Monday, March 12, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Nine- "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" 2014)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Nine

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

There is an argument I see many Marvel dissenters use when describing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Lots of haters in the world of cinema, especially haters that attract themselves to Marvel. I can see why, we see this anytime a studio or a director or an actor has very few errors on their resume. Sometimes people can make valid arguments, sometimes they throw straw men and red herrings just so somebody can hear their voice. I am not going to get into too much detail on this argument, because it’s a little too big to focus on here. But I laugh every time somebody says that the MCU movies are for kids. Yes, they are light-hearted compared to, say “The Dark Knight.” But I don’t think edgy, dark and serious themes don’t automatically make classic films. Especially since these are superhero movies we are talking about. Given the origin of certain heroes, like Wolverine, The Punisher and yes Batman, you can afford to go a little darker. But do we need dark and brooding versions of Thor and Iron Man and Ant-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy? Comic books were originally made for kids, so I don’t mind light hearted superhero films that are fun.

To say that the MCU films have never been serious just proves a lack of attention, plain and simple. I’ve discussed this a bit here and there during this series so far, but I can’t think of a better example of a MCU movie that plays closer to the adult crowd as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Yes, there are laughs here and there. Yes, it plays in a very comic-oriented world. But this film features a storyline which isn’t very accessible to kids. If Tom Clancy wrote a superhero story, it would look a lot like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and Clancy sure as shit didn’t write children’s books. I don’t understand how you can watch this film from start to finish and truly not see that. Political thrillers aren’t exactly a genre that draws in the young crowd, and that’s precisely what “The Winter Soldier” is, it’s a political thriller. It’s a movie about the fate of the governments of the world, and what it means to achieve global security. Not exactly something for children, but maybe those rabid DC fanboys know something about parenting that I don’t.

Not to mention, lots of the movie probably wouldn’t make sense to younger viewers. Algorithms for example, please find me one eight-year-old who can tell what that is without any type of prior knowledge. The story features ideas that most children just aren’t introduced to yet, and why would they. Political and global intrigue and what it means to the bigger world isn’t something their engaged in at that age, I certainly wasn’t when I was that age. It would also throw some kids off who don’t entirely know their history. There is a scene in “Winter Soldier” where Captain America discovers that Armin Zola, the previous right-hand man to Red Skull, was recruited into SHIELD. What’s interesting is that is partially based on history. I read a book about the history of the CIA, and one thing the agency did in the early days of the Cold War was recruit former fascists which our country literally just beat in a world war in order to combat the communists. It was a wild reversal of warfare, an idea that almost made me laugh out loud but it happened. I am not sure a kid could understand why the good guys would recruit a bad guy and not see him planting sleeper agents in the organization they work for.

Which leads me to my next point. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is one of my favorites. I may have to watch “Black Panther” and “Civil War” again to make sure. But there was a period of time when “The Winter Soldier” was my most favorite MCU movie, a long period. It still might be for all I know. I loved it because it took a chance with its story that I never saw coming. Even in the superhero franchise that prided itself on being light on its feet. The franchise which its executive producer proudly said would never go dark. In one movie they recreated their franchise, they shook up the status quo with ease. It seemed like after “Winter Soldier” anything could happen at any time in these movies. They weren’t just going to be some superhero entertainment for a few hours. They could make genuine comments on our political scene of the day, and how we still struggle between freedom and security and not knowing who to watch. They could plant a creative seed that could affect most, if not all, the future releases. Make no mistake about it either, “The Winter Soldier” has left its mark on most of the recent MCU movies.

I love everything about this movie. That’s the realization I had once again after rewatching it over the weekend. I love everything about this movie. I think it features some of the coolest and most tense action scenes in any MCU movie. I think the Winter Soldier theme is some of the most iconic character music in all of superhero movies. Yes, I would place that score right next to Joker’s theme from “The Dark Knight.” It’s just an amazing piece of music, haunting and dreadful. I love that Samuel L. Jackson was given some of the most meaningful material for Nick Fury so far, and clearly he knew it, because he does his absolute best Fury work here. Hell, I could say that about most the actors here. I was never much of a Cobie Smulders fan, and I dreaded her casting as Maria Hill. Most of the time, I am never fully sold on her, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like her in this. I thought Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo, Emily Van Camp and yes, Mr. Robert Redford fit perfectly into this world.

Now, this movie has been out since 2014. This look back at the MCU movies has been filled to brim with spoilers. I am assuming if you’re reading this, you know the movies, but if not be warned that we are getting into some big spoiler territory. I have to talk a little bit more about Robert Redford’s work as Alexander Pierce. Because I think he’s one of the more underrated villains in the MCU.  He’s the Senator Palpatine of the MCU, but with a brainwashed Anakin Skywalker by the way of Bucky Barnes. The big spoiler in this movie is that HYDRA secretly began to build its ranks after World War II inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. Because of their S.H.I.E.L.D. cover, they’ve been to manipulate world events with ease, creating a world that is slowly spiraling out of control, which will make it easier to conquer. Alexander Pierce is a high-ranking officer inside S.H.I.E.L.D. who is also a HYDRA mole, who has secretly been pushing Project Insight, which would put three state-of-the-art, militarized Helcarriers into the sky, which can read terrorists DNA. The rub is that Pierce has no desire to stop the evildoers of the world, he wants to neutralize those who would be a threat to HYDRA. It’s a glorious plan, a plan he’s put into motion for an undisclosed amount of time. Had he been successful, it would have been the Time of the Empire for the MCU. I love him!

There is always a complaint about how so many comic book heroes have foes that mirror them completely. Not a foil sort of sense, I mean they are a villainous version of them. You see that in Venom for Spider-man. You could look at Iron Man and Iron Monger. You could look at Superman and General Zod. We see it in these movies all the time, superheroes are always fighting bad versions of themselves. Yes, Bucky got some sort of serum in him, but the personal stakes are higher than usual because of the connection between Bucky and Cap. They grew up together, they might as well been brothers. So the fights are that much more visceral than usual, because you are caught up in the emotion of it all.

Anthony and Joe Russo became powerhouses for the MCU after this, and it is kind of crazy to me that they began in the world of comedy before doing something like this. I would never have expected comedic people to make something like this, but it worked to aplomb. This movie is a validation that “Infinity War” won’t just be noise and chaos and too many characters. They proved here and in “Civil War” that they can make several characters shine in a tight amount of time and still tell an engaging story. The Russo brothers can be in charge of everything for all I care. They made a bold statement here, that seems to continue to payoff every time I watch this. It’s a movie that screams “TOP THIS.” Since its release, I am not sure anybody has. Maybe.

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