Road to Infinity War – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or, The Mack Attack Begins

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

wintersoldier

Avengers Assemble? March 26? This isn’t American at all!!!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for my money, is the second truly great Marvel film. It takes the character-over-costume mentality its heavyweight predecessor The Avengers exceled at and runs with it, offering an entry in the MCU that is as compelling in its own right as it is to the mythos of the franchise as a whole. It’s also the first instance of a now tried-and-true Marvel method of steeping its films in the language of another sub-genre to spectacular effect. The Winter Soldier was a new high watermark for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it didn’t even need Robert Downey Jr.

The Avengers succeeded not only by competently bringing together previously disparate superheroes, but by doing so while still emphasizing them as compelling characters rather than just flashy costumes to be smashed together like so many action figures. The Winter Soldier continues in that same vein, fleshing out returning characters and endearing audiences to new ones with the utmost tact.

Here Nick Fury is finally more than an authoritative figurehead. Here Black Widow is given the nuance and respect the character deserves, with nary a creepy cinematic impulse in sight. Here we are introduced to a truly unsung MVP of the MCU, the Mack Attack himself: Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. Here we get Robert Redford in a superhero movie. Here we get a villain that is straight up menacing. Here we see Chris Evans’ Captain America become the beating heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This film boasts great performances all around and despite entirely changing up its supporting cast, once again the Captain America franchise managed to have the best supporting troupe of any Marvel movie up to that point. But, without taking anything away from those performances, so much of the achievement in characterization in The Winter Soldier can be attributed to the dialogue in Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely’s script. Joss Whedon’s quip-heavy Avengers films are endearing and clever but aren’t above prioritizing witticisms for the sake of witticisms. While there is humor in The Winter Soldier, quips even, they never feel like they’re running the show, as if they’re being steered into.

The more dramatic dialogue in the movie is no different. When Samuel L. Jackson monologues away in an elevator it never feels written or recited, it feels like something Nick Fury would say. When Steve Rogers airs his concerns with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s schemes I believe they’re Captain America’s concerns, not a screenwriter’s thinly-veiled soapbox.

And on top of these excellent performances and that adept writing, The Winter Soldier boasts some truly first-rate action. Cap’s opening assault on a cargo ship plays like a confident statement of purpose, a declaration that the action to come will have a sense of true physicality and gravity. You feel the punches and the falls and the hurried steps. The film’s spectacular climax isn’t two CGI models flying around a MacGuffin, its two dudes beating the shit out of each other on a kick-ass set.

The Avengers proved the concept of a shared cinematic universe could pay off. That it could work. The Winter Soldier proved that it could thrive, that it could continue onward and upward without relying on the delayed gratification of passable solo outings between The Avengers’ triennial reunions. The Winter Soldier is the first film that proved the Marvel Cinematic Universe was sustainable and could have merit on a film by film basis, and while it still wasn’t the movie that made mine Marvel, revisiting it four years later it absolutely blew me away.

For my thoughts on The Winter Soldier upon it’s arrival in 2014:

April 14, 2014: Patriotism vs. Heroism, or, I Read Way to Much Into Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Perhaps more interesting, however, is this golden oldie from four days later in which I ponder the age old question… IS THE WINTER SOLDIER RACIST!?!?!?!

April 18, 2014: Food For Thought, or, Race in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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Food For Thought, or, Race in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

There are some mild spoilers ahead for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 2.

They said I couldn’t read too much into Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Well I sure proved them wrong, didn’t I? Now they say I can’t read too much into Captain America: The Winter Soldier even more, and I’m about to prove them wrong again.

ZOOM ZOOM

ZOOM ZOOM

Consider this an appendix to my thoughts on The Winter Soldier, as well as something of an addendum to my musings on the most recent episode of the Pony Tricks Comic Cast. I don’t hold the below theories as fact, nor do I whole-heartedly advocate them, but there are some things I’ve noticed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I haven’t stopped pondering since seeing The Winter Soldier. I present them here as food for thought in the hopes that others might weigh in.

Let’s talk about sidekicks in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Going into Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one of the aspects of the film I found myself most excited for was Anthony Mackie (Hurt Locker, Gangster Squad, Pain and Gain) as Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon. And Mackie didn’t disappoint. Do I have a breadth of knowledge regarding The Falcon? Nope. In fact, I know exactly three things about Sam Wilson.

1. He’s a black guy.

2. He has a flying suit.

3. He was recruited into the Avengers with the express purpose of making the superhero outfit more racially diverse, wasn’t a fan of being labeled a token minority and straight up quit.

POSTER ATTACK

POSTER ATTACK

It’s that last one I’m most interested in, and while the Marvel films’ M.O. so far is to tread lightly in regards to most social issues, it’d be awesome if that actually got adapted into the movies. A gal can dream, no?

With that storyline in mind I couldn’t help but pick up on a few things in Captain America. I’ve already mentioned the fact that while Wilson and Steve Rogers discuss all the great strides America has made since World War II desegregation and civil rights are both absent – particularly blatant omissions considering in 1943, Captain America served in a military that would remain segregated for five more years. Just saying.

But let’s talk about something else.

Let’s talk about how Sam Wilson is relegated to a reliance on the white man for his power in The Winter Soldier.

Wilson has the skills to operate his Falcon flight suit, but is deprived of said suit as it is locked away in a vault somewhere. It isn’t until he mentions as much to Captain America and Black Widow that he is reunited with his suit, the implication being that Cap and Widow had to get it for him. Never mind that the suit itself was created by a white man, a product of Stark Industries.

One of the few black characters in the Marvel Universe gains his power from a suit created by a white man that has to be retrieved and given to him by another white man. Like I said, I’m proving them wrong again.

But what if I’m not reading too much into it?

