How "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" Compares to "The First Avenger"

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As Steve Rogers continues his affiliation with S.H.I.E.L.D and struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he's reunited with James 'Bucky' Barnes, who is now brainwashed Russian assassin known as the 'Winter Soldier'.
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
April 12th, 2014

Most sequels, including those of Marvel superhero films, tend to follow the tone set by the first film, telling a new story in a similar setting while bringing back the same characters. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," however, deviates from "Captain America: The First Avenger" in many ways. Although this type of dramatic shift might not bode well for every film franchise, fans agree that "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a fresh, exciting evolution for the character and the story. For moviegoers who are unsure of what to expect from the newer film, the following comparison of the two Captain America adventures sheds some light on the topic.

A Vastly Different Tone and Setting

The first film features Steve Rogers, a once-puny patriot who becomes a scientifically altered superhuman, as he tracks down the formidable Red Skull. The World War II basis for the plot and setting is a throwback to the time of the original comic's release, and it works well for the film. Although at times the film feels more like a historical sci-fi drama than a superhero flick, the Captain still sees a good deal of action. The end of the film reveals Captain America being cryogenically preserved after crash-landing a plane.

The second film takes place two years after "The Avengers," during which Captain America is revived in the 21st century and tasked with helping a group of superheroes fight a powerful villain. The Captain is still trying to adjust to his new life when a person from the government agency SHIELD is attacked. He must now uncover a secret operation and face the Winter Soldier, who happens to be a blast from his World War II past. Unlike the first film, which is a time period piece, the second film is modern in every way. The action is cranked up, and it feels more like a political thriller than anything else.

Captain America and Other Characters

In the first film, Captain America seems awkward and timid after first gaining his powers, although he becomes bolder as the film progresses. The Captain of the second film, played once again by Chris Evans, is stronger, has greater resolve and is clearly more comfortable with himself. He has also gained greater fighting skills, as evidenced by Evans' rigorous combat and gymnastics training before filming.

Due to the 21st century setting of the film, very few characters from the first movie make an appearance in "The Winter Soldier." However, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson return as Nick Fury and Black Widow, two characters who Steve Rogers meets in "The Avengers."

More Connections With the Shared Marvel Cinematic Universe

Due to its time period setting, the first Captain America adventure often feels like a stand-alone film. The only connection between the film and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is near the end when Steve Rogers meets Nick Fury. This atmosphere works well for the film, allowing viewers to easily lose themselves in the story. The second film is rich in connections. Viewers get a glimpse of Stark Tower, hear references to "The Avengers" and even see possible crossovers between the film and the "Agents of SHIELD" television series. This makes the second film more exciting than the first because the stakes are higher. Whatever happens in the film can affect the next "Avengers" movie as well as other future films by Marvel.

Cinematic Style Led by Different Directors

"Captain America: The First Avenger" was directed by Joe Johnston, who is also known for directing films such as "Jumanji" and "Hidalgo." In the film, Johnston utilizes his extensive knowledge of art direction to create a visually stunning film. Although his directorial style is somewhat slow-paced, his attention to historical detail creates an engaging, believable film. For "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Anthony and Joe Russo are at the helm with fresh ideas and a unique style. The two brothers, best known for directing the hit TV series "Community," wanted to create more of an action film, taking inspiration from movies such as the 1975 flick "Three Days of the Condor." The directors' emphasis on a balance between action and character, along with strategic camera angles and a well-paced plot, bring the new Captain America adventure to another level.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" offers the typical superhero initiation story while "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" delves deeper into the world of the patriotic hero. Although the two films are very different, the continuing story and character of Steve Rogers bring them together in an interesting way. Although the latter film has received more critical acclaim, both stories are integral to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.