’s story-telling choices. The Winter Soldier could have been a generic bad guy, cranked out to provide metal-armed opposition to the might and right of Captain America. By totally milking all their options, Marvel produced a much stronger story.