These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Was Alexander Pierce a Well-Intentioned Extremist who sincerely wanted to give the world a newer, better, truer, purer form of freedom, or was he just an ego-maniacal control freak trying to justify what was really little more than a thinly veiled take over the world plot?
How much free will did Uploaded Zola really have? In the first movie he was unwilling to sacrifice himself for the cause but in the sequel he gladly kept talking to allow a missile to hit his position. Was he really being used by Pierce in much the same fashion as The Winter Soldier? Or had he in fact been playing the role of reluctant henchman as far back as The First Avenger while hiding his true nature? Or given that he's now a computer program with access to the Internet, did he simply make a backup copy of himself so that he didn't really sacrifice himself at all?
More than a few reviewers pointed out that Rogers appears to be borderline suicidal through the film, making reckless moves like leaping out of the Quinjet without a parachute, unmasking in front of the pirate Batroc and throwing away his shield, and not even making an attempt to save himself from the crashing helicarrier and challenging Bucky to kill him. Connect with his hidden angst about all his dead friends from the past and being a Fish Out of Temporal Water, and Rogers might be a subconscious Death Seeker.
Anvilicious: About where you draw the line between security and control, and where freedom falls on either side. The argument loses some of its punch when you drop in "And the bad guys are all Nazis", but that also raises the question of when the "peacekeepers" become just as bad as their enemies to defeat them. After all, Zola was only able to infiltrate so deeply in the first place because he was recruited by Operation Paperclip, and Project Insight only went ahead through Nick Fury's approval. The degree to which Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped excuses it is best left for debate.
Many fans are elated at the inclusion of Natasha as a major character. Others, however, are upset that her involvement seems to be effectively subsuming the role of Agent 13.
Cap's new uniform for the film has also gotten a mixed reaction, with some declaring it to be an upgrade over his costume in The Avengers, and others lamenting the removal of the red-and-white stripes from said costume. He does end up wearing his original getup from the first movie in the climax.
The decision to make the film more about SHIELD, fleshing out characters like Natasha and Fury, was well received by most fans, and The Reveal that Pierce being the Big Bad is seen as alleviating the status of the "surprise" that Bucky is the Winter Soldier. In fact, the above is almost a unanimous reaction. However, there are some who feel cheated out of a Captain America movie, feeling the title should have been "Black Widow" or "SHIELD: The Movie." The movie itself was good, but the two title characters are possibly the least developed characters in the movie.
The eponymous Winter Soldier himself certainly has this in spades.
Critical Dissonance: Not the film itself (which received acclaim by critics and audiences alike), but rather, the handling of Black Widow; many professional critics dismissed her as stereotypical eye candy for the male audience, but most of the women in the blogosphere were very impressed with how her character was handled and some men found her less attractive than in previous films.
Ending Fatigue: The climax is split across five settings and can start to wear thin after a while. The majority of critics and fans alike agree that while this was an awesome movie, it was probably too long.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, HYDRA is making weapons using the Tesseract. The largest of these is the Valkyrie, a giant aircraft with heavy weaponry that can cause countless deaths around the world in mere hours (it could wipe out the Eastern Seaboard in an hour, and Schmidt’s target is everywhere.)
In The Avengers, Steve finds HYDRA weapons on the hellicarrier, and Tony turns up plans for new Tesseract-powered weapons. Tony’s program that’s meant to reveal “every dirty secret S.H.I.E.L.D. has been trying to hide” initially fails, implying greater security than Tony expected and that all files with information about HYDRA have security no one else in S.H.I.E.L.D. knows about. Also, Tony compares Fury’s justification for the weapons to a “nuclear deterrent”.
By Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Tesseract is back on Asgard, but S.H.I.E.L.D. has built three giant aircraft with heavy weaponry that can cause countless deaths around the world in mere minutes. The Insight hellicarriers are modern-day Valkyries on massive steroids. Fury tries to access files that have security he doesn’t even know about, most likely due to HYDRA-related information on them. Even before HYDRA is revealed, Steve says, “This isn’t freedom, this is fear,” regarding Project Insight. Sounds a bit like a nuclear deterrent…
Genius Bonus: The movie makes a great visual metaphor at the end which could be a rebuttal to Harry Lime's famous "Dot" speech in The Third Man. Given said film was one of the earliest cynical spy films, this is entirely possible.
