Captain America: The Winter Soldier

For the first time in many months I actually drove to a theater and went to see a movie.  CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.  I had really been looking forward to this film since the first movie is one of my favorite superhero movies ever because of the lovely character moments and it’s thoughtful analysis of war, bravery and why we fight.  I particularly liked the moment where Dr. Erskin is examining the scrawny Steve Rogers and asks in a faintly mocking tone about how he wants to go and “kill Nazis.”  Rogers quiet response — “I don’t want to kill anybody, I just don’t like bullies.” tells me so much about the character and the relationship that develops between the two men.

I was hoping for similar moments in this second film and it didn’t disappoint.  First I have to offer big kudos to the fight choreographer(s) involved with this film.  For the first time I got to actually enjoy the fight sequences to see the punch and counter-punch, the fluid, almost dance-like quality of martial arts.  It was not a sequence of fast and confusing cuts that give you no sense of flow.  There were also some amazing car chases that were exciting rather than trite.  It also helped you had Samuel L. Jackson’s waspish delivery to enliven the action.




But what I loved the best about this movie were the quiet personal moments — between Sam and Steve, Steve and his lost love, Steve and Natasha, and the overtly political tone of the movie.

There were a number of what I think of as “grown-up” choices that were made in this film.  The first was not somehow, magically having Steve’s lady from 1940 be miraculously young and waiting for him.  Peggy Carter was an old, dying woman who went on to build a life without him.  I was a little startled at the idea that she was one of the founders of SHIELD, but then decided it made a certain degree of sense given the events in the first film.  His affection for her, his ability to look past the carnage of the years made me like him even more.  She was always going to be  Peggy for him.

The second choice they made that really pleased me was the fact they didn’t force a romance between Steve and Natasha.  He’s heart wounded and not ready for a relationship.  She’s not interested in him.  Instead she keeps trying to help him find a date.  By doing this the writers and directors showed respect for the Capt’s love for Peggy, and they also didn’t define Black Widow by her relationship to men.  Unlike the female elf in the second Hobbit movie who was totally defined by her relationship to men.  It didn’t matter how much ass she kicked — it was all about her relationship to Legolas’s daddy, Legolas, and Hot Dwarf.

There was a nice complexity to the movie as well.  Wheels within wheels that you don’t often find in your basic action movie.  Nick Fury continues to be a complex, very grey and very fascinating character.  It was clear he had staged his death, but that was okay.  It fit the overall tone.  I was also very glad they didn’t have Sam die.  It’s a cheap way to get a reaction from an audience and they didn’t take it.

The scenes at the end between Steve and Bucky/The Winter Soldier again established Rogers essential decency.  Violence is easy, redemption is hard and they came down on the side of redemption.  One other very nice moment was Steve’s little notebook with all the societal memes with which he needs to catch up.  The fact that he wrote them on paper rather then pulling out his phone or IPad was also just another lovely little character touch as were the LP’s and the stereo.  Even the choice of music.  The directors and the writers had given real thought to the story of a man-out-of-time.

Now to the politics.  Just as Person of Interest unwittingly created a show about the surveillance state without realizing they were prescient, this movie embraced the discussion.  When Steve first goes to SHIELD headquarters and we see the courtyard with the big eagle sculpture my first thought was that it had a very Albert Speer, Third Reich feel.  Turned out there was a reason.

Which is actually my one quibble with the movie.  I didn’t need Hydra in this film.  I understand why they did it — a call back to the first film and so Natasha could deliver the line.  “How does it feel to know you died for nothing?”, but I thought that weakened the discussion about surveillance and the curtailment of our liberties in an effort to feel safe or to at least have the illusion we are safe.

I would have been happier if it had just been a schism within SHIELD itself about the proper use of spying and targeted drone strikes, etc.  By making it evil Nazis it felt like the movie let SHIELD and by extension our government off the hook.

