This post follows up on my Non-Spoiler review in the previous post. This one? It’s all kinds of spoilage, my friend.
Need an example of good movie storytelling? When the movie opens on Washington DC, and right away several things are established: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) has heroic abilities, finds a common bond with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), later the Falcon, still struggles with his man-out-of-time predicament, has a flashy partner in Natasha/the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and is on call for superspy missions with SHIELD. It’s an example of a very effective, and efficient, scene. After all, pretty much every single element here sets the audience up for what they need to know and also will serve as important story beats to be developed as the movie unfolds.
There are several stories happening here at once, actually. There’s the main plot, which features Captain America fighting HYDRA in a way you wouldn’t expect, and the end result pretty much changes the face of the Marvel Studios “cinematic universe.” But there’s also the secondary plot which is simply Captain America searching for his place in the world. Of course there’s the time-displaced ennui and what basically boils down to “job dissatisfaction,” but more importantly he needs friends. The movie develops two for him, as he finds them in two different ways– the Black Widow is one and the Falcon is the other, each bringing a different kind of friendship to Steve. He’s also the same hapless romantic that we saw in the first film, but the movie stays conspicuously removed from developing a “love story” in our action movie. There are hints that it’s somehow important, as it plays into conversation a couple of times and there’s a significant character introduced that die-hard fans will recognize, but the movie has other aspects of Cap to focus on.
Of course, there’s one more friendship that’s even more important, which is difficult to talk about without spoiling an important reveal in the movie– so…
The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is actually Bucky, Cap’s best friend from the first movie (and an important sidekick to him in the comics.) Here’s where I have a bit of disappointment in the movie, as I would have expected this friendship to be more prominent and developed with some kind of resolution. Let me break those two points down. First of all, with the subtitle of “The Winter Soldier,” I was expecting a lot more prominence to the character. We get a glimpse of him at the beginning of Act 2, although he is both set up to be the villain and remains largely unnamed until the Black Widow somehow makes a tenuous connection to declare it to be so. This isn’t necessarily bad, per se, and in fact is quite comic booky– mysterious appearances and glimpses of characters in a dramatic pose on a panel, right? But this is the way the Winter Soldier remains in nearly every other appearance he makes. His story is brought back to prominence in Act 4/5, but by that time he’s sharing so much screen time with the other plots and developments that it’s hard to take satisfaction in it. By a certain point, it’s clear that we viewers won’t get any kind of resolution to this character. There’s some opportunity for Cap to soul-search about Bucky, and there’s some sympathy for the Soldier in his tortured scenes, but there’s no way to make a significant 180-degree from being a pawn of the movie’s villain. Perhaps that’s why the movie hints that this resolution will have to come in a later movie, and why Bucky is saved for a post-credits scene instead. So I applaud the movie for not forcing a quick-and-cheesy resolution to this character and Cap’s relationship, but at the same time it feels unsatisfying.
Of course, even in the comics, the Winter Soldier was never the true villain, and in this movie, Captain American and His Amazing Friends fight the forces of HYDRA, but not in the way you’d expect. This was an ingenious move.
I am way to anti-establishment to really buy into SHIELD in the first place, so you can’t imagine how happy I am about its new status quo by the end of the movie. Listen for the foreshadowing– which characters are saying things that you would typically expect a comic book villain to say? Yeah. Exactly.
In fact, I would argue that the true “villains” of this movie is actually a list of all kinds of fears going on in the public at large today: covert government activity, leaks/whistle-blowing, drone strikes, privacy issues, terrorism, corporate secrets, identity theft/misrepresentation, and more, including the big one summed up by “security versus freedom.” Heck, there’s even a gag about racial profiling! Captain America’s big speech at the end of the movie, literally calling people to action over a loudspeaker, is as much a rallying cry to the characters as it is to the viewers– *individuals* are needed for action, and each and every one of us can take a stand.
Hey, no movie is without its quirks. Some characters make leaps in logic that doesn’t seem quite natural, and of COURSE the three helicarriers must EACH be taken down in order for the Big Villainous Plot to be stopped. Black Widow conveniently tells-but-doesn’t-show some key points, including handing Steve a big file on Winter Soldier at the end, but by that time that specific point doesn’t matter. Other hand-wavy plot developments may pop up from time to time, but at least they aren’t so far out of left field that it derails the flow of the movie.
Overall, it takes a great movie to allow topics like “friendship” and “empowerment” drive the plot and character interaction, and to actually develop into important thematic statements. The movie allows for this in addition to some great action sequences, fight choreography, chase scenes (car chases at one point, flying jetpacks at another!), poignant character moments through good acting performances, dramatic and big-in-scope CG effects, and a vibrant, if unspecific, soundtrack. (And I wonder how much sales of Marvin Gaye will spike on iTunes after this movie!)
Congratulations, Marvel Studios. This film is definitely among the greats, and I’ll be happy to include it in a personal list of favorite movies!