11 Days of Marvel: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Day 9 of 11 Days of Marvel is here! In this project, Bill and Erin go through every sin­gle extant film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and write their reac­tions to them! The project start­ed here, with Iron Man, or you can click here to see all the arti­cles in the project so far. Today is about:

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Erin’s Response: How Captain Got His Groove Back

This movie is about alien­ation, about return­ing to a world you don’t remem­ber. Anyone who has been abroad for an extend­ed peri­od of time remem­bers the cul­ture shock upon return­ing home. I think the worst part for Captain is that the America he knew is com­plete­ly gone, and that noth­ing can replace the time he has lost. Furthermore, he is still try­ing to make sense of America, and his place with­in world pol­i­tics while catch­ing up on years of music.

While this is a super­hero movie with all the prop­er asso­ci­at­ed punch­ing of things, the less hero­ic parts are what kept me inter­est­ed. Captain’s rela­tion­ship with Sam Wilson, the Captain’s lit­tle note­book dili­gent­ly mark­ing the things he needs to research, Black Widow try­ing to set him up on a date, the very sad hos­pi­tal meet­ing with the demen­tia rid­den Peggy Carter—all of these moments kept me invest­ed in Steve Rogers as a per­son. The world-shattering, cat­a­clysmic Avengers plot is all but over, and now he must face what his new life will be like. He can’t put off choos­ing any longer.

Luckily, this is where the plot kicks in and makes our Lawful Good Captain ques­tion his alle­giances. I have to admit, I thought hav­ing to com­plete­ly scrap S.H.I.E.L.D because it was infest­ed by Hydra was a bit silly, but it was a nice set­ting for Rogers. Rogers remem­bers fas­cism, and he won’t stand for it.

This is a well-made movie, but it isn’t my favorite of the fran­chise. Perhaps it is because it is so sad, so exis­ten­tial that it takes away some of the magic of the MCU. I know why they exac­er­bat­ed Steve’s pain by mak­ing S.H.I.E.L.D. yet anoth­er unsta­ble thing in his life of unsta­ble things, but the truth is I am mad at them for mak­ing his life hard­er still. That is because Steve feels like a good friend. I guess they did their job too well for my taste.

Favorite Moment: Samuel L. Jackson’s awe­some car scene. In a movie fran­chise that has so much CG grandios­i­ty, it was great to be remind­ed that Nick Fury is a badass. He doesn’t have any super pow­ers, yet he is a super­hero.

Close Runner Up: When Rogers decid­ed to put on his old suit again; he is a sol­dier, not a spy.

Least Favorite Moment: I didn’t like that they ground­ed the Falcon so early in the ulti­mate bat­tle. He deserved more screen time, not less. Also, it would have been inter­est­ing to see the inter­ac­tion between him, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier in those clos­ing scenes.

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Favorite Expository Device: So, I dis­like infor­ma­tion dumps in gen­er­al, and in super­hero movies they are down­right ridicu­lous. Part of my beef with Thor: The Dark World was that the whole plot hinged on objects and wars that the movie took pre­cise­ly 1/3 of a minute to explain to me in a tired voiceover. At this point in the fran­chise, nine movies in, there is a lot of back­sto­ry the audi­ence should prob­a­bly know. So I under­stand the need for expo­si­tion, but it’s often han­dled clum­si­ly. Accordingly, I real­ly enjoyed the more than a bit over-stated Smithsonian exhib­it on the Captain. Very rarely do exhibits actu­al­ly have over­head voic­es explain­ing the dis­play, but I enjoyed this attempt at diegetic recap­ping.

Erin’s Rankings:

1Captain America: The First Avenger

2. Iron Man

3Captain America: The Winter Soldier

4The Avengers

5. Iron Man 3

6Thor

7The Incredible Hulk

8Iron Man 2

9Thor: The Dark World

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Bill’s Response: 

I don’t want to just gush about this movie. A lot of peo­ple have done that already, so I wouldn’t be adding any­thing to the con­ver­sa­tion. But it’s hard not to: I real­ly, real­ly like this movie.

It appeals to just about every­body. You want cool action scenes? Check. You want some clever dia­logue? Check. You want a fair­ly diverse cast? Check. You want it to even sort of be about some­thing rather than just peo­ple punch­ing other peo­ple? Check. You want sat­is­fy­ing ref­er­ences to other MCU movies? Check. You want this movie to nev­er­the­less stand pret­ty well on its own? Check. People want a lot of dif­fer­ent things from their comic-book movies, and this movie seems to sup­ply all of them.

Also, every sin­gle human being in this movie is impos­si­bly badass. Winter Soldier throws around fan­tas­tic stunts, beau­ti­ful­ly chore­o­graphed fight scenes and gen­er­al Crowning Moments of Awesome like cheap candy at a parade. In our age of enor­mous, hyper-CG slugfests between giant robots and mon­sters1, there’s some­thing delight­ful about a movie which is pri­mar­i­ly about badass­es fist­fight­ing other badass­es. If you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it on Amazon or some­thing. I’ll wait.

So, rather than just gush, let’s talk about my favorite part of the movie.

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At the end of the cli­max, Captain America stands on a cat­walk. His goal: a con­trol panel. If he gets there, he can pre­vent the deaths of hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent peo­ple. Between him and his goal: his old friend2 Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier, brain­washed and exper­i­ment­ed upon. He doesn’t remem­ber Steve, and Steve is ter­ri­fied to lose his old­est friend again. “Don’t make me do this,” he says.