We could have ended up in the same place with SHIELD in tatters, Natasha as Snowden, etc. etc., without the addition of Hydra.  I admit I am very anxious to see Tuesday night’s episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD after these events.  I’m also pretty sure we know the identity of the Clairvoyant now after this movie.

29 Responses to Captain America: The Winter Soldier

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Another thing I really loved was the fact that the Captain is part of that Greatest Generation. He didn’t fight Nazis so American ideals of liberty could be undermined sixty years later.

    On a more serious note it’s why the Senate study of torture by the CIA and the previous administration _must_ be released. To have allowed that, encouraged it even is poisonous to our Constitution and the republic.

  • Eric Senabre says:

    I totally agree on (almost) everything you wrote, and if you may, I’d like to add two things.
    First of all, I think the greatest idea is that Captain America is no longer the “super soldier” of the United States, but the “hero of freedom” generally speaking. He becomes a much more global symbol. That is a bold move. World has changed, and it’s not easy to draw a line between the good guys and the bad guys.
    I see what you mean with Hydra. But basically, what does it say ? That the US hired nazi-geniuses to do their work after the war. And that’s exactly what happened with people like Werner Von Braun (who, if I’m not mistaken, had had an important role inside the NASA). I would say it’s even bolder to admit that fact, and to put it in an action movie. Now, it may not work totally fine in terms of writing, and I can’t deny that. But that’s another interesting symbol.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I liked the echoing of that history — the U.S. did bring a lot of Nazi scientists in to the country to work for us as well as some officers who had fought the Communists. It was the rise of the Cold War and apparently they thought fascists were better than commies? It wasn’t going to be too long before the country lost it’s collective mind and we had the whole Red Scare. I still feel like bringing back Hydra let us off the hook — for torture, for drone strikes, for preemptive war, etc. etc. We might have lost our minds in the 1950’s, but totally lost our shit after 9/11.

      I do agree with you that it was bold and startling to see these issues even _raised_ in an action film.

  • Eric Senabre says:

    Now that I think of it, the choice of Robert Redford is probably less innocent than I thought first ; it could remind us of these political-paranoid-fiction movies from the 70’s in which he starred (All The President’s Men, Three Days Of The Condor)…

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      Good point! We tend to think of him as a heroic good guy so I liked the fact he wasn’t. And I like the fact that it was Fury’s actions years and years ago that led Pierce to believe this was a viable and reasonable action. Nobody’s hands are clean, and things are very grey.

  • I was sort of disappointed that SHIELD itself wasn’t actually responsible for the bad stuff. I would have been more satified if it was them, rather than shifting off the blame to HYDRA. But that’s me.

    The only other think I’m sorta sad about is that this sorta heads off any Nick Fury vs SHIELD movie….

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      That was my problem. Hydra is too easy a target. As I said this was courageous, but if they’d made it a discussion about the dangers of unfettered power with no legal oversight, and had it be an element inside SHEILD who was planning this it would have been stunning. They could make a very valid argument after the events in THE AVENGERS we have to get the world in order! We’ve got to be ready to face any future alien threats so undesirables on Earth have to be dealt with.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I just realized that all of the characters apart from the Captain have done morally ambiguous things. We know Natasha had a very dark past, Fury is complex and a very grey character, even Sam fighting in Iraq alludes to things that were done. The Captain really is a throwback to another time in so many ways. Is he quaint or is he there to remind us of who we should strive to be?

  • Eric Senabre says:

    Good question. Maybe an answer lies in… his uniform change. At the beginning of the movie, it has slightly changed ; it’s a dark blue, very serious. Then, the old stars and stripes uniform is back. I guess the writers are trying to tell us something there.

  • Georgino Ludwig says:

    Actually I liked the Hydra element. In terms of letting society off the hook, I don’t think that’s what it does. Hydra as was mentioned in the mid credit scene is the other side of SHIELDs coin. Shield and hydra both serve the same basic function by seekin to fight against chaos and disorder. Hydra though represents mankinds worse aspects.

