So this is really overdue, considering the movie’s been out for, what, a month or two now? This took a while to get around to completing and life happened. Those are my excuses. 😀
PluggedIn’s job is still intact. (In fact, here‘s their review of the movie.) I wouldn’t bother writing my own review if I was simply rehashing what they said (which would therefore make it not my own). This review is my own, personal opinion of the movie and will involve things that I thought of apart from PluggedIn’s review. I’d say that my review isn’t a list of “goods” and “bads” and “this is why this movie is or isn’t family-friendly”… but I guess I’m kind of doing that anyway. Just a different way. 🙂
(Erm. Spoiler warning, I guess. Not anything huge, but there’s some stuff….)
So first things first: upon first viewing, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (henceforth “Cap 2”) rocketed up to #1 on my list of superhero movies. I have to say this to be fair: I haven’t seen very many superhero movies; that list is limited to both Cap movies, both Thor movies, Avengers, and all but two (and a half and a third…) X-Men movies. (And Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles and Batman: Under the Red Hood, if you want to count those.) Despite my limited exposure to superhero movies (not to mention their general failure to impress me in much besides the fight scenes and effects), I consider Cap 2 to be the best Marvel movie yet.
Yes, I’m going to explain that.
The first thing that I latched onto in this film was the great character set-up and development. Great work with character always scores extra points in my book. The movie starts by introducing a new character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sam Wilson (aka “the Falcon”), by showing him to be a chill guy with a sense of humour, an ex-soldier, and someone with something of the “shared life experience” Cap hasn’t found in anyone else. Though he’s a secondary character (even tertiary), he’s one that I very much like and root for. He proves himself loyal and willing to throw himself into danger to help others, even if it means getting back into something he had intended on leaving behind: “Captain America needs my help. Seems like a good reason to get back in.”
The depth of character building and development in Natasha Romanoff (aka “Black Widow”) came as a huge surprise for me. She’s still not my favourite superhero, but I like her way more in this film than in The Avengers where, as one of my friends puts it, “She’s pretty much there for the tight suit.” Here, she has a chance – a few actually – to shine, and not just in the way she suavely takes down half a dozen baddies in ten moves that look like one fluid motion. Not only does she display skills such as computer science and psychology (or whatever you want to call her understanding that “public displays of affection make people uncomfortable”), but she’s also a simply solid supporting character with a great deal of development. Over the course of the film, she changes, not from lie to lie and mask to mask (though there is some of that; she’s Black Widow, after all), but from understanding to understanding.
Steve Rogers (aka “Captain America”) may be a man out of his time, but his firm stance for “doing the right thing” is a refreshing breath of air in the midst of his new and muddled world. In a way, he doesn’t change. Fury at one point admits that Cap is the only person he can trust. Widow and Falcon clearly trust him. Even the bad guys can trust Cap to act in more-or-less certain ways. He’s still good ol’ Captain America. He’s influencing the people around him to change. But he changes right along with them. Like Widow, he goes from understanding to understanding. Only difference is that the foundation of his character underlies both.
Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, knows the modern world like the back of his eye-patch. Yes, I’m aware he’s blind in that eye. But honestly, that’s the best way of describing it: it’s intimately familiar and yet he doesn’t see it. His character development kind of mirrors Widow’s, though it’s not a direct copy. Like her, he discovers that there’s been more to the lies that he’s been telling (and having other people tell) and his perspective changes.
Last one before I move on to something else: the Winter Soldier. In some ways, we can’t see much of his character, since he’s a brainwashed sleeper agent and not in any state of normalcy. He has four missions, three of which show almost nothing of what character he has. Another scene, in the security of the baddies’ secret den or whatever, we get probably as much as we possibly can from a guy in his situation. But even so, Cap snaps something in the Winter Soldier’s mind and brings about a change. The most immediate result is that the Winter Soldier does something completely opposite of his mission. The residual result is shown in the post-credits scene, which shows him on the verge of discovery. We can even safely say that he discovers himself.
The second element I love about this movie is its literary sci-fi nature. What do I mean by that? I mean that this movie poses questions and leaves it to the audience to decide on the answer (though the movie leans toward one itself). The questions posed here are brought up particularly between SHIELD (especially Fury and Widow) and Cap.
