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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER Is Exactly the Movie Marvel Needed to Make

I’d been really looking forward to Captain America: The Winter Soldier since they announced it, and doubly so since an early press day last July in which the creators spoke about how they intended a darker, more realistic approach to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and wanted to deal with threats to national security, and referenced Cold War spy and conspiracy films like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. This all sounded wonderful, but I’ve learned never to get hopes up too high. This was silly, of course, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivered exactly what was promised and more; it’s the kind of movie Marvel should have always been and always henceforth should make.

The main issue with the post-Avengers movies that people have is that, surely, any threat in Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World should have warranted a call to at least one of the other Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, if not all of them. One could easily say “Sure, Thor could handle this, and Iron Man has enough suits to handle that, but it probably would have been a lot easier if they didn’t have to.” With The Winter Soldier, we get the advantage of it being a solo movie AND a team movie AND a movie that furthers the greater Marvel Universe AND changes the game of everything. It’s most certainly NOT a placeholder until The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

MINOR SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT, PLEASE BE ADVISED

Let’s address the solo movie factor first. For me, the heart of all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been Steve Rogers, a/k/a Captain America, played by Chris Evans. Of all the Avengers lead-up films, Captain America: The First Avenger was the one I was most surprised and delighted by. Despite his incredible new abilities of strength, speed, and stamina, Rogers remained an Average Joe who wanted to do the right thing and serve his country. He is the everyman superhero, and the one most people can relate to. Tony Stark is a billionaire playboy with an ego the size of Pittsburgh, Bruce Banner is essentially a monster trapped in the body of a normal human some of the time, and Thor is a damn god! While they’re all great characters, and all certainly “good guys,” they’re more aloof and unreachable than Steve. Even Black Widow and Hawkeye, with their years of covert operations and clandestine workings for S.H.I.E.L.D., put them at arm’s length as far as relatability.

While The Avengers is certainly a team movie, and one where everybody surprisingly gets quite a lot to do, if we look at it as the second Captain America movie, then we have a definite arc for Steve Rogers, going from good soldier fighting a just war, to being thrown into a leadership position with superhumans and fighting aliens and gods, and then finally coming to this movie where he feels the most alone, and even through his work doing dirty deeds for S.H.I.E.L.D., he doesn’t find the people he works with as much of a “team,” since none of them are on the same page and each have their separate missions, which Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) explains in The Winter Soldier‘s first act. Cap is looking for someone he can connect with, and while he has a few candidates, he still feels like he doesn’t belong in the world he’s inhabiting. It’s very telling that, of all the Avengers, he’s the one who joined up with S.H.I.E.L.D. outright, whether from a sense of duty or just lack of anything else.

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This brings us to the second point – the team aspect of this film. People can complain about why Iron Man didn’t get involved or why the Hulk wasn’t somewhere, but this was an internal S.H.I.E.L.D. problem and it needed the right people to stop the sinister plot. Steve is forced to team up with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), whom he doesn’t trust and doesn’t know how to just be herself, in order to get to the bottom of things. She’s very aloof at the beginning, but it’s because of Steve that she’s able to be truly heroic. They go from coworkers to partners to friends in a very natural way. In Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Steve finds a kindred spirit, someone who knows what it’s like on the frontlines of a war, and not behind a shroud of secrecy. When things go wrong, Sam is the only one Steve can turn to, the way Steve was the only one Fury could turn to. These three are certainly the main focus of the film, but we also get Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), who join the fracas and become important figures as well.

Who else would they need for this mission? They’re taking down corrupt government turncoats, and hence they only need the uncorrupted members of their government agency. Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor would simply not have been able to do more than just smash, destroy, and electrocute things. They’re almost too powerful for a job of this magnitude. An invasion by wormhole aliens? Sure. A secret conspiracy and the possible death of millions stemming from Washington, D.C.? We got who we needed. In fact, I don’t even care about more Avengers movies (though that’s not true and I’m way excited for Whedon’s next); if every Marvel movie from here on was just Cap, Widow, Falcon, Hill, and Fury, I’d be the happiest of campers. They work incredibly well, we get the character dynamics we need, and we still have the central figure of Captain America to whom we can attach ourselves.

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Cap’s past comes back to haunt him, and that not only affects him personally, but becomes vital to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from here on out. The Winter Soldier being who he is pains Steve greatly but it also adds a depth to what other unfortunate and exploited super people there are out there. This ties in directly to themes that have been present this season on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the character of Deathlok, going from a good family man to a half-machine killer. Hydra’s continued presence also makes things more interesting, especially given the mid-credits sequence from this film (no spoilers here).

