« Unreliable-narrator songs? | Main | Hugo nominees 2014: Gender notes »

Captain America: Winter Soldier

| 6 Comments

Saw the new Captain America movie with Kam a few days ago. Short version of my reaction: I loved it. Roughly tied with Avengers for my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.

Spoilers follow.


Some things I liked about it:

  • Black Widow. She continues to be awesome in all sorts of ways. I love the nuance to her character, the toughness and the (tiny amount of occasional) vulnerability, her no-nonsense competence, her pragmatism mixed with idealism, her position as someone who's had so many identities that she may not be entirely sure who she is any more. (See also Gavia Baker-Whitelaw's “Every review of Black Widow in 'Captain America' is wrong” and “Winter Soldier review, Part 3: Black Widow & Falcon.”)
  • Falcon, who I had NO IDEA was in this movie. As soon as he said his name was Sam Wilson I thought yes yes yes please let this not just be a throwaway reference! And then he turned out to be a great character, and then the scene where's he's all like “it's more like a resume” (I don't remember the exact line, sorry) and then he shows them the file and it was totally clear where it was headed, confirmed at just the right moment by the file having FALCON printed across the front, and then the super cool wingsuit, and then his awesome aerial acrobatics. And then he goes after the bad guy even after his wings are clipped. There's a case to be made that this is yet another black guy who's made into the sidekick of a white guy, but there's also a case to be made for his being TOTALLY AWESOME. Also hot. Still, yeah, I would've liked to see him be a little more Steve's partner and a little less his follower. (See also “On Your Right,” a sweet piece of Wilson/Rogers fanfic by thingswithwings.)
  • Agent Hill. She continues to be underused, but even so, I'm always happy to see her onscreen.
  • There was a scene with all three of the above characters and Captain America talking with each other, and I thought “What I really want is a movie with Black Widow. Oh, and Falcon. Oh, and Agent Hill. A movie about those three would be great. —Wait, that's this movie!” Yeah, okay, fine, this movie also had that Captain America guy in it, and some stuff about Nick Fury and SHIELD and fight scenes and whatever. But it had enough of Black Widow and Falcon to make me really happy. Still, I totally want each of them to have their own movie, too. (I was sad to see the preview for Lucy because I suspect that its success or failure will influence whether Hollywood thinks Johansson can be the primary action star of a movie, and it looks like a kind of dumb movie so I don't want to see it, but I do want to tell Marvel to make the Black Widow solo movie already.)
  • Captain America's patriotism has been written in various ways, so I appreciate these movies' take on it: what he's devoted to is America's best ideals, not America per se.
  • Lots of lovely little doses of recognition-of-stuff for readers of the comics. Mentioning Dr. Strange in passing. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch at the end. Captain America riding a motorcycle. I'm sure there were a dozen such details that I missed through unfamiliarity, but the ones that I caught were plenty to make me feel all in-crowd-y.
  • A couple of quieter and more contemplative moments, especially the scene with Fury and Rogers in the elevator near the beginning. And the scene with Rogers and Peggy Carter in the hospital.
  • Nicely compact Previously backstory exposition in the form of the guided tour of the Smithsonian exhibit; a good (though unsubtle) way to remind viewers of who Bucky was.
  • The scene of the launch guy saying no with a gun to his head, and Agent 13 stepping in to save the day.
  • Themes of trust and loyalty and friendship.
  • The movie overall largely felt more like a spy movie than a superhero movie to me, in a good way. (According to Wikipedia, one of the producers said “we really want to make a '70s political thriller masquerading as a big superhero movie.”)

Some things I had mixed feelings about:

  • Various of my friends were less than thrilled with the fight scenes. For example, some felt that the movie felt too militaristic (like a first-person shooter video game, one said); some felt that the movie was mostly one long fight scene; some felt that the fast cuts were unnecessary, made it too hard to follow the action, and made it harder to make an emotional connection with what was going on. I can see all of those points, but none of them bothered me. I thought the fight scenes were fine; not spectacular, but they weren't what I was there to see, except inasmuch as they (in some cases) developed the characters. I actually thought the fast cuts were much easier to follow here than in some movies—I think Blade was the first movie in which I literally couldn't understand what was going on in the fight scenes because the cuts were too quick for me to follow; not sure whether filmmakers have gotten better at fast cuts since then, or I've gotten more used to them. I'm not a fan of the military, but I kinda like the way it's handled in these MCU movies; I tend to swoon a little at Honorable Soldier tropes, and I liked the glimpse of the VA in this.
  • The movie completely throws away Falcon's origin story and his bird-telepathy superpower. That was fine with me, but if I were more invested in those aspects of his character I can imagine being pretty annoyed.
  • Fury's big action sequence. On the one hand, it felt excessive to me, and I was unclear on why/how no actual police managed to get involved (was it just that it all happened too fast for them to respond?); on the other hand, always nice to see Samuel L. Jackson in action.
  • I thought Arnim Zola was a little goofy and over-the-top. But on the other hand, I love the idea of a 1970s AI (well, uploaded consciousness), made up of thousands of big tape drives, still operating today; I think they could have done a lot more interesting stuff with that concept.
  • It passed the Bechdel test! Sort of. Kind of. In a manner of speaking. In only one scene. If a brief discussion of the type of ammunition fired by one guy to kill another guy counts as not talking about a guy.
  • More generally, diversity stuff.

