Friday, April 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (spoiler) review

     So, okay, this is basically Metal Gear Solid: The Movie. Sometimes, Hollywood produces a film which is pretty much the exact theme and mood of a property even if it's a wildly divergent example of said property. Van Helsing is as close to a Castlevania movie as you're going to get and the same can be said for The Book of Eli and Fallout.

    The premise of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is about a poor aged veteran dealing with a conspiracy formed within the government to use a superweapon against the public at large. It's about information control and unaccountability of government. It's about the difference between superior genes and regular genes. It's also about idealism versus practicality on the battlefield.

    There's even a tanker level.

The SHIELD eagle is very Roman and ostentatious. It's also used as a symbolic clue something is wrong.
    The revelation that the Winter Soldier is Captain America's best buddy, Bucky Barnes, from way-back when isn't the movie's twist. The movie telegraphs that Bucky survived from the first trip to the Smithsonian. No, instead, the actual twist of the movie is the revelation that Hydra has infiltrated SHIELD and co-opted its leadership to the point only Nick Fury is uncorrupted.

    I'm of mixed feelings regarding this particular revelation. On one hand, I might have found it stronger to have something other than a Neo-Nazi organization taking over the government and being obvious bad guys. Then I thought about it and felt this was actually superior in the long run. Why? Because Neo-Nazis took over the world intelligence apparatus and no one noticed.

    While its Godwin's law not to compare a group to the Nazis unless you really mean it, I rather like this movie's ethos. That if you removed the racism from the Nazis and all the politically incorrect bits to leave only the National Socialism as well as ruthlessness they'd STILL be the most reprehensible people you've ever met.

    Our substitute for the Red Skull is Alexander Pierce who is an interesting character. A lot of people speculated he was the Red Skull because the original lived in a cloned body of Captain America for a long time in the comics. Others believed he might be the modernized Baron Strucker or other figure. Instead, no, he's just an American politician who really believes Hydra is the best way to bringing order to this fair rock.

    An attitude which is infinitely scarier.

The movie enjoyed teasing Captain America and the Black Widow but they remain platonic throughout.
     As mentioned, the central premise is SHIELD has developed an infallible drone-strike system to kill anyone their computers indicate is a threat to national security. This ominous idea is not so removed from reality because we do that now. Not just against foreigners, whatever sort of defense that is, but against American citizens who just happened to be abroad.

    Yes, there's the argument they're "bad people" but the kidnapping and torture of innocents shows that the American intelligence apparatus is not perfect. There's also the fact our missile attacks against terrorists have inflicted no end of civilian casualties. One of the most sobering stories I read was the story of "double-tapping" where the USA would drop a missile on a spot and then drop another when they saw people rushing to rescue the survivors buried under rubble. People only paled with a "what have I done" when someone explained that rather than collaborators, these individuals were mostly ordinary citizens who saw their fellow human beings in trouble and tried to help.

Killing people without trial is bad? I never thought of it that way.
    Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn't go into the specifics of this controversy but simply expresses the Good Captain's disgust with the fact people are being executed without trial or recourse. In wartime you can surrender or negotiate but with the military powerhouse SHIELD is unleashing, it's just (as Harry Lime put it) "Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"

    CA:TWS demonstrates why Mister Lime's philosophy is bad when HYDRA tallies up just how many dots they need to eliminate from the American seaboard in order to assume control. The number is above 700,000 and Alexander Pierce says they intend to do this sort of tallying up to every country in the world. We also do a cool "zoom" effect where we see those dots being a father at a soccer field and a few of them named, including Anthony Stark.

    I think this sort of satire is effective because it just shows a very simple truth. When you sacrifice power from the people and restraint in law, it's not necessarily you who is going to suffer first. However, eventually, there's the possibility the people in power will be the kind who don't like you. It's a sobering thought and one I'm glad to see addressed in a mainstream Hollywood film.

    Anyway, Captain America's idealism never feels forced in the movie and it's interesting to see him come down so strongly on the side of transparency as well as the dismantling of large-scale military-intelligence efforts. To the Good Captain, HYDRA infiltration isn't the problem, it's the entire organization of SHIELD. Watching poor Nick Fury deal with the fact there's no way his beloved organization is going to survive this disaster is tremendously moving.

    I also love the Black Widow's handling during this story, dealing with the fact she wanted desperately to be on the side of the good guys because she didn't have to be one herself as long as she was supporting them--which is undermined by the realization her side is the same as Hydra. This, in the end, inspires her to make changes in her life she should have done years ago.

    While I think this is the best Falcon they've ever done, I can't say I'm entirely behind his handling in the movie. The movie makes it a point to show Falcon trying to catch up with Captain America despite lacking superpowers. Sadly, the movie goes out of his way to show that he'll always be second best not only physically but morally. Falcon agrees with the Captain on everything as a plot point and it's kind of disheartening.

    Robert Redford's character is a perfectly understated evil with Alexander Pierce never once wavering from Hydra dogma yet having such conviction you have to wonder if he's onto something. When the heroes thwart his plan, he says, "what a waste" versus having a breakdown. Even a scene where he kills his housekeeper for listening into something she shouldn't have was a great moment because he seems saddened he has to do it yet does so without hesitation. It's a testament to his skill as an actor he can make a line like, "I only have to kill about twenty million people to make it work" sound rationale.

     The surprise villain of the movie is Armin Zola who returns as the consciousness of the evil Nazi uploaded into a 1970s set of computers. He's simultaneously creepy, weird, goofy, and fun all in the same scene. There's something awesome about a scene which references Wargames (which Cap has seen!) only to then reveal that SHIELD has failed to stop thousands of deaths over the years due to Hydra's manipulating them from the inside. Zola's appearance is, hands down, my favorite part of the movie.

This guy doesn't really scream Crossbones to me.
        The Winter Soldier makes several appearances throughout the film but only a few of them stand-out. Since he spends the majority of the film as a brainwashed slave, we don't get much insight into the way the character's mind works. Any future use of the character will depend greatly on where they take him after the events of the movie. I will say, though, his mind-wipe scene was impressive.

     Crossbones, the Red Skull's favorite henchman, also makes an appearance in the film but there's nothing particularly Crossbones-esque about him. I've got to say that I would have preferred him to just be a generic bad guy rather than such an iconic characters. Of course, the fact Falcon beats the crap out of Crossbones makes it almost worth it.

     In conclusion, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an awesome movie and has a lot of worthy things to say. Captain America remains a symbol of uncompromising integrity in an otherwise ambiguous world of espionage and that's rare enough on its own. The fact they manage to go further and suggest every secret of SHIELD should be posted on the net is awesome. I only wish that were the case in real life (barring undercover assignments like in Mission Impossible).


1 comment:

  1. I agree, I thought the movie rocked. I thought they did a really nice job with the round-about plotline and even though there were some predicatble twists I think it was well done.


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