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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Woo, that was fun.

Whomever put together the trailers needs to be smacked upside the head with Cap’s shield for blowing Fury’s fake-death. Not that anyone even vaguely familiar with the character or the superspy genre believed it for a moment, but showing people the scene where Fury is having a post ‘death conversation with Steve really robs the fake death of all its narrative weight.

And no, Agent Sitwell, no. This is the sort of sense of betrayal they were hoping to give us in Star Trek VI when they’d originally intended for the traitor to be Savvik, only instead we got emotionally inconsequential new character Valeris. Not that Sitwell is particularly likeable, but he's familiar and that counts a good deal.

This is so far the best of the Phase 2 movies — it’s more thrilling than the comparatively introspective buddy movie Iron Man 3 and more tightly pulled together than the somewhat meandering Thor 2 (which really wore its task to set up GOTG and Avengers 3 on its sleeve).

The surprise reveal of the Zola AI was one of those moments of great coolness that seem few and far between, and the boxy camera above the monitor was a really really nicely done touch that shouts out to the clunky original design in a clever and unobtrusive way. Given the MCU had functional AI in the late 70s (albeit based on human donor engrams), introducing AIs in the 21st century that aren’t StarkTech derived — such as the one in Fury’s car, or the dumb AI on the data drive — feels pretty seemless.

(I’m thinking we haven’t seen the last of Zola — given he had access to Fury’s file that was updated to include his death, that very much implies he has access to an open network. I can’t help put picture him residing in one of the Insight sattelites and think that maybe he does something to JARVIS that results in Ultron. I don’t think he’s going to prove to be the Clairevoyant though, even as a digital copy. It feels a little too neat to be entirely satisfying.)

Falcon, I loved unreservedly. I know pretty much next to nothing about his comics version, but Mackie’s take is pretty note perfect. War never changes, and the writing of the scenes where they bond is just right. The MCU does a lot of things well, and they’re really good at selling us the regular people who find themselves in the company of myths and legends and monsters, and finding they have what it takes to step up to them. “I do what he does, just slower” is probably my flat out favourite line of the movie because it hits the heart about what makes Steve great: he inspires others to go where he goes.

Chris again nails it as Steve, with that mix of boyish charm, earnest integrity, institutional paternity, and the sense of a man lost. His scenes the Carter women were just as important as his ones with Falcon, showing us the human behind the icon. Especially the one with Peggy. I’m kind of a sucker for timelost renions, and her mental drifting was both touching and thematically tightly done.

The Smithsonian exhibit was clever, and I love that it meant they could bring back the really cool costume from the 1st movie — as well as helping bring back Bucky whom I suspect we’ll see picking up the shield before Avengers 3 hits. There’s really not a lot to say about Bucky otherwise — the Winter Soldier is essentially a cipher for most of the movie, but those flashes of anguished confusion were done well enough.

Given that Smithsonan voice over about the creation of supersoldiers being a known and overt weapon development thread to the point that they blithely mention it in public museums? I have a deep suspicion that in addition to setting Bucky up as the new Cap for Avengers 3, the third Captain America film is going to be in part riffing on the Red, White & Black storyline that introduced Isiah Bradley and eventually his grandson Patriot. Investigating the legacy of the Captain America identity with both storylines makes a heck of a lot of sense and as an added benefit it helps create the stepping stone for the Young Avengers franchise

Sam Jackson was Sam Jackson.

Robert Redford was a good villain of the best sort — that see themselves as the heroes of the story and not the villain in someone else’s. He certainly brought a welcome gravitas to the role — he could easily have taken it as a scenery chewing role, but he plays it straight like you’d expect out of any non-spandex conspiracy thriller.

Scarlett gives a good performance as the MCU Black Widow and I think Marvel made a good call pairing her with Cap for the movie because with her character development she really helps sell the fact that Steve has a Charisma stat in the mid to high 20s. I specify MCU because she isn’t who I’d have chosen for the comics version of the character — she lacks that something, that element of Soviet coldness and weariness. Which is fine because this Widow is brilliantly a product of the post-Soviet era and like Jackson’s Fury, cutting away the ersatz-Serum past is a decision that is very well made.

(While I hope we still get the Red Room when Marvel get their heads out of their arses and greenlight a Widow stand alone film, I really hope they don’t backtrack on her post-Soviet origins.)

It’s not perfect, though.

Sharon Carter was probably the most underwritten role next to Bucky. Given she’s being set up as the love interest for Cap 3, I would have liked to see her have gotten another scene or two.

The elevator fight is all manner of cool. Ridiculously stupid following the competence porn of Batroc’s takedown. But cool. The magnetic restraints and profusion of muscle show they’re aware of Steve’s physical prowess, so logically they should have just gassed him and avoided the whole mess. You’re not going to tell me that a building built from the ground up with such supersensitive biometrics isn’t going to have built in countermeasures as simple as anaesthetic gas at choke points like lifts. You can still have Steve jump out the window, but you shave 5 minutes off the run time.