    On a side not in other countries captain’s list is different

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      That is very cool that they have culturally relevant lists for the Captain. Thanks for passing that along. I see what you’re saying Georgino. I have to sit with that. I just think Nazis have become such a shorthand that it makes it too easy.

  • James Pavlik says:

    I understand your comments about Hydra, but I thought that is was a convenient organization to have as a Shadow Organization, the whole New World Order Boogeyman that the tinfoil hats like to warn about. it IS based on a comic book, and the Captain has always had a fight with Hydra. I just wish they had shown either more imagination, or stuck to the Comic book and called out the Red Skulls Daughter or Grand daughter as the mastermind.
    in a way, this movie also explains alot of plot twists and elements in Agents of Shield as well. a coverrt group of agents that flies around all the time putting out “fires” for Shield? sounds like Fury had at least one (Maybe more?) teams out there that report to him, loyal to him, that he trusts as much as he trusts anyone. I hope we will see how this plays out in the upcoming episode.
    Last thing, when there was the explanation of DNA targeting, did anyone notice the name of Steve Strange? I hope this is foreshadowing for a Dr. Strange appearance somewhere in the Marvel Universe. a Defenders Movie Maybe? Marvel has not even touched the Supernatural side of their universe yet. OK Other than Blade, and Maybe Electra. I think there is alot of potential in that side of the Universe that is just full of untapped opportunities.

  • To call “All the President’s Men” a political, paranoid fiction, is an insult to the journalists at the Washington Post, some of whom I worked with and many of whom I admired. Not the least of whom was the great Katerine Graham herself, whom I am sure is spinning in her grave these days. Whatever it was, All the President’s Men is NOT fiction.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I’m sure Eric didn’t mean any disrespect. It’s the problem when you are typing fast and doing a shorthand. The Condor movie really was a paranoid film and All The President’s Men just got lumped. If could type in French as well as Eric handles English I’d be less ashamed of my lack of language ability.

  • Glad you enjoyed the movie, Melinda, clearly more than I did. My knowledge of DC got in the way of some of it (as well as my familiarity with Cleveland.) I liked it, just not as much as the first one. Totally agree with you about Hydra, there are enough neo-fascists out there that we don’t need Hitler’s aging followers for fear-mongering. An update of Keeper of the Flame should be enough.

  • Tom Painter says:

    Great read Melinda, glad to hear you enjoyed it. I really loved Winter Soldier for many of the reasons you have already mentioned. I would like to address the issue of the HYDRA ‘cop-out’ as it were. I don’t see it as such because the two organisations were revealed to be so closely intertwined that they were one and the same. The goals of the Nazi offshoot were to be achieved via the same methods as those employed by SHIELD in response to fear. Liberty sacrificed for the semblance of security. The bedrock of modern civilization eroded one so slowly as to be imperceptible.

    I don’t feel that the revelation that the fascist remnants of an organization SHIELD was founded to confront and destroy had guided the progression of SHIELD’s values to such a point that their goal’s became near mutual whilst their motives remained separate to be in any way deleterious to the commentary made in the film. SHIELD as an organization is vast, with HYDRA representing a portion of it, all those other people had to be compliant with the policies that are the target of critique. From desk worker to operative to Director Fury himself each and every one of them either watched the creation of those monuments to fear and remained silent or actively considered the strategy a positive step. Had SHIELD been revealed to actually be HYDRA then I think the criticism would be more valid.

    I think the point is highlighted most significantly in the response of Nick Fury to the revelation: that HYDRA must be stopped but the Helicarriers and the ‘first strike’ policy was still a good one. Here is a man diametrically opposed to the principles of HYDRA, the top of the pecking order of SHIELD and yet even he wants to continue with the project, it takes the adamance of Steve Rogers (a man from a different era, a man who fought at a time when real, demonstrable evil was at work in the world and not the just possibility (or in this case probability) of future terror) that the only right thing to do is tear the whole thing apart. The people the criticism is being levelled at aren’t being absolved of guilt via the reveal.