Speaking of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., this movie is perhaps the only one so far that I’m okay with them referencing (and having to, frankly) on the series. Up to now, every time the television show has referenced the film series and things that happened in it, it felt like they couldn’t make the show work without making people remember all the big movies they’ve seen. The couple of Thor crossovers already this year have felt slightly out of place and a bit of a ratings grab. However, The Winter Soldier has and will have direct ramifications on the series, in a good way. Agent Sitwell, who’s been in several of the films, has been featured prominently recently on the show and is a major player in this film as well, tying everything in naturally and not in a forced way at all. I don’t know why, but the movies referencing the show makes me excited while the show referencing the movies makes my eyes roll. Regardless.

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Since The Avengers, every film and TV show has been referencing “the Battle of New York” that was the climax of that film; everybody is reeling from it still and has put their trust even further in S.H.I.E.L.D., but after the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, everything has changed. I imagine from here out, there will be references to “The D.C. Incident,” which actually will be of greater importance than the previous one. If there is nowhere that’s safe, and everyone’s on the run, then it’ll make our heroes struggles in Age of Ultron all the more difficult.

By making the movie about its characters, and about the idea of far-reaching conspiracies and clandestine behavior, Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds in a way that no movie in the Marvel Universe has yet. It’s a superhero movie with huge effects and action sequences, but it’s also perhaps the most important with regard to its characters and its world on a small scale. Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were fun, but they did feel like wheel-spinning, and now this one finally feels like the movie Marvel should have been making all along. It’s fitting how the Captain America movies are the continuity movies and the story-advancing movies; he’s the one who’s most of the world, and yet the one who feels the most out of place. He is our hero.

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29 comments

  • Loved your review… but I am very unhappy about the clear pilfering of the big idea at the end of a series of books called The Breach Trilogy by Patrick Lee. These books are so awesome that everyone I’ve ever told about them reads all three in less than a week, and the first book, The Breach is soon to be made into a movie by David Goyer. Taking that concept and using it was just plain wrong. Read the books and you’ll get it. As bad as what Homeland did with the ideas in Alex Berenson’s books.

  • I think you make some excellent points! I would just like to point out that the somewhat episodic “wheel-spinning” of Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 aren’t so bad: if the MCU was constantly violently changing with world-shattering developments it would also induce eye-rolling. Avengers and Capt 2 space out the crises to a more palatable level.

  • Unfortunately, DC has been trying to make their version of the “all-American goody-two-shoes” character (Superman) into a flawed and troubled soul. Marvel is getting it right with Cap though, keeping him the stalwart champion of ideals who now has to deal with a flawed and troubled world.

  • I think you’re onto something Mr. Anderson. Some context and details in the Avengers film were extracted from the pages of Marvel’s ‘Ultimate’ universe. A bit of an alternate dimension from the main Earth-616. And in that Ultimate uni or Earth-1610, all the superhero origins and goings on are some how tied to or spokes emanating from Cap’s super soldier origins. Seems to follow in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as well.

  • Good review of the way the movie affects the future of the MCU. As to the inference that The Breach Trilogy was lifted, this is a retelling of Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors series, starting off in 2008, which puts it a clear two years before the books published date. This series was put in motion by Bendis’ Secret War miniseries, and the movie also takes a note from this mini as well.

    I do agree, The Breach trilogy is a fantastically written series though.

  • This was pretty much everything I was thinking after seeing the movie, but put much more succinctly.

    Is anyone else having trouble with Sitwell’s timeline though? In the last SHIELD he was called to the Triskelion, was he then sent to the Lemerian Star? And if so why? Or was he on the Star, then rescued, then met up with Coulson, then was called back – and again, if he was called back – why? I need to stop thinking about it.

  • @biblioholic – Sitwell & Victoria Hand left at the same time. But, they went to different places. She went back to HQ @ the Triskelion. Sitwell was called to the Star immediately. He didn’t return after that. Obviously both are w/Hydra & were being positioned to start the takeover. Melinda May was protecting Coulson on orders directly from Fury. But, once he dies, she’s left in the cold.

  • Biblioholic29: Sitwell was called to the Lemurian Star while he was on the Bus. I was a little confused about the timeline as well during the movie, but I went back to rewatch the episode and that’s what happened.

  • I don’t know if I’d call Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World wheel-spinning, though. They were about the fallout of the Battle of New York.

    On the Iron Man side, you see that the invasion has changed the world. Where previously Iron Man fought local, limited threats, he now finds himself in a world where a terrorist is striking all over the world and threatening the president on live tv. And he finds himself (emotionally) I equipped to handle it. Invasions are nothing new for Thor, Cap, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, and Hulk handles everything the same way, but it was a new experience for Tony and he had to learn to overcome it.