I intensely disliked Zola being involved in the creation of the actual Winter Soldier. It should have been as a result of the Soviet version of Paperclip or driven by their own wartime intelligence & anti-Hydra efforts — something about Bucky’s altered nature is what makes cybernetic enhancements work; this science eventually leads to things like Centpede & Deathlok, but also Misty Knight — and only later is he recovered and turned into a direct Hydra asset.

Project Insight though? As has been said, the Captain America property isn’t shy of blunt instruments, but this is just fucking stupid beyond words. Battle of New York or not, no one is going to be okay with three perpetually ‘orbiting’ helicarriers full of railguns sitting watch over them. And they’re certainly not going to let them pre-emptively blow their citizens away; there’s enough of a shitstorm over the US using drones. Not to mention the whole building and launching them from the heart of Washington DC.

Insight would have logically been much better as a subversion of an system intended to combat hostile invaders that ‘most’ people would never dream could be turned against us. That’s the sort of ‘trade freedom for security’ idea that the Chitauri invasion would have prompted — and then the “track you by your DNA before you step out the door” line would have made sense, because the weapon systems would naturally & oestensibly have been designed to make tracking hostile aliens easier when in reality they were being engineered to work with the algorithm to purge would-be challengers to Hydra’s NWO.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:07 pm (UTC)
Project Insight though? As has been said, the Captain America property isn’t shy of blunt instruments, but this is just fucking stupid beyond words. Battle of New York or not, no one is going to be okay with three perpetually ‘orbiting’ helicarriers full of railguns sitting watch over them.

How is it different from real life carrier strike forces perpetually patrolling the oceans, or real life nuclear ICBMs perpetually pointed at neighbouring continents?
Apr. 9th, 2014 08:16 pm (UTC)
For one thing, it's psychological -- Insight's helicarriers pose an obvious Damoclean threat whereas naval carrier groups are nebulously terrestial.

The other is precisely the reason why American scientists leaked nuclear munitions tech to the Soviets: no single country can be allowed to have access to that sort of weapon, not even the 'good guys' -- and what sort of good guy would have it in the first place? While its intentions might have been benign, America's possessing the sole nuclear arsenal rendered it the dictator of the world, capable of exterminating any country that provided intransigent enough.

Our ICBMs are matched by their ICBMs. Insanity might prevail, and we might spit our last breaths at each other, but until then that threat of Mutually Assured Destruction keeps the inevitable conflicts between ideologies small and, well, manageable.

There is no possible counterbalance to Insight. And potentially worse, no accountability at the trigger. Sure Zola's algorithim wasn't what Insight was oestensibly intended to do, but under Fury's watch those helicarriers were built with the capability of autonomously targeting and executing 20 million people at the behest of a single operator -- Hill turns every single gun on each carrier against its sister ships and initiates automatic firing protocols that the command crews would do nothing to stop -- using targeting equipment that basically makes any sort of notion of privacy from the gaze of the state non-existant.

(Just imagine for a moment that the boast that Insight could track someone, from orbit, by their DNA is true. Then recall that episode of Dark Angel where a bioweapon is tailored to attack the gene responsible for the epithantic fold of the eyelid. IF the system can isolate and maintain lock on the DNA of a single person, then a common gentic factor has to logically be within its capabilities.)

Even the US drone program mandates there has to be a human at the controls and responsible for pulling the trigger for every individual kill. Someone who works for a Government whose policies can, allegedly, be changed by the will of the people.

Who exactly runs SHIELD? It seems to be an American instrument, yet it also seems to answer to a cabal who can order a nuclear strike on US soil without even a courtesy call to the President. Even without Hydra we know SHIELD is capable of deeply shady and ethically dubious behaviour with little effective oversight until after the fact. Given that America won't deploy in joint military operations unless its people are running the show, there's no way they're going to allow a foreign body -- one that's already tried to nuke the country once in order to rectify the alien incursion that organisation's research argubly allowed or even caused to happen in the first place -- to put three automated death wagons over its heads.

(Also, can you begin to imagine how furious Tony's going to be when he realises what Fury did with his engine designs by using them for Insight's helicarriers? Hell, he probably took advantage of Tony's PTSD to get them in the first place.)
Apr. 10th, 2014 12:53 am (UTC)
I'm really hoping for a Red, White and Black storyline at some point. I think it would work well thematically in the MCU Captain America continuity. Plus if you're planning to have the franchise run until 2028 (at least) then you're going to need to invest in some legacy heroes.
Apr. 10th, 2014 05:52 am (UTC)

May. 11th, 2014 02:24 am (UTC)
I loved this movie, one of the best MCU ones. The only potential problem I see is Black Widow. Zola said she was born in the mid-80's, how is that going to work with her connection to the Soviet Union and the KGB?
May. 2nd, 2015 06:45 am (UTC)
I agree with you. In terms of ensemble cast, story and action, it’s the most confident, mature Marvel project that I’ve seen yet.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )