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 Cap appears to be borderline suicidal through the film, making reckless moves like leaping out of the Quinjet without a parachute, unmasking in front of 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 Steve might be a subconscious Death Seeker.
Sam Wilson has tinges of not being merely a cheery Black Best Friend but secretly being concerned about Steve's psyche from a therapist perspective. When first meeting, he twice brings up Steve's potential culture shock, then starts looking analytical once Steve responds that the 21st century has its advantages, as though he doesn't believe Steve and thinks he's trying to hide his actual discomfort with the modern day. While Sam doesn't push for that answer, his response of Steve coming to the Veterans Affairs office "to make me look good in front of the girl at the front desk" could then be read as a veiled request that Steve seek out some therapy, especially considering no such front desk girl is shown.
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.
Ass Pull: During the climax, Natasha uses a device that allows her to perfect replicate the face and voice of a World Security Council member, something that had never been previously foreshadowed, in spite of its obvious uses. It was initially shown during a previous scene at Fury's bunker, but the scene was cut out.
Awesome Music: The whole OST could count, really. But highlights include:
The First Avenger took some criticism for its idealized depiction of the 40s, a time during which America was still segregated and committed crimes of its own. This is briefly touched upon in the sequel.
Nick Fury: You know, I read those old SSR files. "Greatest Generation"? You guys did some nasty stuff.
Steve Rogers: Yeah. We compromised, sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so that people could be free. This [Project Insight] isn't freedom, this is fear.
There was also some ire given at Steve being perceived as not all that powerful or useful during The Avengers. This film thus ups his abilities to make it clear he really is a super soldier, performing feats such as taking down a Quinjet, smashing through door after door at full speed to catch a target, and literally singlehandedly wiping out a dozen hostile thugs inside a cramped elevator. One commercial even made the debate about his power in-universe.
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.
Cap's more pronounced badassery in the film. While many were happy to see Cap kick some serious ass thanks to his previous depictions, some felt they went too far. Of course, given how badly Steve was Overshadowed by Awesome in previous films, and was shown before that he's incredibly strong and fast but was just never given a chance to demonstrate it in full, him looking so awesome makes more sense given the fact that now, without Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor around, everyone is Overshadowed by his Awesome this time.
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 she spends far less time in the film doing anything overly fanservicey, especially compared to previous films (no Lingerie Scene or Male Gaze moment this time around). To put it simply, since she's a pretty girl in an action movie, the critics wrote her off as eye candy even though the film never treated her as such.
Henry Jackman's score drew negative reviews, but the general public loved it.
Draco in Leather Pants: Despite the fact that he was revealed to be a HYDRA infiltrator, Sitwell still gets plenty of love from fans.
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.
Between Steve, Natasha, Sam, and Bucky, any combination of them is a pretty popular ship (Sam/Natasha is the least popular of this though, but even that has fans). Then there's those who'd rather just have all four of them stick together and be romantic bros, possibly with Hawkeye thrown in for good measure.
There's also a number of people who ship Steve with Maria Hill.
Friendly Fandoms: Fans of this film are pretty close to the fans of Frozen, with Steve and Bucky often being portrayed by Anna and Elsa respectively in crossover art and even cosplay.
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 police ambush on Fury. Fury is a black guy and most of the "cops" are Caucasian. He even asks out loud if they "want to see my lease", referencing racial profiling. This can make the sequence particularly hard to watch after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, where a black teen was shot dead by a white cop.
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. Making it worse 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 - or that HYDRA was Genre Savvy enough to not mention that anywhere in the official databanks, just in case.
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 hadn't seen Sam there with Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man"—a soundtrack from an era he missed—it wouldn't have been pretty.
In The Avengers, Loki insulted Natasha because she works for the service of liars and killers. It's ambiguous whether he referred KGB (Natasha's previous employer) or SHIELD. But if he referred the latter, then he turns out to be right. HYDRA-infiltrated SHIELD are indeed liars and killers.
In the movie, Pierce wanted Iron Man to appear at his niece's birthday party. In real life, Robert Downey, Jr. invited a bunch of kids to his birthday party to watch this very movie. Metawise, it doubles as an Actor Allusion, since Downey, Jr. actually did once make a surprise appearance at Jamie Foxx's daughter's fifth birthday party—which was Iron Man-themed, to boot.
In the early 80s, John Byrne drew Cap as resembling Robert Redford, and Redford in his younger days does have a passing resemblance to Chris Evans. 33 years later, the actor appears here, in a major role. Even funnier is that Redford plays the villain here.
At one point in the movie, Cap and Natasha "borrow" a car, which might be a joke referring 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 while funnier since he's basically boasting about accomplishing HYDRA's end goal of "peace through force" without being a HYDRA member and rubbing that detail in HYDRA's faces. No wonder Senator Stern swore "F**k you, Mr. Stark."
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, 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!
Sam tells Fury: "I do what [Steve] does, just slower." In the comics less than a year later, Sam was given the mantle of Captain America after Steve loses his powers.
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", only increases the factor.
Sam/Steve enjoys widespread popularity. 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 as Bucky Barnes 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 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. The Winter Soldier Blu-Ray case even has a big picture of him without his mask on the back cover.
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 S.H.I.E.L.D. 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. It's very clear why these two are in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Pierce arranges Fury's assassination and takes control of S.H.I.E.L.D., sets up Captain America to look like The Mole and turns S.H.I.E.L.D. against him, hijacks the plan to use Helicarriers to defend against enemies to world peace 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.
As for Fury, he Out Gambits Pierce by faking his death because he knows S.H.I.E.L.D. 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 Natasha expose him to the world. Since he knew that Pierce would delete his security overrides after his "death", Fury secretly created a hidden override using the retinal scan of his blind eye.
