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:
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.
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.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
2. Iron Man
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. The Avengers
5. Iron Man 3
7. The Incredible Hulk
8. Iron Man 2
9. Thor: The Dark World
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.
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.
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.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. The Avengers
4. Iron Man
5. Iron Man 3
7. The Incredible Hulk
8. Iron Man 2
9. Thor: The Dark World
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.
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.
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!