Although few MCU fans would disagree that Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the weaker installments in Phase 1 of the franchise, Steve Rogers’ two subsequent solo outings – 2014’s The Winter Soldier and 2016’s Civil War – were both hailed as instant MCU classics. The debate over which one is Cap’s single greatest solo movie will probably never be resolved, because they both have overwhelmingly positive points in their favor. Both movies saw Cap’s ideologies tested – first, because S.H.I.E.L.D. turned out to be controlled by Hydra, and second, because superheroes were suddenly legislated.
Here are five reasons The Winter Soldier Is Captain America’s best solo movie (and five it’s Civil War).
10 The Winter Soldier: It’s really Captain America’s movie
There’s a reason that Captain America: Civil War was jokingly called Avengers 2.5 when it was first released. It’s also got a bit of Iron Man 4 in it and it acts as a sort of prologue to both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther. Even though it’s got Cap’s name in the title, it’s not really a Captain America movie.
So, no matter how great Civil War is, it can’t really be counted as Cap’s best solo movie, because it’s a Cap solo movie in name only. In The Winter Soldier, however, the focus is squarely on Cap himself and it’s truly a Captain America film.
9 Civil War: Emotion drives the action
Action driven by emotion will always be more interesting, and The Winter Soldier and Civil War both do this really well, but it’s the latter that arguably does it better. The Winter Soldier’s final battle is driven by emotion as Cap and Bucky face off and Cap tries to get Bucky to remember him, but it also needed Helicarriers going down and other characters beating each other up to maintain the audience’s interest.
Civil War’s final battle has no such crutch. It has three guys fighting in a confined space, but due to the emotions tearing these three guys apart, it feels much more impactful that most of the MCU’s third-act smash-‘em-ups.
8 The Winter Soldier: More visceral action
The action scenes in The Winter Soldier are breathtaking. We feel the impact of every bullet, every punch, every explosion. Set pieces like Cap fighting Bucky on the highway and Nick Fury’s car chase feel like they could’ve been ripped straight out of one of Paul Greengrass’ gritty Bourne movies.
The action in Civil War is fun, but there’s too much talking in the battle scenes and not enough, well, battle. And when there is fighting, it feels lightweight, toned-down, and comic book-y (the final showdown being the obvious exception). This is partly down to the Avengers being reluctant to really hurt each other, but it still detracts from the impact of the action.
7 Civil War: Lasting consequences
A common criticism in the MCU is a lack of lasting consequences. In The Winter Soldier, Brock Rumlow isn’t even killed by a building landing on his head – we just see him recovering in hospital with a scarred face. Bucky saves Cap from the lake, but then he goes right back to being the brainwashed Winter Soldier. We’re led to believe that Nick Fury is dead, but then we’re told that he just faked it again. Nothing in The Winter Soldier lasts.
In Civil War, however, James Rhodes is left permanently paralyzed. The Avengers are left irreparably fractured. Tony and Steve leave Civil War on such sour terms that not even the threat of Thanos can bring them back together and, as a result, Thanos goes on to win.
6 The Winter Soldier: It stands on its own
Every MCU movie apart from the Avengers films are technically standalone movies, but very few of them actually stand on their own. Civil War was deridingly called Avengers 2.5, because it has a lot more characters than just Cap, but on top of that, it’s a bridge between the second and third Avengers films.
Civil War would make no sense to viewers who hadn’t seen a bunch of previous movies. The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, does actually stand on its own. It has a self-contained narrative about Cap adjusting to life in the modern day and it stands apart as a riveting spy thriller.
5 Civil War: It’s more rewatchable
Most MCU fans agree that if they’re deciding which movie from the franchise to rewatch, they’re more likely to stick on Civil War than The Winter Soldier. The plot of Civil War moves by a lot quicker than the plot of The Winter Soldier and there are plenty more memorable moments to revel in.
Rewatchability is an important quality in an MCU movie, because the interconnectivity forces fans to rewatch the movies a lot, just to be able to follow all the Easter eggs and callbacks. Civil War is simply more rewatchable than The Winter Soldier is, and that’s a huge point in its favor.
4 The Winter Soldier: Steve has stronger character development
Despite being billed as a Captain America movie, Civil War serves the character development of Tony Stark (giving him a surrogate son in the form of Peter Parker, challenging his allegiance to the Avengers, revealing the truth about how his parents died) more than it does Steve Rogers’.
In The Winter Soldier, however, there is some incredible progression in Steve’s character arc. We catch up with him as he struggles to find his place in the modern world. All he has left is his government, so he’s been working for S.H.I.E.L.D. But then he learns that he can’t trust his government and his ideologies get caught in a tailspin.
3 Civil War: Higher stakes
The stakes in Civil War are higher than in The Winter Soldier, and as a result, the movie is more engaging. All throughout The Winter Soldier, we’re told that the stakes are really high and that if S.H.I.E.L.D. falls, it’ll be devastating. But then the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. came and went and didn’t seem to have much of an impact. (Hell, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went on for another few years with business as usual.)
Civil War, on the other hand, irreparably tears the Avengers apart. The Russo brothers have said that if Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were on speaking terms in Infinity War, they would’ve been able to defeat Thanos together. We have Civil War’s stakes to thank for that.
2 The Winter Soldier: Villain connecting to the hero
The best villains are the ones with a personal connection to the hero. Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, the Joker stands for everything Batman stands against, Thanos represents a dark mirror version of Tony Stark etc. In Civil War, the villain is Baron Zemo, and while he has a personal grudge against the Avengers, he has no real connection to them.
The villain in The Winter Soldier, however, is Captain America’s brainwashed best friend. Cap doesn’t want to fight him; he simply wants him to remember who he is. The MCU is criticized for its “villain problem,” but Bucky made a fantastic villain in terms of story.
1 Civil War: Better ending
One of the best things about Captain America’s solo trilogy are the final lines. At the end of the first one, Steve Rogers wakes up in the 21st century and says, “I had a date.” At the end of the second one, Cap tells Sam he doesn’t need to help him find Bucky and he says, “I know. When do we start?”
But the end of the third one is perfect. Right before breaking everyone out of the Raft, Cap sends a message to Tony, telling him he’ll always be there if he needs him and that he hopes there’s no hard feelings. After a breach at the Raft, General Ross calls Tony and Tony, as promised, puts him on hold.