Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first true example in the MCU of a film taking the opportunity to explain the time differences between movies, and it’s a great film besides, but it’s not without its continuity errors. This is part 9 of a 20 part video series discussing when each film in the MCU takes place. When does Captain America: The winter Soldier Take place?
“Bucky’s whole unit was captured in ’43, Zola experimented on him. Whatever he did helped Bucky survive the fall.”
The film begins in the Summertime, as it appears over the Tidal Basin. Much of the film takes place in Washington D.C., and we learn a few things that corroborate other films in the series as Cap enters a Smithsonian exhibit about his life in the War. As we discussed in depth in Part 7 of this series, the Presidency of Matthew Ellis is confirmed to be spread across two terms, as we would have previously assumed Obama, a confirmed President in the MCU, to have been incumbent at the time. We also learn that Bucky fell to his death in 1944, confirming what we discuss in Part 5, though this plaque is hard to count as valid as it gives two very different dates for Bucky’s birth year.
Upon discovering Hydra’s takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s an assassination attempt on Fury’s life, which supposedly occurred on April 14, 2013. This is impossible, as S.H.I.E.L.D. still exists in its normal state 7 months later in The Dark World. But later in the film we see Fury’s tombstone read 2014, or at least that final numeral would best be interpreted to read 2014.
On the run, Steve claims to be 95 years old; “I’m 95, I’m not dead,” which fits perfectly so long as the film takes place before July 4, 2014. Steve was born in 1918, as we discussed in Part 5. We also see a short flashback to either the day of, or shortly after Steve’s mother, Sarah, dies. According to this canonical S.H.I.E.L.D. file, Sarah died on October 15, 1936, and in Civil War this is confirmed to be 18 years after his birth. “I’ve been on my own since I was 18.” So this scene likely occurs then.
In Camp Lehigh, when they find the secret abandoned Hydra base and are greeted by the consciousness of Zola, he delivers a lot of pertinent timeline information. While Captain America: The First Avenger gives us the presumption that Zola was captured in 1944, Zola claims here that it was 1945, though we can rationalize this with the real life Operation Paperclip, where the US recruited former Nazi scientists. He also mentions that “for 70 years Hydra has been secretly feeding crisis,” which would place this in 2015, unless he began feeding that crisis in 1944, like we expect. That would reconcile this with the proposed early summer 2014 date we suspect. Another interesting point of discussion is that the seeds were sown here for the events in Captain America: Civil War, with this newspaper giving us the date when Howard and Maria Stark are killed as “December 16, 1991,” but we’ll discuss that in more detail in part 13.
One of the biggest misconceptions with the MCU timeline stems from this film, as upon being questioned, Agent Sitwell claims that Stephen Strange is under HYDRA surveillance. Many believe that Doctor Strange must occur before this event because of the line, but this is simply not true. “It’s anyone who’s a threat to HYDRA, now or in the future.” Project Insight determines threats to HYDRA even before they become manifest, so this event certainly occurs prior to Doctor Strange’s prowess with the mystical arts.
Overall, the events in the film can really only take place in early-summer 2014, and this is confirmed in Part 13 of this 20 part series. Even the mid-credits scene with Von-Strucker takes place in said year, as it follows the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. 99.4% of the film takes place in 2014, and another .6% occur in 1936.