Marvel continues to grow its movie universe with its second installment of our favorite super soldier in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Naturally, we all want to talk about it. Probable spoilers after the break: welcome to the Chat Cave.
Shelby: I’m going to start things off with the ending, specifically the implications for the Marvel movie universe and the next Avengers movie specifically. I was pretty shocked to see S.H.I.E.L.D. both completely infested with Hydra agents and ultimately dissolved. I love the idea that the world’s premiere intelligence agency could be so outwardly focused that it can be completely blind to what’s happening within its own ranks. It’s an interesting concept, that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra have the same ultimate goal, the elimination of chaos, that the only difference between the two organizations is the means by which they would accomplish that goal. There are actually a lot of two-sides-of-the-same-coin pairings in this flick. There’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra, the good(ish) and evil intelligence agencies. Then there’s Cap and Winter Soldier: both men are soldiers kept in the dark about their agency’s ultimate plans, but poor Bucky demonstrates the Hydra end goal of a society free of freedom.
So, it’s a Marvel world with no S.H.I.E.L.D.; what are we supposed to do now? Nick Fury is “dead” and on the lam, Natasha is laying low while all her dirty laundry is aired, and Cap is looking for Bucky. Iron Man 3 saw the destruction of Tony’s suits and the removal of his arc reactor. I’m curious to see how Avengers 2 is going to deal with all this.
Analysis aside, I had a TON of fun with this movie. There were a lot of little details I adored: Natasha’s necklace with the tiny arrow charm, the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo painted Hydra-red on the new helicarriers, Stephen Strange tossed out as an example of one of the potential threats Hydra wanted to eliminate. Even Arnim Zola’s cameo as his consciousness recorded on miles of tape was a treat, especially after Rick Remender’s first arc of Captian America in Marvel NOW! That was the first thing I thought of once I saw Zola’s face on that monochrome monitor. I’m so impressed with the work Marvel has done on its movie universe. I don’t know what I’m more excited for: Cap and Falcon’s search for Winter Soldier, the implications this movie has for Avengers 2, or Guardians of the Galaxy (which will probably have no effect on the Avengers branch of the movie universe, but come on, Chris Pratt).
Patrick: Oh I would guess that Guardians is going to have bigger implications for Avengers 3 and whatever happens afterward. It’s amazing just how forward-minded this movie is, seeding all kinds of crazy shit, not least of which was that mid-credits sequence with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Kinda-mutants in a Marvel movie? It’s mind blowing, paradigm altering, ambitious stuff, but that’s Future Movie Speculation. The exciting movie making is already happening.
Specifically, I’m impressed with the way Cap’s specific brand of fish-out-of-water is leveraged in this movie. Drew and I were just talking the other day about how Captain America: The First Avenger was sort of a double-origin story, first explaining how a man comes to be a WWII supersoldier, and secondarily, how he came to exist in the present. Winter Soldier pays off two full hours of set-up by making his old-timey otherness an integral part of the flick. At its heart, the movie is a political spy-thriller, and it’s only 20 minutes in before someone says “trust no one.” But, like, how do you not trust Captain America: the Most Earnest Man in the World? Cap’s sincerity — the very quality that makes him lamer than all the cool heroes — makes him the best character for the job. His character is just so well cast in this espionage action flick.
Oh my God, speaking of the action: incredible, right? Again, it might be cheesier to have Rogers rocking the ricochet-shield in every brawl, but it’s so much less vanilla than the gun-play of the first movie. Even Falcon’s wings looked cool! Even the little things, like the excellent old age make-up on Hayley Atwell, looked great. Drew, what was you favorite film-realization?
Drew: That would of course be Batroc the Leaper. You know, the villain on the boat? I knew I recognized the name, but couldn’t place it until the guy comes this close to kicking Cap in the nuts, and I realized that this is the same character that Deadpool keeps kicking in the nuts. The number of D-list Marvel villains is effectively infinite at this point, and while it ultimately doesn’t make any difference what this character was called (I don’t think he leaps enough here to warrant a nickname), it was a fun Easter egg for fans who might catch the reference.
Honestly, that level of immersion in the Marvel universe may be my favorite thing about this movie. I suspect that my awareness of those references has more to do with my increasing familiarity with the mythology than any uptick in their presence in this movie, but it was still fun to see the Scarlet Witch, to hear Doctor Strange’s name, and to hear the characters basically acknowledge that Iron Man is still the most popular Avenger. It was nerd catnip, but it worked like a charm.
Beyond fan service, though, this movie was just really well done. I’ve been disappointed in the third act of basically every other Marvel movie (which I always felt emphasized bombast over emotional resonance), but this one managed to make the emotional and physical stakes one in the same. Sure, it relied on a relationship that even the first Cap film failed to invest in, but it seems like they’re mostly setting it up for a future storyline, which we can actually devote time to now that everyone knows who the Winter Soldier is.
Spencer: Yeah, if I have one criticism about this film it’s that the Winter Soldier felt a little underserved; the movie’s named after him, yet he really only acted as Hydra’s dragon, and his plot with Steve was pushed to the background in favor of the Hydra stuff. Speaking of which, I find it interesting that we haven’t mentioned the politics yet, as that’s been one of the most discussed aspects of the film across much of the internet. I suppose it could be seen as a bit of a cop-out that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s issues — and America’s — can all be chalked up to Hydra, but I think it’s an excellent way to integrate relatable real-world problems into the world of superheroes. Besides, the fact that the government’s current surveillance strategies can be convincingly passed off as a supervillain’s plan is some pretty biting political commentary unto itself.
Still, despite his smaller role, I think the scenes with the Winter Soldier worked extraordinarily well. Every time he showed up the film took on a new life; his confrontation with Cap, Widow, and Falcon mid-way through the movie is remarkably well-ceorographed and unnervingly tense, and the stark, droning score that accompanied all his appearances made him absolutely terrifying.
Despite the small amount of time we actually spent seeing Steve and Bucky together, I thought the emotional component worked just as well. The first half of the movie — especially his visit to an Alzheimers-ridden Peggy Carter — established exactly how much Steve had lost, and the prospect of finding Bucky only to lose him all over again has obviously left Steve devastated. I love how Steve was professional enough to complete his mission before attempting to reason with the Winter Soldier, but I think it’s telling how willing Steve was to sacrifice his life if it meant saving Bucky. Not only is it a testament to Captain America’s inherent goodness, but perhaps even to how little he values living without him.
What elevates this from a “great” movie to an “excellent” movie for me, though, is the fact that all of the main cast gets to share in similarly excellent character development. The dynamic between Steve’s transparent honesty and Natasha’s constant lies — buoyed by the terrific chemistry between Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson — made for a compelling study into Black Widow, and seeing a character who has always fought so hard to keep her past under wraps give up all her secrets was shocking; I can’t wait to see where it takes her next. Then there’s Falcon; Sam’s a rock, someone who not only proves that there’s still value in Steve’s worldview, but also shows that there’s still people out there who can be trusted unequivocally, proving Nick Fury wrong. Plus, this movie made a character like Falcon — who can so often come across as silly — into someone supremely awesome, and how cool is that?