5 Things to Love and 5 Things to Hate About 'The Winter Soldier'
While I was writing my review of the new Captain America movie this weekend, I was struck by how divided I felt about the movie. Like any Marvel movie, there’s lots to love: fun character moments, snappy banter, and audacious action set pieces. But I couldn’t avoid picking up on the missteps the movie made, as well. The screenwriters rely on a number of comic-book tropes that threaten to undo the successes of the film, and while they don’t wreck the movie, it’s still worth it to talk about how they affect the discussion about the picture.
To make things nice and digestible, I’ve pulled together a quick collection of the successes and failures in The Winter Soldier, including a few things that didn’t make it into my official review. Take a look, and join the discussion in the comments section! But if you haven’t seen the movie yet – be ye warned: tharr be SPOILERS below!
Things to love:
1. Witty banter between the leads
Very few things sell the chemistry of a cast like good banter. The filmmakers at Marvel Studios definitely know this, since The Winter Soldier opens with a great scene of Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson meeting after an early morning run and trading light-hearted barbs. It gets you laughing and engaged in the story early on, and the banter continues in later sequences with Cap and Black Widow, acting as a fun bridge between heavier scenes.
2. A more grounded Marvel story
After the alien-infused, operatic tones of November’s Thor: The Dark World, the corrupt government themes of The Winter Soldier felt like a fresh addition to the Marvel cinematic canon. While I ultimately felt that the screenwriters didn’t go far enough on this score, the fact that it was included at all certainly helped justify another outing with Captain America.
3. A subtle villain
Cap’s last few battles have been pretty over the top, and to see him cross swords with a more restrained opponent complemented the themes of the story nicely. We didn’t have to deal with any shouty evil monologues or absurd special powers – instead, the villain wields a kind of power that takes more than a super-punch to overcome.
4. No forced romantic angle
Granted, Natasha spends a couple of scenes getting on Rogers’ case about how he hasn’t dated anyone since being unfrozen. But she goes about it in a teasing, funny way, and other than a few hints about Rogers’ “neighbour” Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), the movie doesn’t try to push any romantic subplots on us. No damsels in distress, and no passionate kiss as something explodes in the background. Cue a sigh of relief.
5. How to serve one’s country?
Some of my favourite material in the film came courtesy of Natasha Romanoff, in fact (and no, it’s not just because of Scarlett Johansson, though it was a factor). Rogers and Romanoff have a couple of chats about their place in the government apparatus, and their duty to their country. Rogers wonders whether Romanoff’s ability to keep secrets is a healthy way to live, and while she admits it’s more of a way to survive, it’s clear the job is taking a toll on her. I just wish the film could have done something similar with Rogers.
Things to hate:
1. Nick Fury’s “resurrection”
Just like Agent Coulson in the ABC spin-off show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury is brought back to life (or was never really dead) in The Winter Soldier. But this is only after his friends have mourned him and used his death to inspire their efforts to beat the bad guys. By bringing Fury back, Marvel essentially coddles us, turning an emotional moment in the story into a contrivance to drive the plot. We’re left to wonder whether any character is ever really in danger, and whether it’s worth being invested in them at all.
2. Hydra infiltrates the American government
The concept that Hydra has infiltrated the government and is responsible for hijacking the Insight program might sound cool on the surface. But like the reappearance of Nick Fury, it feels like a cop-out to a much more compelling story angle. Suddenly, we’re told that the government in the film was never doing anything wrong, it was just the bad guys. The moral uncertainties are paved over, setting us up for an easier resolution, and less reason to care about what follows.
3. A one-dimensional evil plan (a.k.a: where are the Avengers?)
Let’s look at Hydra’s plan in more detail. Imagine Captain America and his allies weren’t able to stop the hijacked Helicarriers from killing all those people. Is it really conceivable that Hydra would be allowed to zoom over to other major cities and eke out the same destruction? If we’re supposed to believe that all this is happening in the same cinematic universe as the Avengers, wouldn’t Iron Man, Thor and Hulk step in and take Hydra down? It doesn’t seem like Hydra has planned out their exit strategy very well at all.
4. The Hydra artificial intelligence
Midway through the movie, Cap and Black Widow encounter the preserved consciousness of Hydra scientist Dr. Arnim Zola, who exists inside an antiquated computer hub in a secret bunker. Apparently, he’s been helping Hydra this whole time, working on their evil projects. But this inevitably spawns more unanswered questions: if Zola is so useful, why would Hydra leave him to be discovered in an abandoned bunker? Wouldn’t they upgrade him and move him to a secure facility? Why does Hydra let him be destroyed when they bomb the bunker, trying to kill Rogers and Romanoff?
5. Natasha Romanoff gets a free pass on treason
At the end of the film, Natasha decides to dismantle Hydra’s operation within the government by leaking all their files on the Internet. The act is not only meant to demonstrate Natasha’s willingness to do the right thing, but to reference the real-life stories of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. The only problem with this is when Natasha is hauled in front of an investigative committee, she confidently proclaims that they won’t imprison her because she’s so good at saving the world.
To me, this felt like complete comic-book hooey – surely after losing billions on the destroyed Helicarriers, and realizing the full scope of Hydra’s influence, the government would find some pretty good reasons to throw Natasha in the slammer – whether she’s good at kicking ass or not.
Obviously, there more to The Winter Soldier than what’s listed here, but hopefully it gets you thinking a bit more about this weekend’s box-office hit. Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this post, share it with your friends and followers!