Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Just as Rip Van Marlowe awoke to EST and electric can openers in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, Steve Rogers, the living legend of World War II, awoke (or rather, thawed) into the modern world where he has his hands full with software and dating rituals.
As a sequel of sorts to both Marvel’s The Avengers and the previous Cap movie, as well as being a direct tie-in to TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America: The Winter Soldier does what no other comic book movie has thus far been able to accomplish: it juggles decades of the character’s storyline to mesh together a reasonable facsimile that can appeal to comic book fans no matter when they read the comic. Jack Kirby’s creation resurfaced in the 1960s, and even though Nazi villains had survived, Kirby thrust his character into political spy-ring theater like James Bond was Sgt. Rock. The brief but profoundly influential style of artist Jim Steranko picked up Cap and grafted his psychedelic bizarre techno hovercrafts and weaponry from out of his late ‘60s S.H.I.E.L.D. stories. Later, after his disillusionment with deceptive political decisions that made him realize “this isn’t the America I left in WWII,” Captain America adapted to Easy Rider rebellion and started riding a cycle; after all, Peter Fonda had seen fit to use Cap’s name in that movie!
The Winter Soldier goes further by acknowledging the cultural impact of Cap and Marvel, as seen through the eyes of someone unaffected by it all. It should be pointed out that Captain America was a comic that was popular with soldiers in Vietnam, unlike the American student unaffected by jungle warfare who seemed to rally around Spider-Man and DC’s Green Lantern.
Forty years passed after Kirby rebooted the character. He had been able to translate someone with a 1940s mentality into this world of tomorrow by showing that Cap, when confronted by political decisions, sided with the American people and not its government. At the time, black characters amounted to T’challa the Black Panther, an African king, and over at DC, John Stewart as the fill-in Green Lantern. And that was about it! So when it came time to add a partner for Cap, Sam Wilson, a street kid who’d been inspired by Captain America, was introduced as the Falcon. And we all loved the Falcon!
With both the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Falcon, it’s as much a film about sidekicks as it’s about trust issues. S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised by an offshoot organization from the Nazi era, and it’s up to these heroes to prevent “peace at the cost of millions of lives!”
And that’s quite enough about that, except to say that I don’t believe there’s ever been a situation where a television show is so succinctly tied in with a movie that events the week following the release of The Winter Soldier carry through into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where Agent Coulson is left having to deal with fallout from Cap’s actions taken in the movie.
Numerous mentions, both in the movie and TV show, reference Lemuria and the Triskelion Building. I assume “triskelion’ comes from “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” the Star Trek episode where aliens had crew members battle one another. “Lemuria” is the undersea kingdom of Namor the Sub-Mariner! And Sharon Carter, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13, was Rogers’ love interest in the ’60s A.I.M. storyline.
But possibly my favorite inside comic book reference is contained in the opening sequence of the movie as Cap infiltrates a pirate ship captained by a ’60s adversary called Batroc who’s identified as an Algerian National with a French accent. They went and dug up possibly the most ludicrous punching bag besides Paste-Pot Pete – Batroc the Leaper, the butt of many a joke! With acrobatic skills to rival Cap’s agility, he’s used here to showcase the versatility of Cap’s shield as both an offensive and defensive weapon!
As a man out of time, Steve Rogers in these movies missed the Cold War and therefore has little patience with second-guessing or empathy for a bad guy’s motivation. He’s gone from fighting Nazis to battling space aliens!
The America he fought to preserve has unraveled, undermined by shadow governments and inter-agency infighting. Initially built on WWII propaganda heroics and 1950s giant monster myths, which evolved into angst-ridden mutants in the ’60s, this “new” Marvel universe has jettisoned much of that and replaced it with a widespread mistrust for authority. The Winter Soldier further fisheyes that, tightening its perspective on historical events, using current social trends to reimagine Captain America as immunized from the Situation Ethics that cloud men’s minds.
I was able to write this review without mentioning the movie’s title character, and thus preserving its revelatory significance, which rivals The Avengers by capturing the essence of the modern day comic book, suggesting that friendship may be a superhero’s greatest asset.