Here’s how this scene would play out in a less­er movie: Captain would put down his shield, utter some hol­low plat­i­tudes, Bucky would mag­i­cal­ly remem­ber who he is, and there would be a tear­ful reunion before they stop the destruc­tion Together, as Best Friends. The movie would try to make some hol­low point about self­less­ness and faith in peo­ple, and it would have been fine.

That’s not what hap­pens. Steve doesn’t put the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple at risk just to maybe save his one friend. Instead, once it’s clear that Bucky isn’t going to stand down, Steve beats the crap out of him and accom­plish­es his mis­sion. Then, and only then, once every­one is safe, does he put down his shield and try to save his friend.

This makes his even­tu­al refusal to fight Bucky so much more pow­er­ful: we know he can fight him, and can prob­a­bly win. It’s not that he “can’t bring him­self to do it.” He can, and he did. He would have killed Bucky if nec­es­sary. He is per­fect­ly will­ing to put his own life on the line for the slight­est chance of sav­ing his friend. But he is not will­ing to put the lives of oth­ers on the line. Once they are safe, he never throws anoth­er punch. That’s a much more inter­est­ing moral dynam­ic than you usu­al­ly get in these movies.

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Favorite Moment Other Than The One I Just Talked About: The time the Winter Soldier pulls the steer­ing wheel out of Wilson’s car. Wait. The moment when Steve says “Before we get start­ed, does any­body want to get out?” to the ele­va­tor full of trained killers he is about to beat the crap out of. No, WAIT. Black Widow shoot­ing the Winter Soldier right in the gog­gles from a very long way away.  WAIT WAIT WAIT the lit­tle com­put­er jock­ey guy who refus­es to launch the heli­car­ri­er because Captain America told him not to.

You know what? I can’t pick one. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.

Least Favorite Moment: I didn’t believe Nick Fury was dead for a sec­ond. He’s NICK FURY. Also, the MCU has Samuel L. Jackson signed on for a bil­lion movies. They real­ly shouldn’t release con­tract infor­ma­tion if they want peo­ple to believe this sort of thing.

Bill’s Rankings:

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2Captain America: The First Avenger

3The Avengers

4Iron Man

5. Iron Man 3

6Thor

7The Incredible Hulk

8Iron Man 2

9Thor: The Dark World

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And Now, A Conversation

Erin: I think you have per­fect­ly under­stood that scene in the heli­car­ri­er. That is exact­ly what makes it so pow­er­ful. That he saves every­one, because he is a super­hero, and then he tries to save Bucky. That is exact­ly what makes this movie so good — the way it actu­al­ly treats it char­ac­ters like real peo­ple faced with real choic­es. A real per­son doesn’t sac­ri­fice mil­lions for one. A real per­son saves the mil­lions, and then goes for the starfish.

Bill: Well, and it’s also that to throw all of the peo­ple on the Eastern Seaboard away for the chance of res­cu­ing his best friend would be incred­i­bly self­ish. Like you said in our dis­cus­sion of The First Avenger, Steve is self­less to a fault.

Erin: Exactly! He might even feel more strong­ly about Bucky, but he knows that it is right and self­less to save every­one else, so that is what he does. Honestly, I real­ly enjoyed this movie. Perhaps the most inter­est­ing thing we dis­agreed on is its rank­ing in the MCU. What do you think caused our diver­gence?

Bill: Well, to be fair, I had a hard time decid­ing where it should go. The top four movies in both of our lists (Iron Man, The First Avenger, Winter Soldier, and Avengers) are all real­ly solid. That said, I think it depends a lit­tle on what you want out of these movies. I know you men­tioned that Winter Soldier isn’t as “fun” as The First Avenger, and that’s absolute­ly true. Also, I loved your point about being mad at them for mak­ing Cap’s life dif­fi­cult in this one. I agree. It would be nice for him to have a nice day, for once. We get to see almost every­one else enjoy them­selves at some point, but the MCU is pret­ty much just MEAN to Steve.

Erin: ROGERS MUST SUFFER. ROGERS MUST SUFFER.

Bill: Really, though. I would total­ly be will­ing to watch Captain America: Pleasant Day At the Park where the most dif­fi­cult thing that hap­pens to him is when he has to decide what fla­vor of ice cream to buy.

Erin: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But still. Steve is a good guy. Why can’t any of the things he stands for be as good as he is?

Bill: Well, because noth­ing is as good as he is. It’s just like any well-written Superman story, but it’s much worse because Steve is just a human, not a god­like alien. When we aren’t as good as Superman, he can just smile benev­o­lent­ly and know that it’s because we are puny, weak crea­tures. When we’re not as good as Captain America, he doesn’t under­stand why not. He’s just some kid from Brooklyn. So what’s our excuse?

Erin: Nothing. That is why I love these movies.

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Well, that’s it for Captain America: The Winter Soldier! We’re gonna take two days off while Bill fin­ish­es a huge law school project, so come back for Guardians of the Galaxy on Sunday and Avengers: Age of Ultron on Monday!

Notes:

  1. I don’t hate the hyper-CG stuff as much as some other peo­ple do. I real­ly liked Pacific Rim, after all. But still. []
  2. Yes, Tumblr, his friend. []

Bill Coberly

About Bill Coberly

Bill Coberly is the founder and now Editor Emeritus (that means he doesn't really do anything any more) of the Ontological Geek. He currently studies law at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he lives with his wonderful wife and a pair of small and snuggly terriers.