Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
SPOILER WARNING! DO NOT READ THIS UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? IT’S GREAT! GO SEE IT!!!
I’m just going to go ahead and say this right off the bat. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Cap 2 from here on out) is easily my favorite Marvel film. Things get muddled after that, but twist my arm and I’ll tell you Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America: The First Avenger are near the top, with The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 down near the bottom (the Thor movies are great too, and they’re in the mix…somewhere). But let’s talk about Cap 2. It’s a great movie, not just a great superhero movie, not just a great comic book movie, but a great action movie. While it doesn’t really stand on its own (non of the Marvel movies do), I think you could go in without having seen any of the other Marvel films, and with minimal explanation from a friend, know what’s going on and enjoy yourself. And for the diehard fans, there’s just so much to love about Cap 2. Let’s talk about it, shall we?
A New and Improved Uniform
One of the many things I loved about the first Cap movie was the uniform. It got updated in The Avengers, and I don’t think anyone thought the changes were good [cough] Cap hoodie [cough]. In Cap 2, not only does thee original uniform make a comeback towards the end of the movie, but Cap’s updated, subdued S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform is pretty awesome. It looks more practical as well as tactical, and a bit more like an actual military uniform. Hopefully this is the direction Cap’s uniform goes in for Avengers 2.
A Different, but Really Good Origin for the Winter Soldier
If you haven’t read Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America, I HIGHLY recommend you recitfy that situation. I could write pages about how influential Brubaker has been on Cap’s history and character, but instead why don’t you go listen to the great Assemble After Dark podcast by Ben “Godzilla” Bailey and CC2K alum Joey Esposito devoted to the Winter Soldier? You can check it out HERE.
Simply put, The Winter Soldier’s history and origin are different from what Brubaker gave us in the comics, but that’s okay. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is itself different from the comics (see Nic Fury, for example). So while Bucky Barnes was first changed into the Winter Soldier by Hydra (and not the Soviets), the essence of his character is intact. By the (very) end of the credits he is set upon a path of redemption, and I for one certainly hope this means he’ll get his own movie. That would be amazeballs.
Cap as America’s Moral Compass
One of the things Ben Bailey discusses in the Assemble After Dark podcast (you did listen to it, didn’t you?) is how Cap has reflected America’s feelings toward the government, and especially the military, at any given time. So during WWII he’s punching Hitler in the face. In Vietnam Cap is a conscientious objector. In some of the more recent comics, he’s fighting so-called “super terrorists”. In Cap 2, we see him as the best weapon in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s arsenal against “evil”. But he’s not comfortable with their secrecy or with their methods, and he is unsure of their intentions. We witness alongside Cap as Nic Fury unveils S.H.I.E.L.D.’s newest weapon: Project Insight. Advanced satellite networks linked to permanently deployed helicarriers armed with the most advanced and precise long-range ballistics that will identify and preemptively destroy any threat around the globe. While gesturing to the helicarriers above them Cap simply says, “This isn’t freedom, it’s fear.” Other reviews have pointed out how this could be seen as a symbol for the NSA’s “big data” spying activities and the military’s drone program. Both have been questioned, criticized, but ultimately judged necessary to preserve freedom and eliminate threats. For Cap, such equivocation is for naught.
One of the appealing things about Captain America (IMHO) is his stark sense of morality. For Cap, wrong is wrong, and the ends never justify the means. Cap condemns Project Insight, as he would likely condemn the NSA’s recent practices, or drone strikes, or CIA torture; I feel Cap would agree with Ben Franklin when he said “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” (yes, I realize he is a fictional character, consider this a thought experiment). I love that Cap has the courage to commit to his convictions and not waver, not compromise his morals for perceived protection of freedom.
Sure, this is a summer blockbuster, just another big popcorn movie. But I see nothing wrong with such a thing carrying a message of “America can and should be better”, especially delivered from a guy with America in his name. Who better than Cap?
Captain America, War Veteran (AKA SO MANY FEELS)
One of things that has been explored both in the comics and in the MCU is the “man out of time” element of Cap. As we see in the first Cap movie, he gets frozen and lost at the height of WWII, and is discovered and thawed in modern day. For Cap, everything is differrent. The music, entertainment, culture, politics, nothing is the same. While that was a basis for some light, comedic moments in The Avengers, here it takes a different, more serious tone. It’s actually one of my favorite things from the movie. Instead of focusing on Cap as a “man out of time”, he is instead depicted as a returning war veteran. The first scene of the movie is Cap’s meeting with Sam Wilson (who will become Cap’s high-flying “sidekick” Falcon). They share thoughts on trying to return to normalcy, and the difficulty of acclimating and assimilating back to civilian life after their time in a war zone. Later we see Cap visit Sam as he is leading a counseling group for returning veterans. It could have come off as tacky or in poor taste but it’s handled beautifully.
I love this in part because it makes perfect sense. WWII happened more than 70 years ago. We’re fast approaching a time when there will be no surviving veterans of this war. They will soon have all died of old age. But for Cap, from his point of view he was just there, what? A year ago? Less? It’s still fresh in his memory. Worse, all of his comrades in arms, his band of brothers have all died. Well, except for his almost old flame Peggy Carter. We see Cap visit her, frail and bedridden in a facility of some sort, talking about his uncertainty of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s agenda and what he’s doing for them. Peggy, face lined with wrinkles and framed in silver-white hair, comforts and reassures her old friend. It’s a beautiful scene that suddenly becomes tragic, as Peggy begins a coughing fit, to which Cap turns to get her a glass of water. When he turns back, Peggy reacts with shock and confusion, as if she is seeing him for the first time. And we realize, without being explicitly told, that she suffers from Alzheimer’s, and she has forgotten their conversation, forgotten that Cap was even there, that he is still alive..And we realize that IT’S LIKE THIS EVERY TIME HE VISITS HER. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and it could have so easily been cut from the film because it’s not funny or comedic or it takes away from the action, but I almost teared up it’s so good, and I’m so grateful it made it into the film.
It’s a big reason why this is my favorite Marvel movie. The Avengers and the Iron Man and Thor movies may have plenty of snark, but the Captain America movies have heart, and in the end that wins out.
All the Easter Eggs
There were SO MANY references, “secrets”, and Easter Eggs in the movie, some blinnk-and-you’ll-miss-it quick. Perhaps my favorite was the epitaph on Nic Fury’s tombstone (relax, he only faked his death), a reference to one of Samuel L. Jackson’s most famous roles from Pulp Fiction. What was yours?
The Hail Hydra Meme
Alright, so this has actually grown out of the movie over the last week. All you need to know is Hyrda (fictional Nazi bad guys) infilitrated S.H.I.E.L.D. (the good guys) and have been doing nefarious things in secret for years. In one scene, a slimy senator we last saw in Iron Man 2 (played by Gary Shandling) reveals that he is Hydra by whispering “Hail Hydra” in the ear of an associate. That’s now exploded across the internet to hilarious effect. Sure it will get old soon, but let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
There you go. Just some of the random things I love about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Three cheers to Marvel for continuing to build a wonderful, varied, cinematic universe. It’s a fun place to be, and with their plans to continue (at least) until 2028, it shows no signs of getting retconned out of existence.