Today I watched The Russo brothers’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America, Steve Rogers, is still struggling to adapt to the modern world. some things like art and culture will just be a matter of time for him to accept, others, like the pervasiveness of surveillance and the shadowy operations launched by S.H.I.E.L.D. don’t sit well with him. Rogers and Director Fury are not seeing eye to eye as Fury pushes for a new system of satellite surveillance linked up with three flying aircraft carriers that will be able to identify potential enemies by their DNA and destroy them with bombardments from low orbit. Rogers sees this for what it is, a threat to people’s basic liberties and freedoms and after Fury is assaulted in broad daylight on the streets of Washington D.C. by an assassin only known as the Winter Soldier, it becomes clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised. Before the Winter Soldier can finish his job, Fury slips some encrypted data to Rogers. Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. Alexander Pierce, a member of the World Security Council has taken over and he knows that Rogers is hiding that data and sends the same agents Rogers was working with only days ago to take him down and retrieve the data. Now it’s a race against time for Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and new sidekick Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon, to uncover a conspiracy that runs all the way to the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While the first Captain America movie was pure pulp, combining elements of the superhero film and old school war serials, this one takes on the affectations of an espionage thriller. The basis of these themes of espionage lie in the very modern idea of omnipotent surveillance but it is rather shallow in how it addresses this theme. On the one hand it does talk about the paranoia of a world after a major incident like the attack on New York from The Avengers on the other hand the Marvel series propensity for over the top villainy sabotages this theme somewhat. Because in the real world, omnipotent surveillance is as much the fault of anyone who bought a smart phone as it is the politicians and none of those parties are truly evil. Cyberpunk authors warned us of what would happen and we blatantly ignored the warning signs, but that is not how this film’s world works, in this film’s world everything bad can be blamed on pure villainy which makes it easy, no moral questions that we have to ask ourselves, no real criticism of the modern society of convenience that allows this to happen.
That being said the film still knocks it out of the park as a piece of pure entertainment. The action scenes play with less CGI than many other films in the Marvel series and as such the action is a lot more hard hitting and intense. On top of that, Captain America, aside from Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner who has not had his own film, is so far the only Marvel character with any real depth, the only one who seems human. Stark is just a prick and does more harm than good, Thor is an over the top mythical buffoon, and Romanoff is that super secret spy type who might have depth if it ever seemed like more than another act in her repertoire. While much of this can be attributed to the solid performance of Chris Evans, but a lot of it is also the script and directing which gives him a lot of quiet time to emote and react to his situation like a real person.
Even though I think the film does not handle it’s subject matter as well as it could, I think that ends up being a minor quibble with a film that is otherwise a very fun one. And really, it’s final message is still on point, sacrificing freedom for security is a devil’s bargain and the devil doesn’t play by the rules, he comes to collect whenever he damn well feels like it. The film has a great pace to it and moves quite fast without sacrificing character building and without moving so fast it can’t be followed. With the great action and fun characters this film is a win and it’s simplification of a complex theme is excusable considering how well the film pursues the goal of entertainment. 4/5