The first conflict of interest comes when Cap discovers that a mission he’d just led also involved a side mission for Widow… a secret kept from Cap and the entire team. Besides being upset with Widow, Cap confronts Fury outright. Fury tries to justify the lie (or concealed truth, whatever) by calling it “compartmentalization” while Cap insists that he can’t lead a team if he can’t trust them. I think both have valid points. On Fury’s side, “nobody can spill the secrets if they don’t know them all”. On Cap’s side…, well, we see the effect Widow’s side mission has on Cap and the team, and it’s not positive.
On that note, the question of trust is brought up quite a bit. Cap can’t lead a team he can’t trust. He doesn’t fully trust Widow till later. Widow has always looked out for herself, so who knows if she actually trusts anybody (though she does seem to trust Fury and Cap). Fury says, “The last time I trusted somebody, I lost an eye.” When things go sour, our heroes don’t know who to trust but each other.
“Truth is relative,” Widow says, “I can be anything to anyone. What do you want me to be?” Cap replies, “How about a friend?” Truth and trust go hand in hand, both on a personal level (as displayed predominantly by Cap and Widow) and on a corporate and even international level (as seen in the way SHIELD operates). With the historical web of lies revealed in this installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cap and Co. are stuck with the task of untangling the world of greys and separating the blacks from the whites. As mentioned before, Widow and Fury question all the lies they’ve been telling all this time because things are turning out to be not as they appeared to seem. How can you tell a truth from a lie in a world that muddies the line? And how can you trust anyone in such an environment?
These next two questions have been reinforced to me by PluggedIn’s review. One concerns pre-emptive measures. “We’re gonna eliminate a lot of threats before they even happen,” Fury tells Cap proudly. Cap’s response? “I thought the punishment came after the crime…. This isn’t freedom: this is fear.” How does one deal with that issue? Do we let our people suffer before we take action? Or do we try to avoid the suffering by beating the enemy to the punch? One character asks another, “If Pakistan were to invade your country tomorrow and march your daughters to a stadium to be publicly executed, and you know you could stop it with the flick of a switch, would you do it?” I’ll leave it to you to answer that for yourself (and/or find out the film’s response on your own).
Another is the question of whether or not it’s okay for the government (or SHIELD or anybody) make use of even personal electronics to perform their work. We’ve seen it work with good result in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before: in The Avengers, SHIELD uses that method to track down Loki in Germany. (And they use it quite a bit in the TV show Agents of SHIELD.) In Cap 2, we see it from a less desirable side, from the viewpoint of those using the exact same method to hunt down Cap. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was cool with it when SHIELD tracked down Loki, because I’m rooting for the good guys. But I wasn’t cool with it when a manhunt was set on Captain America, because I’m rooting for the good guys. Made me wonder.
My biggest beef with Cap 2 is the violence level. Every superhero movie is action-heavy; that just comes with the territory. Cap 2, though, is both action-heavy and heavy-action. What I mean is, everything looks like it legitimately hurts. I’m not talking about Loki getting whapped around by Hulk. I’m talking serious “ow!” moments. I winced several times. Forget guns and explosions, simple punches looked rather serious. Cap 2 is very dark and gritty compared to other films.
But it didn’t end there. Unlike other superhero films I’ve seen, citizens were clearly shown to be injured. (How could they not be after Cap was blasted into a bus so hard that he broke through the wall and tipped the bus over? How could they not be with Nick Fury careening through traffic being haphazardly shot at by baddies not caring if they hit civilians just so long as they hit their target?)
(Oh, and I guess the citizens of Washington DC were extremely lucky that an airborne threat fell mostly into the ocean and not someplace where there were, you know, people? (Or at least, where there were fewer?))
My other big problem with this film is an obvious sex reference that I’d love to leave on the cutting room floor. Or better yet, burn it and forget it exists. And then there are a couple other things like an awkward kiss and Cap hinting that no, that kiss wasn’t his first since 1945.
My third problem really is very minor (so really, it comes after all the nitpicky things like tech either side could have used before the time they chose to use it or strategies they could have gone with (like, I dunno, Avengers assemble?)). The subtitle. The Winter Soldier is not a big enough villain, or even character, to be named in the title. The first two times he shows up, he’s more like a random part of the baddie party that just happens to do a whack-load of damage and then disappears into thin air.
In the end, I really do enjoy this movie for the characters, the plot, the twist, and the sci-fi themes. I just wish that certain elements were cut out and others were toned down.