    On the Thor side, you have Loki having to account for his actions and the world having to deal with *another* city-destroying alien invasion, cementing that this is just what life is now.

    And all three of these things, the Battle of New York, the Mandarin attacks, and the Battle of Greenwich drive the world to put more and more trust in SHIELD, which is where Winter Soldier finds itself.

  • Another reason they probably didn’t get the Avengers involved or the rest of the MCU, is that it’s exactly what Hydra would’ve wanted. They were planning on a mass execution of all of their threats. So, why call in every hero to DC and make Hydra’s plan easier if it did indeed all go down. I’m certain Fury purposely told them all to lay low for the time being for that very reason. And, yes, there was also the trust issue in case any of the heroes were also moles.

  • I liked this movie when it was called Star Wars Episode 3. The only thing I liked about this movie when compared to Star Wars was that Sam Jackson got his man motha fucka!

  • Great review, you addressed the issues of where such and such is when things sent south, which is a natural question any fan would ask. Here’s my opinion:

    I think Iron Man was not called upon because all his suits are gone, maybe after he realize how close he got to been murdered it will get him to rebuild his armor. In the process inadvertently create Ultron.

    I don’t think they know Thor is living on Earth, do can’t contact him. They didn’t call on him in Avengers either, he just came on his own accord.

    Hulk, I imagine is laying low somewhere trying his best to horns in and stay anonymous, hence off the grid.

    As for Hawkeye, I think he’s on retcon/rescue mission of the twins in the end credit. I reckon it will be the opening act of Avengers 2.

  • Does it seem yucky to anyone else that Black Widow suggests that Cap should get together with Agent 13 given his relationship with what I assume is her grandmother?

  • I’m not ain tune to the Marvel Universe as all of you but Iwanted to make a comment… CA2 was the bomb. They finally got it right visually where we could clearly see what a bad ass Cap is and Scarlet Johanson is underrated in these films… She is really good. The movie’s I am most disappointed in are the Thor films. Partly, it’s my taste, they get too Star Treky for me… But mostly it is because I don’t buy the relationship between Thor and the Natalie Portman character… Portman is awful in this role and does anybody believe she’s a scientist? I usually like her as an actress but she is literally dragging down the series (which is a shame because Loki is one of the all time villains). As good as Scarlett Johanson is in Cp2, that’s how bad Portman is in Thor 2… They really need to kill her off.

  • Rick B: yeah, but everyone ends up recycling ideas in the end. And at least the movie, unlike the book, FREAKING MADE A CHOICE ABOUT DEALING WITH THAT.

    Not that I’m bitter about the cliffhanger/vague end to a great trilogy, no….

  • You morons trying to rationalize why every movie isnt the Avengers need to stop watching Marvel movies. Seriously if you cant enjoy the best Marvel movie yet without wondering where’s Ironman? this is so unrealistic,” then maybe Comic book based movies arent for you. Go watch the Hobbit

  • you make good points but allow me to make a few of my own. this is a pretty good movie BUT it shows that capt america is a pretty shity superhero, cuz if it had been iron man or the hulk they would have torn the winter soldier in half the first time they saw him and the movie would have been over in half an hour. also  a few plot points, such as finding a black sidekick who has a flying suit of armor, the ambitious guy working with the half-robot villain, and the entire military turning against the super hero ARE EXACTLY THE SAME AS IRON MAN 2. That being said it was a pretty entertaining movie

    • Oh and the “twist” that his friend was the winter soldier was pretty much the same as james bond golden eye where 006 died in the beginning  and ended up being the bad guy in the end

      • Uh….you do realize that the Winter Soldier storyline, where Cap discovers his former partner Bucky was playing for the other side debuted in the comics in 2005, right? The film’s story follows the basic outline of the comics. In addition, not sure what your point is about the Falcon teaming up with Cap. Falcon and Cap teamed up for the first time in the comics in 1969 (a few years before Iron Man 2 hit the theaters). This film merely replicated what was in the comics in the years before as well. Also, it should be noted that Falcon’s pararescue suit (nothing more than a tech version of a wingsuit) isn’t anything close to Iron Man armor. Comparing the two is comparable to saying Thor or Superman are the same as Iron Man because they can fly. Plus, Whiplash controlling Hammer drones to attack Iron Man is a long, long way from “the entire military turning against the super hero”. For that matter, Hydra agents attacking  Marvel superheros is also a very long way from “the entire military turning against the hero” and has been happening since 1965. If this film is guilty of anything, it’s guilty of following fan favorite storylines from the past 4 decades. How “unoriginal”, almost like they were interested in making a film that lots of people would want to see and would make a large amount of money. Who knew?