Let’s take a look back at Iron Man 2. I know, I know, you don’t want too. But it wasn’t that bad you guys, c’mon. Remember Sam Rockwell?

I told you Iron Man 2 wasn't that bad. Remember this? Huh? Pretty awesome, huh?

I told you Iron Man 2 wasn’t that bad. Remember this? Huh? Pretty awesome, huh?

The circumstances under which James Rhodes becomes War Machine are eerily similar, if not identical to the circumstances under which Sam Wilson becomes Falcon.

James Rhodes is a pilot. He possess the skills already. But it takes a suit built by a white man, again Tony Stark, that he then must take from said white man, to elevate him to the status of superhero. And it’s later implied that Stark actively allowed Rhodes to take the suit.

There are a lot of superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Two of them are black. Both of them are sidekicks, and both of them are essentially bestowed their powers by white men.

Did Marvel actively set out to portray black superheroes as dependent upon white superheroes for their powers? Probably not. Is that even how they see themselves as portraying black superheroes? Probably not. But I find it problematic nonetheless.

Sure, Captain America had his powers bestowed on him by the federal government, but he also possesses an inherent goodness that made him the ideal candidate for the program. And the fact that the super soldier serum has never worked successfully on anyone else (Red Skull, The Abomination) implies Captain America does possess some sort of inherent difference that makes him unique.

Tony Stark creates his powers with his mind and his own two hands.

Bruce Banner turns himself into the Hulk as a result of his scientific prowess and research.

Thor is Thor by virtue of being Thor.

It’s true that Nick Fury is the man with all the answers, the glue that has thus far tied the Marvel Cinematic Universe together. But he isn’t a superhero. And as we discover in Winter Soldier, he was appointed to his position of power by a white guy.

With the arguable exception of Captain America, the Avengers are all self-made superheroes. But the same can’t be said for Falcon or War Machine. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I couldn’t help but notice.

So what do you think? Am I on to something? Am I reading way too much into way too little? Do you agree? Do you disagree?

Like I said: food for thought.

Patriotism vs. Heroism, or, I Read Way Too Much Into Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Back in 2011, in the pages of Action Comics #900, Superman renounced his American citizenship. It was a bold move on DC Comics’ part, but also an increasingly relevant one, indicative of modern globalization in a time in which patriotism and heroism are no longer as synonymous as they were when Action Comics #1 was released in 1938.

As Superman himself put it, “Truth, justice and the American way – it’s not enough anymore.”

Easy enough for an alien from another planet, but how do you question your country’s motivations within the global theater and what it means to be a patriot when your country’s name and your own are one and the same?

'Merica

‘Merica

The ninth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain American: The Winter Soldier, revolves around that question. It’s a timely piece that effectively sticks to the Marvel format of presenting as much humor and action per frame of film as possible while simultaneously brimming beneath the surface with questions and ruminations deeper than any its Marvel predecessors had to offer.

Also, there’s this cool part on a boat. No sharks though.

Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers kicking ass across the globe for S.H.I.E.L.D. while playing a game of cultural catch-up to compensate for the more than half a century he spent on ice.

America in the waning days of the War on Terror is a very different place than America in the waning days of World War II, and as Captain America, Steve Rogers finds himself caught in the chasm of that harsh juxtaposition. Is his embodying America an embodiment of nationalism? Is it the embodiment of a geographical construct? A political one? Religious? Social? Economic? Is it some combination of those characteristics? Are some of those characteristics more important than others?

Also, how’d he get those cool muscles, am I right?

The worst part of Winter Soldier is without a doubt the disc golf subplot.

The worst part of Winter Soldier is without a doubt the disc golf subplot.

Captain America is defined by, you guessed it, America. But in Winter Soldier what defines America has gotten murkier and murkier by the decade. The film largely deals with Steve Rogers trying to clear up the waters.

Of course Winter Soldier never goes too far down the rabbit hole of the existential crisis of patriotism. It’s a Marvel movie. Its primary concern is being fun as hell and at that Cap 2 most certainly succeeds. But the subtext is there. Unlike The Dark World of Iron Man 3, both of which I enjoyed, The Winder Soldier kept me thinking long after I saw it.

The film’s examination of patriotism isn’t flawless. When Steve Rogers has a conversation with a black former soldier in which he compares the good old days to the now the polio vaccine and the internet both come up as cultural triumphs, but desegregation is entirely ignored. Indeed Winter Soldier can at times lean a little sharply into the ideal of The Greatest Generation, painting rebellion against authoritarian entities more as a response to a national fall from grace, rather than a constant force for social and political improvement.

Brought to you by Under Armor

Brought to you by Under Armor

Also, there’s this one part where he throws his shield around and it bounces off of all kinds of stuff and guys and knocks them all out… and then he catches it! And he does that craziness at least, like, three times.

By the end of Winter Soldier I think it’s safe to say that the Captain’s America is defined by that rebellion against tyranny, no matter the source. Sure, that’s an extremely malleable ideal, as what is and isn’t tyranny changes based on whose dumb signs you’re reading on a highway overpass, but it’s an enviable one nonetheless.

Sure, sure, The Winter Soldier is mostly performances and set pieces and direction and thrilling plot and biff, bam, pow, but it asks questions too. And while The Winter Soldier might fumble in its pursuit of the answers and doesn’t necessarily even end up retrieving answers at all, it asks questions worth considering for yourself.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Is the rebellion against authoritarianism a sign of the times, or a cultural constant?

2. Is it wrong that Marvel called a movie “The Winter Soldier” but released it in April?

3. Captain America uses a shield, but then those guys from that thing are also called S.H.I.E.L.D. Am I the only one picking up on this?

 

For more Marvel check out:

Thor 2? More like DORK WORLD

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Premiere

Iron Man 3