Twelve Things about Captain America: The Winter Soldier
12. It's great that the new Marvel-still-owns-the-rights-to-these-characters movies can be taken as chapters in one long, interconnected epic, but as someone who isn't very committed to this vision, I risk missing the good stand-alone stories after a few duds. Indeed, I almost didn't watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier sequel because of issues I had with The Avengers and Iron Man 3.
You read that right: I almost stayed away from Steve Rogers because I was so turned off by Tony Stark. So sorry for the non sequitur.
11. Totally mea culpa, of course--but do you know who didn't help? Joss Whedon, who turned Captain America into a complete goody-two-shoes Ken doll (only more two-dimensional) in The Avengers. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo do better by Rogers here, seeming to understand that being from the 1940s is neither a handicap nor a punchline.
10. Which is not to rule out humour: we still get a few jokes here, many of them courtesy of the Black Widow, who seems tickled (in a stoic way) to find herself friends with the world's fittest nonagenarian. But a lot of people's favourite seems to be the notebook.
What? No Watergate? =P
It was tricky to find an actual screenshot: all my fellow know-it-alls seem to have their own ideas of what post-WWII cultural phenomenon Steve Rogers should be aware of, and the versions run the gamut from serious syllabi to parodies. Apparently, the question that I was almost too scared to ask the classmate who would later become a close friend . . . "Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet someone from the past and have to show him around the modern world?" . . . is a more common fantasy than I had thought!
The catch that she and I (and Whedon) didn't see--but which the Russo brothers caught--is that someone from the past would have a lot to teach us moderns as well.
9. Something that Rogers might have been too modest to write down and that people wouldn't have thought to tell him anyway is the mythical significance Captain America has taken on since the end of the Second World War. We get a sense of this in the Smithsonian scenes, which are as strange for us as for him.
It's almost too AU, isn't it? I mean, we know that Captain America fell out of fashion as early as the 1950s--but Rogers seems to have awakened in a United States where he apparently didn't. Well, once he starts digging deeper, he'll see that we moderns like to think we remember history because we use the latest technology to commemorate it (as the filmmakers themselves do here) and because these displays help us to forget that we also buried it for decades. Nostalgia isn't the same thing as memory.
8. Nor is learning history the same thing as uncovering the contents of some classified documents, but if you're a superspy like the Black Widow, the latter lets you stay in character. The filmmakers deliberately selected Natasha Romanoff to be Captain America's primary partner, and indeed, no one else so perfectly fits the theme of "Uncovering the past which we ourselves helped to bury."
And teasing the audience with the slightest suggestion of sexual tension adds an additional dimension to the story. =P
7. Another theme running through Captain America: The Winter Soldier is trust, and whether or not it can have any common ground with security. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, whom I suppose we can describe as Captain America's boss, doesn't think so. His vision of a secure world is one in which potential threats can be neutralised long before they cause any harm. That is, a world in which
6. The good news is that the movie explicitly asks the question: "How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?"
The bad news is that the one who asks it isn't Captain America, and the one who answers isn't Fury.
But perhaps the filmmakers just don't want to spread the moral on with a trowel. Surely it's enough for our hero to point out that you can't "hold a gun on everyone on earth and call it protection" and to act accordingly.
5. Now, I know next to nothing about the original comic book characters, so I had no idea what to expect from Sam Wilson. I thought he was already great as himself, so the Falcon stuff--which was a huge surprise--was a bonus! LOL! And now I think that he's my favourite character. =) It's a chill sidekick who can say, "I do everything he does, just slower." I especially admire the way he can put himself under authority.
Wilson also happens to be an excellent foil to Fury, as someone our hero can trust unreservedly . . . and who trusts his own friends to the end. I wish the movie had made more of this.
4. Then there's the mysterious Winter Soldier from the title, who is himself (as his name would imply) a man under orders. Quite a contrast to the supervillain Red Skull from the first Captain America movie, aye? While definitely an antagonist, the Winter Soldier is a mere arm of a military-industrial complex rather than a head. (Oh, the puns! The puns!) Even the twist fails to make him very compelling. But well, it's not the Winter Soldier who is threatening to kill 2 million people all over the world in order to keep all the others safe, is it?
Sigh! We can't get around it any longer. It's Nick Fury who is ticking all the supervillain boxes. =S
3. So what is a patriotic superhero to do when his commander turns out to be the greatest threat to their country's greatest ideal? If you're at all familiar with the comics, you know that this question has been asked--and answered--before.
It does seem that no matter what post-war decade you plop Captain America into, he'll find a reason "to go rogue" on the US government. And if you factor in a time machine (Oh, the irony . . .), you might see him opposing administrations from before he was born as well--a thought that occurred to me when I realised that I had watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier on the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Sumter.
Would Cap be for the Union or for the Confederacy?
Now, you know from my Sliders posts that I occasionally play alt-historian. One recent challenge I gave myself was the prevention of the Philippine-American War. And the conclusion I reached was that it never would have happened if, thirty years earlier in the US, the right of the southern states to secede from the union had been respected. There's a sense in which the price of "the Union" included the lives of 200,000 Filipino civilians and 12,000 Filipino combatants. That's a mere 10% of the 2 million human sacrifices proposed by Nick Fury, but we've barely begun Abraham Lincoln's tally and he may catch up yet.
While it feels a little wrong for Captain America to be any sort of Johnny Reb (I believe his "Nomad" identity lasted a grand total of four issues), Steve Rogers and Robert E. Lee were arguably cut from the same heroic cloth.
2. Inasmuch as any hero embodies an ideal which also typifies a certain age in history, he'll always have a hard time staying "cool." Even the best ideals end up falling out of fashion--not because fashion is fit to judge them, but because we are constantly fighting (and since the Middle Ages, failing) to follow a straight path. These days, there doesn't seem to be much fight left in us: we're happy "to walk in circles."
St. Augustine of Hippo would facepalm at the increasingly popular Strauss-Howe generational theory, but it happens to explain perfectly why Captain America is newly popular today. According to William Strauss and Neil Howe, Rogers's generation and today's Millennials were born under the same astrological sign: we are both "Hero" generations. The one before ours is called the "Nomad" generation (LOL--but I kid you not!) of Gen X-ers. And if you compare the birth years of this movie's "good guys" with those of its "bad guys," you'll see that the real conflict is between the "Heroes" and the "Prophet" generation, the latest of which has been those odious Baby Boomers. (Hi, Terry! And you, too, Bob!) But while the Boomers of our world simply stopped buying Captain America comics, the Boomers of the movie's world get to be more active antagonists.
"Enbrethiliel, what is this madness you are writing about now?"
Oh, madness exactly . . .
1. Now, I personally like Steve Rogers. He has the authority of a steady moral compass, lives to serve others, and recognises a higher good--and unlike The Avengers before it, Captain America: The Winter Soldier gets that he is an admirable character. If Rogers were Catholic, he'd be nearly perfect . . . but I don't think the cyclical world, including the Catholic parts, is quite ready to see "Captain Christendom" again.
When are we unfreezing him?
Image Sources: a) Captain America: The Winter Soldier poster, b) Steve Rogers's notebook, c) Rogers at the Smithsonian, d) Captain America and the Black Widow, e) Nick Fury poster, f) Falcon poster, g) Battle of Fort Sumter stamp, h) "Hello, Sir" meme