A few nitpicks and quibbles:

  • It felt a little odd that at no point did anyone pick up a phone and call in the other Avengers. I guess I can see various reasons for most of the others to be unavailable or whatever, but if nothing else, why wasn't Hawkeye there? (The abovelinked fic jokes in passing that his phone was turned off.) I was just as glad that he wasn't; that gave Black Widow and Falcon more of a chance to shine. But it seemed odd that he wasn't.
  • I'm always a little bit disappointed when I'm reminded that these superheroes have no code against killing. I kind of expect in the comics that most superheroes beat up the bad guys without killing them, but Captain America in these movies doesn't hesitate to leave a body count. I haven't read enough of his comics to know whether that's true there as well.
  • I figured Pierce was the main villain almost from the start; that's a very standard trope. Still, I thought overall he was handled well. And I loved that he was played by Robert Redford. During the movie, I kept thinking Huh, he looks like Robert Redford. But obviously Redford wouldn't play a supervillain, so they must've just found someone who looks like him.
  • There were some aspects of the plot I just didn't follow. Why was Fury locked out of decrypting the thumb drive on his own authority? Why was the data (that ended up on the thumb drive) on that SHIELD ship in the first place?
  • I thought the bit with Fury's eye at the end was goofy. Why would they remove access to only one of his retina prints? Also, why didn't Pierce just keep his eyes closed? And why couldn't one of the other WSC members given their approval-by-retina? (Maybe SHIELD doesn't actually report to the WSC? I'm not sure.)
  • It seemed really out of character for Romanoff to testify to Congress. That seemed much more like something Hill would do.
  • I wanted Captain America to intentionally remove his mask in the final fight sequence, rather than letting it get torn off by something or other.

So it's not that I thought the movie was perfect by any means. But pretty much all of my problems with it were minor ones; I was swept up in it. I laughed a lot, I thought most of the tense parts were nicely tense, I liked the topical political issues, and I loved the characters.

6 Comments

Yep, most everything about that thumb drive baffled me.


Oh, that reminds that I also have no idea why they plugged the drive into the Zola computer. Was it just "Hey, here's a mysterious computer, maybe it can decrypt the data"?


Supposedly they had tracked the location where the information was encrypted, I think? But I don't know how that was supposed to help them read the data (even if you assume that a 1970s computer was equipped with a USB port).


The strangeness of the USB port on the 1970s computer was foregrounded -- it freaked them out -- and I think they just totally couldn't resist plugging it in at that point. Which I kind of get.

One thing you didn't mention that annoyed me to no end: the one civilian agent of Hydra we meet is a corrupt, nebbishy Congressman who kvetches about his back, jokes about schtupping his intern, and then leans in to whisper "Hail Hydra" in the bad guy's ear. Really? I felt the screenwriters elbowing me in the ribs.

SCREENWRITERS: Ha, you thought this was just going to be a walking "Jews control congress" stereotype, but it's a reversal, get it? Get it? Sure, he's a corrupt, weak (Cap, after all, would never complain about a bad back), and sexually licentious Jew who is part of a conspiracy secretly controlling the United States Congress... but it's a Nazi conspiracy! See how we turned that whole thing on its head? Edgy, right??

ME: Oh, for -- shut the fuck up, all right?

The absence of other superheroes showing up also struck me as a problem; I was thinking less of Hawkeye, who after all follows orders and could well have been on assignment elsewhere, than of, say, Tony Stark, who it seemed like would have stuck his nose into things sometime between Nick Fury's suspicious assassination and the launch of massive aerial warships designed to massacre millions. This is partly the collision of the superhero-universe and spy genres. (Though I actually think some minor cameo of the other heroes, not just "happening to have their cell phones off", but rather, perhaps, having been frogboiled into accepting so many Patriot-Act/drone-warfare style incursions into traditional freedoms that the launch of US assassination warbots just seems like a political matter outside of their remit... that could have been really effective).

Other than that, I liked the movie, for the reasons you state, and also because I thought it used the topical material really well -- drone strikes and universal surveillance and wikileaks-style whistleblowing-by-massive-upload and homeland security gone off the rails. It was a spy movie for 2014, in a good way.


Heh--I was completely oblivious to the Jewish-stereotype thing, but yes, good point.

Re Stark: I wonder where this movie fits into the Iron Man trilogy timeline. In particular, if it comes during or after Iron Man 3, then it kinda makes sense that he wouldn't show up here. (Trying to avoid spoilers for IM3 here.) ...On the one hand, it's a superhero-comic-book genre convention that all the other superheroes are always busy or elsewhere when stuff happens; on the other hand, it's also a genre convention to have lots and lots of crossovers and guest appearances. So, yeah, I can see something like the cameos you're mentioning working well.

I love the word "frogboiled." Nice.

And yeah, agreed about good use of topical material.


It's definitely a superhero comic convention that the other heroes happen to be busy (e.g. are busy fighting their own villains), and the whole idea of characters at different power levels rests on this shaky foundation (particularly shaky when you've got long-distance telepaths like Prof X, to say nothing of the problems of narrative agency posed for the DC universe by Superman). What I noticed was that I was far less willing to suspend disbelief about this convention for a movie, one that in many ways presented itself as a realistic spy thriller...


Post a comment