    The presence of HYDRA feeds back into the thrust of the narrative. The concept of destroying an enemy before it has a chance to form, let alone strike. They did so by dissolving and worming their way into the heart of their enemy at its inception. To cripple the threat to their existence before it even had a name. Even the concept of the same methods serving different masters is present here. Their tactic is echoed by Nick Fury during the narrative, that the best way to hide in plain sight is to convince your enemy you’re dead until the right moment to strike. A method that served both masters well.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      You make some really valid points, Tom. I might have been having a knee jerk reaction from working in Hollywood where there can be a tendency to go with the easy explanation, the path of least resistance, etc. I’ve thought so much about the past decade of history from torture to drone strikes to NSA surveillance that I felt like reaching back 60 years felt unnecessary, but I see where you are going. It’s the old dilemma of “becoming what you resist”. SHIELD unconsciously took on the attributes of Hydra. And yes, Nick Fury is a very grey character now. What he did to Coulson — resurrecting him in a particularly horrible way to wanting to have the resources represented by the Helicarriers. GRRM asked me after the movie who was my favorite Avenger and I said — “Captain America”. Stark if funny and quippy and irreverent, Dr. Banner is a kind and decent man, Black Widow is not a good person, Hawkeye is a cypher so far, but Steve is kind and decent and sincere, and his moral compass does not waver in the least. I love him. As I said to a gaming buddy — I think I play my Shepard as a Captain America type. 🙂

      But back in the real world — I found myself stunned during the Bush years over this fetal crouch that the country seemed to have assumed. I kept raging to myself — “we’re Americans god damn it! We aren’t cowards. We survived the Great Depression, and fought the Nazis for god’s sake.” But that attack on our soil seemed to just send us into a psychic tail spin. I’m glad this movie discussed these matters in a way that might be palatable to our society, and make us stop and think. That has always been one of the strengths of science fiction.

      • Tom Painter says:

        I have to concur with Steve being my favourite of The Avengers, especially after this second film, and now that I think about it in those terms my Shepard was very much in the Cpt. Rogers vein as well.

        I have a bit of a theory formulating as to Nick Fury’s reasoning to move heaven and earth to resurrect Coulson. I wonder if he saw this implosion coming, in one form of another. Absolute power corrupting absolutely and all that. He chose to fight to bring Coulson back because he was the 21st Century’s embodiment of the ideals Cap strove for, he did after all idolize a man that had ‘died’ long before he was born (probably, comics can be weird after all :-)). Coulson would be the lynchpin for turning SHIELD back into the organization it had strayed from being, a fulcrum around which the organization would turn when it shattered. A good man to stand up to what SHIELD would inevitably become, to have secrets kept from him by the people he trusts most so that he would become cynical and wary of the organization itself and wouldn’t be blindsided by the schism. That he would survive it and rebuild the organization as it should be. A pet theory of mine that may prove to be wildly inaccurate but fits for the time being.

        • Melinda Snodgrass says:

          I like your theory. I fell in love with Coulson from the first moment he appeared in Thor. Another basically decent guy. Also not a big man physically. In some ways Evans performance as the Capt is so great because despite the height and bulk and power you feel like that “little guy” is still there and still defines him. I’ve been wondering is Computer Zola is the Clairvoyant — worried because Coulson is the weird anomaly in the midst of SHEILD. When they talk about Zola’s predictive abilities in the movie that had to flashing to the seeming power of the Clairvoyant in the show.

          • Tom Painter says:

            Zola as Clairvoyant seems quite likely, then again I wonder is Agents of SHIELD would rather keep that kind of revelation more ‘in house’ rather than pointing to Winter Soldier and saying ‘the answer is explained over there’. A HYDRA double agent within SHIELD that has been communicating with Zola I can see as a more effective figurehead for the show.