In-universe, Nick Fury's memory of how Secretary Pierce turned down a Nobel Peace Prize by saying that "peace isn't a reward, it's a responsibility." The problem is that Pierce's idea of peace is one enforced by HYDRA.
The Reveal of Sitwell and Senator Stern as HYDRA agents. If the first name hasn't been a blow enough, the mere fact that the latter wants to confiscate Tony's suit for the U.S. military is quite a guise for HYDRA control. It doesn't help that the U.S. military's immediate action when Rhodes did acquire Tony's spare suit is to weaponize it in the name of patriotism.
Sam mentions that his wingman was shot down by an RPG during a late-night mission. That's sad enough until you see what his flying gear looks like, and then you realize that he had to watch his best friend get shot point-blank with an RPG...
In the Avengers, Tony comments that "In a few hours, I'll know every dirty secret S.H.I.E.L.D has ever tried to hide". With the reveal that HYDRA was using S.H.I.E.L.D as a cover and had been manipulating it, guess he Failed a Spot Check.
In the 1998 Nick Fury movie, when Alexander Pierce makes a mistake during a mission, Fury says that he is either a traitor or an idiot. While Pierce from that movie wasn't a traitor, the one in this movie is.
When Steve wakes in a hospital bed at the end of the film, this is the second time he's found himself in a similar situation after falling into water from a great height expecting to die. The first time this happened, he found the era-appropriate room was a lie and that he had actually slept for 70 years. If he had not seen Sam there with Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man"—a soundtrack from an era he missed—it would not have been pretty.
In the movie, Pierce wanted Iron Man to appear at his kid's birthday party. In real life, Robert Downey Jr. invited a bunch of kids to his birthday party to watch this very movie.
At one point in the movie, Cap and Natasha "borrow" a car, which harkens back to Cap's less than graceful car thefts in Captain America (1990).
Despite The Reveal being generally Harsher in Hindsight, it makes Tony Stark's comment of "I have successfully privatized world peace" all the funnier since he's basically boasting about accomplishing HYDRA's end goal of "peace through force" without actually being a HYDRA member and rubbing that detail in HYDRA's faces. No wonder Senator Stern swore at him.
Scarlett Johansson's breakout role was 1998's The Horse Whisperer opposite star/director Robert Redford, where the two had a generational-gap friendship; in the climax of this film, they face off as enemies.
Ng Chin Han, who's had a string of bit parts like Lau in The Dark Knight before appearing as a WSC member here, actually got his start in the 90s in a string of TV roles on Singapore television. Imagine the surprise of Singaporean audiences at the sight of the mostly-neutral Singapore having a representative on the WSC!
The sheer amount of Ho Yay between Steve and Bucky/The Winter Soldier is so huge that Sharon doesn't even seem to be Steve's love interest (and not just because of how Out of Focus she is during the movie). The fact that Cap spends the entire movie turning down Natasha's offers to set him up on dates, saying he's looking for someone with "similar life experiences", is no help whatsoever.
Sam/Steve is not to be left out either. For his part, Steve's the one who gets Sam's attention and seeks him out, either when he's in danger or just because (after the therapy meeting). For his part, Sam quickly proves he's willing to not only back Steve up against suicidal odds, but stay by his hospital bed in the aftermath. More than a few netizens have commented that Sam takes all of the usual superhero love interest duties: unwavering loyalty, emotional pep talks, waiting by the bedside, etc.
The Reveal of the Winter Soldier's identity was an 8-year-old spoiler for comics readers by the time the Winter Soldier film came out, a 2-year-old spoiler for viewers of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and a 7-year-old spoiler for anyone who happened to play Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. The anticipation of the film is actually a result of this, wherein the drama surrounding this is the main reason why fans want to see the film. By the final month before release, even Marvel gave up trying to hide it, even saying that the tension of the Winter Soldier's identity doesn't come from the audience not knowing, but from Cap not knowing. Previews from both the Thor: The Dark World blu-ray and an MCU TV special go ahead and spill exactly who the Winter Soldier is.
