Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - A Spoiler Free Review And Some Thematic Ramblings


It is good! In fact, I think it's a better film than The Avengers. It should definitely be seen on the big screen, if possible. And you don't have to have seen the first Captain America movie or The Avengers to enjoy it.


Despite being loosely based on the Captain America comics by Ed Brubaker baring the same name, The Winter Soldier features very little of that mysterious figure.  In many ways the movie isn't even about the character of Captain America!  Indeed, this movie made me consider how little character there is to the Captain America we see on screen and how that is the only real flaw with this film.

Now don't think for a moment I'm disrespecting Steve Rogers!  I'm just saying that most of the writers who have handled the character over the years have not made a distinction between Captain America as a symbol and the man under the mask.  Thankfully, Captain America is one of the few characters I can think of who can be written as a symbol and still be a compelling presence.  But take away the suit and what is left of Steve Rogers?

It's a fair question and it is one that Iron Man 3 addressed (successfully, in my opinion) in regards to Tony Stark.  This question is briefly addressed in the movie when Steve briefly ponders what he would do with his life if he were to quit SHIELD.  And he doesn't have an answer!  It isn't something that occurred to him until someone points out that he doesn't have to stay in service with an employer he disagrees with, as Steve vents over his concerns that SHIELD has become obsessed with achieving security by sacrificing freedom.

That conflict - Freedom Versus Security - is the emotional center of the film and Rogers' internal conflict is never referenced again.  It is Rogers' purpose in this story to exist as Captain America: The Symbol rather than as Steve Rogers: The Man.  Given that, I can understand why Chris Evans has announced his intention to retire from acting once his obligations to play Captain America are met.  Playing Steve Rogers is a blast, I'm sure, but it isn't much of a challenge.

It should be noted that Evans gets some great moments early on as we see how Steve Rogers is adjusting to the modern world and find out, in most respects, he isn't.  Sure, he's surfing the Internet and compiling a list of pop-culture he needs to catch up on... but there's really nothing that defines his life and who he is apart from his work.  Those concerns are quickly shelved as we get on with the plot of the movie but those same conflicts - Freedom vs. Security and who you are under your mask - is explored more fully in the film's real hero - Black Widow.

Yes, you read that right.  Black Widow is the main hero of this movie, at least in terms of which characters undergo a hero's journey and actually change as a result of the events of the story.  Black Widow is shaped as she considers the question of what is more valuable - Freedom or Security - and how like Steve, there is no real "her" outside of her work.  The difference is, in Natasha's case, that her lack of self seems to have been an intentional choice and she is fully aware that there isn't anyone under her mask.

Natasha also - in contrast to Steve - is changed by the conflict between idealism and reality.  In fact - and I say this knowing full well I will draw fire from ever Whedonite out there - this movie does a far better job of establishing Black Widow as a character than The Avengers did.  And Scarlett Johansson rocks the role.  For that matter, Nick Fury develops as a character as the story progresses and Samuel L. Jackson gets what is easily the best action scene in the movie.

Steve Rogers doesn't really change.  Then again, the movie doesn't really need to have Steve Rogers undergo another hero's journey.  He's already a hero.  And part of the hero's journey requires the hero pass on what he has learned.  In that case, Steve Rogers exists to be the catalyst of change in others rather than changing himself.

That being said, the movie works as a straight action film and a political thriller.  The performances are all grand and there's a lot of nods to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the previous movies.  Yet this movie is still accessible to any new viewers who might not have seen the earlier films.  A Captain America display in The Smithsonian Museum provides all the exposition you need as well as one of the few moments that hints at any depth to Steve Rogers' character.

Bottom Line: See This Movie!

No comments:

Post a Comment