            Back to the Winter Soldier, I really enjoyed the retun of skinny Steve Rogers in a couple of scenes, really highlighted that the Captain has not lost touch of who he is, in spite of what he has become. I was very happy in general with the attention paid to the previous film and its characters. Cap walking around his exhibit to be close to the people he lost, close to the world that no longer existed. Most of all I was happy with the treatment of Peggy Carter, they didn’t cop-out with some magical/technobabble way to keep her young. Both the actors played that scene beautifully and with such nuance. The alzheimers reveal and Chris Evans’ reaction to it nearly brought a tear to my eye. Wonderful stuff.

          • Melinda Snodgrass says:

            I agree that Zola might be a bit too “inside baseball”, but it seemed like a set up when they talked about his ability to predict. Yes, yes, yes about Peggy. I was so afraid they’d have her young again, and they didn’t. It was such an adult decision, and not having a romance in this movie was the perfect choice. This man is still grieving. He has lost so much — his best friend, his love and his world. He would have seemed so shallow if he’d started romancing Black Widow. And it was the little touches — the paper notebook and pencil, the LP’s, etc.

  • JaniceG says:

    ‘m with you in that I wish they hadn’t resurrected a tired “Hydra/Nazis as boogeymen” scenario and made it a philosophical schism within SHIELD. OTOH, I must admit that in my history of having to sit through the villain inexplicably explaining his/her whole plot to the hero, this was the first time I saw one delivered by green glowing ASCII art on a CRT monitor 🙂 I also loved the effortless masterclass in acting from Robert Redford.

    Stephen pointed out a fairly large plot hole: if they were just going to have the Helicopters of DNA Death blow each other up anyway, why did they bother with having to swap out fiddly computer cards in a particular slot instead of just throwing timed grenade bombs onto them?

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I could buy that a single bomb wasn’t going to bring down one of these flying monsters and that it would take the fire power of the ships themselves to destroy the helicarriers. I was also willing to accept that there wasn’t time to scrambler jets to try and shoot them down. They were coming on-line fast and a lot of people were going to die before the jets could arrive.

  • JaniceG says:

    PS I couldn’t figure out why the list in Steve’s little notebook had a few Australian entries on it – turns out there are different lists for different countries.

  • Raymond Low says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Glad you enjoyed the film. I saw it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. As to your comments, I have nothing more to add and agree with your critique.

    As a means of filling in a few gaps (if you haven’t already done so) is for you to watch a small short film on the Iron Man 3 Bluray called “Agent Carter”. It stars Hayley Atwell and alludes to Peggy Carter becoming a co-founder of SHIELD. Plus it’s a nice little episode in the Marvel Universe of Peggy’s life after the assumed death of Steve Rogers.

    Here’s another little bit of trivial I read from an interview with the directors: In the refrigerator of Alexander Pierce’s (Robert Redford) home, there is a bottle of “Newman’s Own” salad dressing as a nod to Redford’s late great acting partner Paul Newman. Here’s a link to the interview if you want to read it yourself:

    Take care.

    — Ray

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      That’s a very cool nod to Newman. It was those little touches that really made the film for me. I wish Marvel would collect these shorts and then let us buy that DVD because I’m damned if I’m going to buy either of the horrible Iron Man sequels. 🙂

  • I have to say that I really liked the penetration of SHIELD by HYDRA, both for the reference to Operation Paperclip (“When the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department!” says Wernher von Braun), and because it’s one of the great truths about intelligence agencies. I felt like suddenly SHIELD was being described not by Ian Fleming but by John Le Carré.

    I think I’d say that this rates for me as one of the very best of the films in its continuity. And like you, I valued it especially for its characterization, which avoided a whole lost list of overused clichés, starting with not having unresolved sexual tension between Steve and Natasha—their disagreement was actually about ethics and policy.

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