To a lesser extent, SHIELD agent Brock Rumlow working for HYDRA, for anyone familiar with his identity in the comics.
The twist that HYDRA is still around has also gained a fair amount of notoriety.
Just Here for Godzilla: For many comic book fans, the primary reason to watch the movie was the conflict between Cap and the Winter Soldier — or more specifically, the revelation of the Winter Soldier's identity and Cap's reaction to it. Marvel was not blind to this, and took advantage of it by having most of the promotion of the movie focused on Cap and the Winter Soldier. It also did a great job of hiding the mid-plot twist and true conflict of the movie — that HYDRA had infiltrated SHIELD at its very creation, and therefore the organization is too corrupt to continue on and must be dissolved permanently.
Like You Would Really Do It: The movie has us believe many characters are dead/will die throughout the film, but many fans are savvy enough to figure out it wasn't going to happen. Nick Fury is the biggest example, though it was a close run thing. On the other hand, they really did go through with the complete dismantling of SHIELD.
Magnificent Bastard: Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce. Pierce arranges Fury's assassination and takes control of SHIELD ,sets up Captain America to look like The Mole and turn SHIELD against him, hijacks the plan to use Helicarriers to defend against enemies of the West and instead has them target enemies of HYDRA, and as he watches it occur he sets up the World Security Council to die with the tap of a smartphone icon. Then Fury Out Gambits him by faking his death because he knows SHIELD is compromised and he can trust no one, goes underground with Maria Hill to find out what's going on, finds out what Pierce is planning, and sets up a plan to stop him complete with Fury revealing himself to Pierce to help Black Widow expose him to the world. And since he knew that Pierce would delete his security overrides after his "death", Fury created a hidden override using the retinal scan of his blind eye.
Zola is revealed to have crossed the line years ago by torturing several members of Bucky's division, including Bucky himself. If that particular line crossing isn't bad enough, he helped rebuild HYDRA as SHIELD and created an algorithm to target any and all potential enemies, which would have killed at least twenty million people, according to his calculations.
Alexander Pierce crosses it by casually murdering his cleaner when she stumbles across the Winter Soldier sitting in his house.
Arnim Zola's computerized self appears for no more than ten minutes, yet in that time he manages to establish himself as highly creepy and a surprisingly capable Chessmaster who's managed to resurrect HYDRA from within S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
Batroc, the pirate who managed to hold his own against Captain America early in the movie.
One True Threesome: One True Foursome - Steve/Sam/Natasha/Bucky is already gaining traction.
Paranoia Fuel: HYDRA's been hiding in SHIELD since its very creation, influencing world events under the justification of protecting people. They had a hand in the death of Howard Stark and his wife. And the non HYDRA members of SHIELD had no idea at all. Not even Coulson realized his close friend was a mole.
It's implied that HYDRA had a hand in making an entire generation live in fear of nuclear attack, and the entire next generation live in fear of terrorism, just so humanity as a whole would be willing to give up their freedom for more safety and security. It's like "My whole life is a lie!" but for the entire planet.
Much of this movie's plot was taken from real-life American government controversies such as drone strikes and NSA spying, and plays up people's real-life fears about them to their logical conclusion, namely that the information being collected will ultimately be used to assassinate millions of people, the vast majority of whom have no links to terrorist organizations whatsoever.
Rewatch Bonus: The Reveal that HYDRA has been infiltrating SHIELD since it's inception causes loads of past scenes and events involving the organization to take on a new meaning throughout the whole of the MCU. Not to mention now that we know Senator Stern is a HYDRA member, his insistence on Tony Stark giving up the Iron Man armor back in Iron Man 2 comes off less as Jerkass Has a Point and more as him trying to give HYDRA some Iron Man suits to Curb Stomp their enemies with.
Ever since the movie premiered, there have been...kerfluffles involving every ship associated with Steve Rogers.
