22 April 2014


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 we those in power can efficiently kill anyone whom cutting-edge predictive analytics (or good, old-fashioned paranoia) says will be a danger in the future. As you can see, the only thing more modern than the nostalgia is the politics!

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


Belfry Bat said...

What Really Bakes My Noodle (to quote a certain strange character from a less-thought-out movie) is: when people we know from Comic Books live among people we know from ... life ... what comic books do they talk about? While Captain America was frozen, did Moxy Fruvous cover the theme from the Spiderman TV cartoon, or did they make it up themselves? Or maybe that song never happened, but The Spin Doctors still recorded "The Jimmy Olsen Blues"? What would Marvel think about that?

On the other hand, it's not as if there's a shortage of comics referencing, say, the Fate Of All Internet Flame Wars, but... hmm.

Sheila said...

Full disclosure: I haven't seen it, so I'm just responding to your ideas about it, not the movie itself.

10. I spent a LOT of time on that fantasy myself. I always dreamed of taking Laura Ingalls (whom I felt was a true friend despite being long dead) around my world. I felt that if she'd been so impressed by a train, imagine what she'd think of a car!

3. If the South had won -- or if the Union had just let them go -- so many things would have gone differently. WWI, for instance -- the South surely would have stayed out of it, and the North might too.

And, you know, American democracy would look quite different if the states were still considered to be sovereign. Sigh....

2. I have been thinking of fashionable errors and virtues since your Dear Enemy post, which I never got around to commenting on. I don't think we just detest eugenics, for instance, because it is out of style. However, I think we *notice* it because it's out of style. How many errors and vices do we train ourselves to overlook simply because they are everywhere and we'd go crazy if we always tried to fight them?

Incidentally, I think people's unfashionable errors are very convenient for future generations to use to discount their forbears. Thomas Jefferson? We must ignore all the good he did, because he had slaves. Harriet Beecher Stowe? Well, she helped end slavery, but if you actually read her book, she was what we would call today a racist. Margaret Sanger gets this a lot. Pro-lifers like to point out that she believed in eugenics, but at that point, so were lots of people! You're going to have to do better if you want to condemn people .... it's not enough just to condemn them for being a child of their age. (GKC pointed out that faith is the only thing that prevents one from being a child of one's age. I think that's true. Though even with unchanging doctrine, I think I might disagree on a lot of points with a Catholic from, say, A.D. 800. My medieval counterpart and I would be terribly shocked at some things the other took for granted.)

I like the generational cycle theory. Sometimes it gets stretched too far to make it fit, but there are ways in which it definitely does work. It just makes me wonder .... what *makes* it work? People talk about millennials as if we are products of our upbringing (lots of time in school, lots of organized activities, way more parental attention than gen-Xers), but the previous Hero generation was raised quite differently. And Millennials were transformed by 9/11 -- but there was no necessity that 9/11 would happen. What would Millennials have been like without it -- still Heroes, or not?

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- That's an interesting point! Perhaps these are worlds with no comic books at all? LOL! (This begs the question of how a world without comic books would be different from ours. But that's another Sliders prompt, isn't it? =P)

I vaguely remember watching something in which comic books were produced in response to the popularity of the superheroes, but didn't always represent them accurately. It's a way to have both the heroes and the genre, but I can't recall where I originally saw that compromise.

Sheila -- Would you give Laura driving lessons, too? I imagine that would be fun! =D

Now that you mention Dear Enemy, I can articulate something I really hated about The Avengers. It made Steve Rogers seem so unfashionable! I admired him even then, and I wasn't pleased that he was made an object of fun just because he wasn't as "current" as Tony Stark.

Dear Enemy itself was an interesting experience precisely because there was nothing to keep me from discounting Sallie McBride just because she had some unfashionable opinions, although I also happened to oppose them. But I can't deny that I was able to do this only because of the distance between us and the knowledge that history has exposed eugenics for what it is. On the other hand, I wouldn't be so eager to read a contemporary book with an orphanage administrator who is passionate about giving a proper "sex education" to the tweens in her care: it would hit too close to home. And if she were as delightful as Sallie, that would make it worse. How can wonderful people be so wrong??? =P

Strauss and Howe relate their generational cycles to four "turnings" in history, which are also cyclical. For instance, the Hero generation is always defined by a Crisis period. In 1997, anticipating the next bunch of Heroes, Strauss and Howe made the following predictions for around 2005: "A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces it possesses portable nuclear weapons . . . Congress declares war . . . Opponents charge that the president concocted the emergency for political purposes." They were four years off, but it's still uncanny!

Now for the catch, which won't be reassuring. The main reason I "buy" Strauss and Howe's generational model is that it corresponds near perfectly to Saturn transits in astrology. =/ Apart from that, I'd say that its main danger is that it can be used to dismiss people in the same way as those unfashionable ideas. The condemnation that the Boomers are getting these days is a perfect example. The accidents of birth and upbringing affect a lot of things, but when a person is right, then he's right.

Brandon said...

I know there are comics in the DC universe -- it used to be (I don't know if it's still true) that the idea was that instead of superhero comics they had 'true crime' comics, about people solving real crimes (although, of course, sometimes the detective in the comic would be a superhero, since real superheroes actually solve real crimes in their universe). I don't know what's the case with the Marvel universe. I seem vaguely to remember the first Captain America movie showing an in-universe Captain America comic toward the end, though.

I love the "Berlin Wall (Up & Down)" item in the list.

Enbrethiliel said...


I see that I'll have to review the first Captain America movie again! =)

What I've wanted to know since I first saw the notebook is which people told Rogers to look up which historical or pop cultural markers. The Berlin Wall entry is probably the most relevant one.

Mari said...

I am totally out of the loop, I haven't read the comics or watched the movies. So it saddens me to say that I cannot come up with any thing useful on the movie. However I'll have plenty to ponder if or when I do see the movie now :)

I have seen one or two of the Iron man movies though. The X-men movies have been more of my thing.

DMS said...

I haven't seen Captain America. I am not a big comic book movie person- but you certainly brought up a lot of interesting points.

A friend recently recommended an author to me who writes alternate historical fiction in which things turned out differently I haven't started one of the books yet- but expect they will really make me think!

Enbrethiliel said...


Mari -- The Iron Man movies do seem to be the most popular of the Marvel lot!

I really liked X-men: First Class, but am not a fan of Bryan Singer's movies. Would you be interested if the franchise were completely rebooted by a different director?

Jess -- Is the author Theodore Dalrymple? Someone recommended his AU novels to me, but I know nothing about his books.

Bob Wallace said...

Was that my name you so snidely interjected into your post?

Captain America didn't do much for me as a kid. He was a WWII hero. I can't think of any heroic comic I enjoyed, and I read a lot of comics. I haven't seen the movie yet.

I actually preferred "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show." You might want to download the episodes.

Enbrethiliel said...


Your name, Bob, is an Easter egg in more of my posts than you may ever know! ;-P

Would you say that other boys your age had the same indifferent reaction to Captain America?

And is there a superhero who was hugely popular in your youth but is considered old-fashioned now?

Bob Wallace said...

There were no popular superheroes to speak of when I was a kid. Hmmm...Sean Connery as James Bond was a big one, but comics? Can't really think of any. None of us ever spoke of Captain America. The name was considered kind of goofy, even then. All of us preferred Saturday morning cartoons.