I almost didn’t go. The trailer looked that lame. And yet, there was something that seemed un-comicbook geek of me to not go. So I went.
And Captain America: Winter Soldier was everything I could’ve asked for in a superhero film, staying true to the spirit of Ed Brubaker’s run and committing fully to a world where the Avengers, Thor, etc. can all co-exist. Full of action, backstory, new characters, humor, and social commentary, the latest in Marvel’s universe may be my favorite (gasp!) to date.
Ironically, the title for this review is from Mark Waid’s (not Brubaker’s) use of the phrase, but the phrase describes how the previously frozen Cap (Chris Evans) fights to establish how he fits into a world that’s dominated by technology, government espionage, and S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s ideologically opposed to his boss, Nic Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and differently skilled than his coworker, spy/assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). But how he operates and why he takes the risks he does, are exactly what this latest Marvel film is all about.
You’ll probably see some of the ‘hooks’ built into the storyline, but I’ll try to leave them for your viewing. The main plot revolves around the U.S. government’s movement toward initiating Project Insight, a Minority Report-like program that would allow S.H.I.E.L.D. to eliminate potential threats prior to any actual violence taking place. Of course, any plan like that has flaws right? The flaw in this plan is HYDRA and its secret weapon, the titular Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). For the initiated, Hydra’s moto is “Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place!” You know Cap is going to need some help…
And Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is that spectacular help. I wasn’t sure they could deliver the power and coolness of Sam Wilson’s character, both in and out of the suit, or the battles between Cap and the Winter Soldier. But the Arrested Development directors, the Russo brothers, deliver a film that’s less reliant on CGI than most, especially when it comes to the action scenes. This is a world we can believe exists, one that peels back from the Avengers/Thor universe and centers on a humanity-based problem. It’s a world we live in since 9/11.
There are several issues that are interesting in the plot lines of the film. There’s the question about how a man who’s from World War II can handle all of the changes that occurred since he ‘died,’ especially when it comes to the ‘Big Brother’ decisions that the government makes in regards to a citizen’s privacy and the government’s right to know. There’s the struggle between pre-emptive violence and just cause that both Philip K. Dick’s story and this one engage. There’s the matter of friendship, and how far a person would or should go to save a friend who is in too deep.
Captain America, no, Steve Rogers struggles to reach a friend. At one point, his friend is so blinded to the truth, the reality of the situation, that he sees Rogers as the enemy. Rogers even stands in, taking blow after blow, and says, “You can keep hitting me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m in this for the long haul.” It’s an intervention, an act of love, the Christological narrative of incarnation (“God is with us”) that shows up in these superhero films. Because superheroes have to do what most of us wouldn’t do: superheroes sacrifice themselves on behalf of others.
Up until this moment, when Rogers refuses to put his own life before friendship, I’m enjoying the film, seeing the psycho-political elements from Brubaker to the Russo’s script. But at this moment, I am reminded that at the end of the day, Captain America is a weakling teenager who was given the chance to be great, is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and he truly believes in the best humanity can be. Folks, that is some incarnational stuff right there! And it makes for a better movie in my book than a bunch of aliens getting clobbered by Hulk and Thor. Just saying.
So count me in for 2016. We already know where this is going. Between Michael Grillo’s charred body, HYDRA, and the Winter Soldier, it’s going to be a wild ride.