Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 2014
Director Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson
Screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a special kind of thrill. In the small town of Seaside Oregon, Grouchnapper and I walked into a box theater which had less of a digital presentation than say, a transistor signal. Grouchnapper grabbed a large chili nachos and I went straight for the triple by-pass popcorn with butter. Our expectations varied. Grouchnapper had little to no expectations. He’s seen maybe two of the Iron Man films, the second Thor and The Avengers. Let’s just say he’s not an avid fan.
While not a comic con level fandom, I am decently versed in the storylines from the comics and fully up to speed on the entire Marvel Universe. It’s the most ambitious film project ever concocted, the acting matches (and often surpasses) the effects and the concentration on story gives the movie a depth that is rarely seen in tent pole projects. Having read the comic series of the same name, I figured even with Red Skull out of commission, this film could still be a mild winner in the way that the first film was.
Well, I couldn’t have gotten it more wrong, and couldn’t be more happy about it. Making the further progression of character that was started in The First Avenger and accelerated in The Avengers, Steve Rogers is now a fully dimensional person and not just a muscle head. He is forced to overcome a steady dose of obstacles rather than power his way through them, the way his contemporaries do. It’s interesting viewing him take on foes that could take him out, were it not for his analysis of tactics.
The Winter Soldier starts with one such scenario. Sure he can jump out of an airplane without a parachute, but he lands in the water. Once he climbs on the boat, he makes good use of that shield, and a heavy-duty version of parkour. The fight against the last guy (MMA Champion George St. Pierre) looks like a real challenge, even if he can kick another guy off a boat in mid-stride.
The next scene we see Sam Wilson (Mackie) running around the Washington National Mall Lake. He is soon passed by Rogers, passed again, and then passed once more. He strikes a crucial friendship with Wilson and then heads to work with Romanoff (Johansson). While there, Fury (Jackson, in all of his glory) fills him in on a new S.H.I.E.L.D project called Insight, which sounds a lot like the illegal Spying and Drone Strike program espoused by Bush and then Obama.
Then it happens. We see and hear the real Steve Rogers. The one who is so pro-American, he is an enemy of the state.
“You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection. This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”
I look at Grouchnapper. He is already looking at me. No words need to be said: Captain America is a Libertarian. He is suspicious of Jackson, but what he doesn’t know is that it’s not Jackson he needs to worry about. They both need to worry about the people who think it’s a good idea to dig up what they consider to be information on people throughout the world, analyze that information and then act on it, outside the bounds of law.
Enter The Winter Soldier, well past the 1/2 hour mark, playing about the same role as outlined by the comic series, if working for a slightly different boss. Sebastian Stan completely nails the character’s single-minded determination, as well as the flashbacks from the first film which fully rounds out the person that was Roger’s truest friend.
Atwell makes a remarkably moving appearance as Peggy Carter, Steve’s great lost love from the first movie. Seeing their heart wrenching discussion from her sick-bed brings such a completely pure sense of longing, one can’t help but feel for what both have lost. It’s unusual for a comic book film to reach such heights of genuine emotion.
Anthony Mackie is a joy to watch as Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon. This time, instead of a goofy set of wings, we get a government prototype set of wings that he deftly maneuvers to no real advantage. Even so, his character is a plus for the story as he provides a willing partner to the Captain when he needs a team. Another such partner, Black Widow / Romanoff, continues her winning streak of providing the right balance of looks and effectiveness, providing the biggest asset. Johansson has never been a favorite of mine, but it’s hard to imagine the Marvel Universe without her at this point.
Redford, as a member of the World Security Council Alexander Pierce, provides an ironic choice as one who is in the position of making life or death choices for so many. The idealism of his younger days has been replaced by a cynicism that he considers to be wisdom, much like the person who is in control of the Drones in present day real life. They have their finger on the trigger, so of course this makes them right. It’s a bitter irony that liberals have painted his character in the vein of some Republican nincompoop like Rumsfeld, when Pierce’s vision is way more complex and precise than “…we go to war with the army we have.”
Jackson is aces, as usual, with his most substantial turn yet as Col. Fury. The one liners are sharp, the exasperation is on queue, the brinkmanship is appropriately serious. His performance is crucial, as he thus far has been everything we think of when we see S.H.I.E.L.D. and he is going to be the one we go to once it all falls apart. In what is the bravest, boldest move of the series so far, Marvel decides to tear down nearly everything they had built, up to now. It only works because Sam is on board. The result makes both the movie series and the previously floundering television series more intriguing. One hopes that the former takes the leap successfully to otherworldly success for Guardians of the Galaxy, while latter takes the break to add some depth to the cardboard characters.
This leads us back to Captain America. This is the best version of Steve Rogers possible for people like Grouchnapper and myself. His spirit is one of true freedom, and, sadly, he is not representative of the present condition of the United States. The country he fought for does not exist. The alienation he feels is not exclusive to him, but he is strong enough to take it on. The exhilaration felt in truly seeing someone fight your fight as a common person is profound. It really is hard to believe this script made it as a major motion picture. It might be the fact that one of the targets of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the president as well as Tony Stark, but the Markus and McFeely have hit the nail on the head. We are definitely not in charge. Likewise, many of us have an understanding of who the enemy is, and it is not us.
It was a bold choice to turn Steve Rogers into the spanner in the works for those who work against freedom. His awkwardness fits right in with the circumstances. The ride is rough, and will only get rougher. This is good for his character and great for the Marvel Universe.
(***** out of *****)