Here's the skinny: I still like Cap, I still like Chris Evans, and I hated this movie. I hated this film for what it was compared to what it wasn't or what it could have been. In fact, I hate it so deeply on that level that I don't believe I will be watching any more Marvel films for the foreseeable future.
There may be spoilers in this review, but not in the traditional sense. "Spoilers" should be something revelatory, like "Rosebud is a sled!" or "The narrator is actually the murderer!" In my opinion, telling you that Cap is not a traitor should not be considered a spoiler. If you watch this film and at any time begin to actually entertain the idea that Cap might be a traitor, you're watching the wrong movie. Also, you're a super-hero idiot.
So that's my first, and most important, complaint: that the story is built around a huge fault line. The story involves the evil organization HYDRA trying to take over SHIELD. This is a fine idea for a story. However, the minute that the film tries to suggest that the heroes are part of the conspiracy, and actually want (expect?) you to consider it....? Now they're *making* the wrong film. It boils down to this, people: between Captain America, Black Widow, and Nick Fury on one side and a big-name politician and bureaucrat on the other, is it *really* a mystery as to who the traitors are? Riiiiiiiight.
However, we all know that a movie with a stupid plot can still "pass" on the "large" scale if it succeeds at all its "little" scenes. So let's move past the inanity of the basic plot to look at my second complaint: the inanities of the overall script. A few examples:
As mentioned above, HYDRA has infiltrated SHIELD, setting up what you might expect as a nifty spy vs. spy scenario, right? Nope. Once it is hinted that SHIELD has been compromised, we get scenes of police officers destroying civilians' cars, SHIELD agents shooting up downtown Washington, and SHIELD agents trying to arrest/kill Black Widow and Captain America. In only *one* scene do we get even an inkling that the whole place is not a cauldron of HYDRA spies. So if you're working for an international spy agency and you don't notice that it is infested with traitors committing wanton acts of destruction, you probably need to be in another line of work. Or threaten the writers to write you a better script. SHIELD is absolutely incompetent in this film, which doesn't make me want to watch the TV series or any more Marvel films...
The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is introduced as a trained military flier, with his own nifty jet-pack and wings. Personable and visually appealing, he's a great addition to the story. However, in his big action scene he is told to fly to one of the rogue hovercraft carriers and switch out some software to re-program the laser guidance system. You would expect him to fly in covertly, as stealthily as he could, and get the job done, maybe meeting up with some HYDRA agents and having an aerial fight of some kind as he attempted to get away. You would be wrong. He flies into the sky to draw as much attention and gun-fire as he possibly can, *then* tries to find the software portal. I guess this was supposed to be "cool," but all I could think was "one stray bullet and bye-bye Falcon!" Besides, most of this "action" featured computer graphics, so what was the point? This isn't drama, this is a computer game.
Another example is the Winter Soldier himself. He stays in the shadows during the first third of the film. As soon as Captain America sees his unmasked face, however, he discards the mask and starts standing around in the daytime, posing. This is a character who has been a "ghost" for 60+ years, but now all of a sudden he isn't shy? This doesn't make any sense. Of course, this change is because Marvel paid Sebastian Stan plenty of money to be the Winter Soldier, so we want to see his face. This is the same reason that Chris Evans tends to keep his mask off, too, and why Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie are never given masks: lots of fans paid to see Chris Evan and Scarlett Johansson etc, and not just part of it behind some silly comic-book mask. That's fine for Hollywood, but it's not good Marvel story-telling. And not to beat a dead-horse, but WTH is wrong with the traditional Captain America costume? Why does Hollywood have to change it? I don't understand it.
Speaking of Winter Soldier and Captain America, their last fight is because Cap wants to change the software on the third aircraft carrier, but Soldier has been ordered to stop him. So they fight. And they fight. And they fight. Mostly in extreme close-up and at super-fast exposure. Finally (!), Cap is shot and left for dead but STILL manages to change the guidance system AT THE LAST POSSIBLE SECOND. Yes, there is countdown, and on "zero," Cap makes the switch. This isn't drama, this is comedy, and the joke is on us.
Now, I do want to take a few minutes to talk about some of the things about the film that I *did* like. It definitely did have its share of "moments." I just wish there had been more of them. In fact, I was hoping that the film would be more intimate and personal, perhaps showing us how Steve Rogers is coping with being a man from the wrong era. Every scene where Chris Evans is with Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, trying to build a friendship away from "work," was excellent. Scenes with him and Scarlett Johansson as they work at actually becoming friends are likewise terrific. The scenes between him and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, arguing politics or grappling with their mutual trust issues, were also great. In one scene the Falcon talks to him about who Marvin Gaye is, and at the end of the conversation Cap pulls out a notebook and says, "I'll add him to the list." THIS is more of what I wanted to see. Instead we get a lot of big explosions. Boom.
Lastly, too much time is spent on the Winter Soldier and his back story without ever really resolving anything. He is the center of the entire conspiracy and history of HYDRA, but at the end...what? He doesn't get a huge dramatic "I'm broken!" scene, nor does he get a "It's too late to save me!" scene. We know or can guess what happened to him to turn him into this cyborg (?), but at the end he knocks Cap out and simply walks off, leaving us with the plot of Captain America 3. No, thanks.
The last thing I want to tell you is my favorite scene in the movie. Robert Redford as the head of some UN Security Council organization is interviewing someone in his home. When he opens his refrigerator, we can very clearly see that he has a jar of Paul Newman pasta sauce sitting there. Great in-joke and tribute to the great actor.