Magnum Opus: For Joe and Anthony Russo. Many fans consider the film to be this for the MCU.
Some Italian fans compared Winter Soldier to Adam Kadmon. He's also been compared to Raiden, thanks to his mask, Super Reflexes, and cybernetic limbs.
"The Helicarrier's becoming the Enterprise," in a reference to how the thing keeps seeming to die whenever we see it.
"Who the hell is Bucky?"
Images of people/characters whispering captioned with "Hail HYDRA".
"On your left!"
Cap's elevator fight was invoked by a viral tweet describing Solange Knowles's elevator scuffle with Jay-Z.
Tumblr has made a very popular meme of inserting the Marvel and DC logos over Steve and Sam's heads during the running scene to show, in a nutshell, what everyone thinks of the MCU/DCCU rivalry.
Crossing over with Team America: World Police, the first chase scene between Steve and the Winter Soldier is replaced with "America! Fuck Yeah!" as Steve charges through a building - then it abruptly cuts to the "Bummer Remix" when Steve loses track of him.
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.
Steve at his old army base and seeing the ghost of his former skinny self who looks at him in amazement.
During the fight with Batroc, Cap dramatically removing his mask looks somewhat comedic thanks to the helmet hair.
After an entire movie of proving HYDRA has evolved from Those Wacky Nazis into a realistically terrifying sleeper cell inside S.H.I.E.L.D., The Stinger reveals Thomas Kretchsmann hamming it up as Baron Strucker. His passing resemblance to Colonel Klink makes the dissonance greater.
Narm Charm: Senator Stern's cameo, where he hugs Agent Sitwell and whispers "Hail HYDRA" to him. It's sorta silly in how obviously villainous it is, and causes Fridge Logic about if HYDRA's members do this all the time, but at the same time it's unexpected, creepy, and can also raise fear in realizing just how far HYDRA has spread. Even the parodies of it manage to be both funny and creepy.
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.
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. 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 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.
After The Reveal, viewers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started to ask themselves if any of the SHIELD agents they'd come to know and love over the course of the first season were actually HYDRA agents. The paranoia there turned out to be justified, as Grant Ward was revealed as The Mole in the following episode.
Who can say that there's not such an organization like HYDRA with similar goals and methods in Real Life?
Rewatch Bonus: The Reveal that HYDRA has been infiltrating SHIELD since its inception causes loads of past scenes and events involving the organization to take on a new meaning throughout the whole of the MCU. For instance, knowing that Senator Stern is a HYDRA member causes his insistence on Tony Stark giving up the Iron Man armor back in Iron Man 2 to 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. In another example, the revelation that HYDRA engineered the death of Tony Stark's father makes you wonder if there's a remote chance Obadiah Stane in Iron Man was working for HYDRA.
Those who ship Steve with Tony or Bucky have a nasty tendency to accuse Sam of being a HYDRA mole, or depict him as one, despite the fact that Sam was a retired war vet who was never a part of S.H.I.E.L.D., and as such there's no logical way he could have been HYDRA.
Bucky Barnes gets some of this from some of the more rabid fans of rival Steve and Natasha ships, who seem to conveniently forget that his Face-Heel Turn was not exactly voluntary and that he was a relatively Nice Guy beforehand, so the idea that he would be a Bastard Boyfriend is extremely out of character.
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 Winter Soldier would become a potential love interest for Natasha (Black Widow), thus sinking their hopes for a Clint (Hawkeye) and Natasha relationship. This assumption wasn't without some merit, due to him and Natasha having been an Official Couple in the comics, but it became moot after the film revealed MCU Widow and Winter Soldier only met twice in the course of their lives, both times in which he was trying to kill her.
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 Scarlett Johansson.
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. Of course, given he had a limited time window and Sam was already in Washington DC, there's the matter of practicality that helps with this case.
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. This would mirror the comic story, where Bucky only has his memories restored via Cosmic Cube in the twelfth, final issue of the opening Winter Soldier epic, much like Bucky only realises who he is in the primary stinger of the film. Brubaker then spent the better part of his run with Bucky tentatively on the sidelines before the death of a certain character..
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.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Many fans have argued that the story would have been far more interesting if it had followed through on its initial premise, involving SHIELD taking morally dubious actions in the name of national security, rather than just revealing that HYDRA was really behind everything. In a movie that spends so much time talking up the moral ambiguity of the 21st century, positioning HYDRA in an unambiguous villain role was seen by many as a copout.
Steve hides the flash drive containing SHIELD secrets of the highest priority, in a vending machine, and apparently just counts on two people not wanting to buy gum. Or even just not noticing a silver flash drive among the pink gum packets.
HYDRA's plan to use Project Insight seems a lot less insightful when you remember that one of their named targets was Dr. Bruce Banner. It's well-established that attempting to put bullets in Bruce just causes him to Hulk out ("I put a bullet in my mouth...and The Other Guy spit it out!") which SHIELD knows and therefore, so does HYDRA. They were going to kill millions of people and all they were going to get for their trouble was an unstoppable green rage monster aimed right at them.
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 WikiLeaks, and the film winks at this, by showing Julian Assange as either a member or (more likely) a pawn of HYDRA.
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 taken Steve's "On your left" comment as being a specific indication of left-wing liberalism.
Win Back the Crowd: While both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were box office hits, with the former grossing a billions dollars worldwide, they received mixed reviews from both critics and fans alike, leaving some people to wonder if the MCU had lost a step or two. Then Winter Soldier came along and renewed their faith.