Months before the film was even released, some rather rabid shippers were already voicing opposition that Bucky/Winter Soldier may become a potential love interest for Natasha (Black Widow), thus sinking their hopes for a Clint (Hawkeye) and Natasha relationship. Though this assumption isn't without some merit, due to Bucky and Natasha having actually been an Official Couple in the comics and Natasha and Clint having only briefly dated early in their careers.
There were even a few who hoped Steve and Natasha might hook up, even though a running gag throughout the film is Nat encouraging Steve to get a girlfriend. Granted there are a few scenes where Natasha seems to be flirting with Steve, trying to get a feel for who he is and if he's her "type". They end up just being friends, which is a bit of a shame given that there is genuine chemistry between Chris Evans and Scarlet Johanasson.
Due to the massive amounts of Ho Yay between Steve and Bucky, the pairing has somewhat begun to unseat the popularity of the widespread post-Avengers Steve/Tony ship, to some Tumblr discontent.
Another one is brewing between the Steve/Tony shippers and the Sam/Steve shippers: the former were not happy that Steve went to Sam for help despite knowing him for such a short time instead of Tony, and the implication that Sam could've have been Hydra rankled the latter immensely.
Squick: When Nick Fury goes to the retina scan... with the eye under the patch.
Take That, Scrappy!: It's revealed that the assholish Senator Stern (one of the few intentional Scrappies) is actually a member of HYDRA and at the end of the film he's arrested and dragged off by federal agents.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Some fans believe that while still a central part of the plot, the titular Winter Soldier is very much Out of Focus for most of the story. In the source material, the Winter Soldier's identity and background are subject to more scrutiny and tied more heavily into the plot. Almost all of it, including his ties to Black Widow, make no appearance in the film (though due to the MCU's time compression—Widow is much older in the comics—there might not even be a connection at all). The acting and design are dead on, but not much is done with the character in order to focus on Alexander Pierce. Still, the film does a good job of setting up possible appearances for future installments, along with the possibility of exploring his past and character in more detail in the sequel.
Sharon, a huge figure in the source mythos, also receives far too little focus. Though, like the Winter Soldier, it's likely she will feature in future films.
The Helicarriers falling to the sea is absolutely amazing.
While the Falcon has some changes from the comics version, the Winter Soldier looks almost identical to the comics, which is pretty impressive.
The Winter Soldier's metal arm is a sight to behold, especially since set photos showed an unconnected metal case for the actor's arm. In the film, it's a seamless, smooth limb.
Speaking of Falcon, who didn't love seeing him flying around and generally being awesome? Whoever did the flight effects for him needs a medal.
From the start of the film, aboard the pirate ship, Cap appears a true super-soldier, with speed and agility and strength that the first film's CGI didn't catch. None of the Batman films show as well what a superior-trained human can do. Very realistic.
The shield tricks, which have taken a massive level in awesome. In general, the action scenes are very well done. In particular are the fights between Captain America and the Winter Soldier, which many have come to regard as some of the best hand-to-hand combat scenes in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Elderly Peggy Carter is not without its flaws, but considering how bad old age prosthetic makeup used to look in movies, the digital solution as detailed came up with was far more convincing and allowed the actor's performance to show through without restriction. How they did it is detailed here.
Although the directors admit to drawing some inspiration from real life political controversies from The New Tens such as drone strikes and Barack Obama enacting preemptive strikes against potential threats to the US, they maintain that the link between S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secrets being leaked on the internet and Edward Snowden's NSA leaks is an accidental one, as the film's story had already been solidified before that came onto the scene. Ed Brubaker has said the screenplay was inspired by Wiki Leaks.
Not to mention S.H.I.E.L.D. (and by extension HYDRA) keeping track of everybody in the world by keeping their electronic records under surveillance on everything from bank accounts to social media to voting records and more, which mirrors the recent revelations of the lengths the NSA has gone to electronically spy on American citizens.
Some reviewers have actually taken Steve's "On your left" comment as being a specific indication of left-wing liberalism.
Win Back the Crowd: Both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World received mixed reviews from both critics and fans alike, having some people wonder if the MCU had lost a step or two. Winter Soldier came along and renewed their faith. It's worth noting that Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World still did well at the box office, with the former grossing a billion dollars world wide.