The path of the righteous man
Marvel’s Sentinel of Liberty takes on his own bosses to show that he’s more than just a shield ... or a symbol.
BY this stage of the second wave, or phase, or whatever-they-call-it of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve come to learn that the product coming out of Marvel Studios can be counted on for a few things.
One, a couple of hours of solid blockbuster-level entertainment.
Two, enough emphasis on story and character development – with a liberal dose of humour – to appeal to both the characters’ fan bases and the ... shall we say, uninvolved moviegoer.
And three, Easter eggs, guest appearances and tantalising hints about future movie projects calculated to set hardcore comic fans’ imaginations racing (the mid-end-credit sequence features a brother and sister who go by the initials Q and SW).
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is no exception, cramming action, intrigue, deception, conspiracy and a bit of nostalgia into every crowded frame – and dropping one bombshell of a hint about the possible cinematic debut further down the road of a certain Master of the Mystic Arts.
But enough about the future, real or hoped-for. CA:TWS is our focus for now, and the film concentrates on defining the hero’s role as a symbol of liberty in a world where the concept is rapidly becoming an illusion, or elusive, or maybe both.
There is a Pulp Fiction reference thrown in towards the end of the movie that actually has more bearing on the main character than the actor it’s referencing.
That’s because this one is all about Captain America doggedly staying on the path of the righteous, and doing the right thing – since deep down, minus the trappings, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has always been all about doing one’s duty.
This very righteousness makes the character highly susceptible to becoming a cardboard cut-out, but Evans and the writers give the good Captain an unwavering sense of direction in the very confused world of the 21st century. This may be the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but its geopolitical concerns are very much the same as those of our mundane planet.
Rather than dwell on Cap’s status as a man 70 years out of date, trapped in a world he never made, the story instead shows how his refusal to compromise his principles re-shapes events, attitudes and the people around him.
As the film opens, we see that Cap is still an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he’s growing a little tired of being “Nick Fury’s janitor”. His frustration grows when he discovers during one mission that Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) had a little mission-within-a-mission going on that he was not aware of, one that could have cost lives. But there’s a reason for this apparent subterfuge, and as it unfolds, pretty soon Cap finds himself on the run from ... S.H.I.E.L.D.!
That’s about all I can say without giving too much away; note, however, that this film cleverly nurtures the seeds sown in Captain America: The First Avenger to yield a juicy harvest of bitter irony. Hmm, that doesn’t sound like something that would taste good, but it’s pretty delicious here.
Given the forces arrayed against him, even a Super-Soldier can’t go it alone. Backing him up are the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), given a slightly expanded but more emo role in the proceedings; and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who fans will recognise as the Falcon, a winged superhero and Cap’s partner from back in the 1970s.
(The way Rogers and Wilson meet and become friends is deftly set up in just a couple of scenes; the whole Falcon thing seems to come from out of nowhere, though.)
But even this titanic trio and their associates may not be enough when the bad guys bring their secret weapon into play – the titular Winter Soldier, an utterly ruthless assassin with a bionic arm and crazy-mad fighting skills.
It’s good to see this major milestone in the Captain America comic-book universe brought to the screen in a significant way. The Winter Soldier has a very strong connection to Captain America, which I’ll refrain from elaborating upon for the benefit of ye precious few out there who aren’t aware of it. Still, I liked how returning scriptwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely managed to fit in a meaty amount of dramatic tension in Cap and Winter Guy’s few scenes (and one flashback) together.
I was, however, less than thrilled with the way Robert Redford’s character of Alexander Pierce is used. There was a golden opportunity for him to play the serpent to Cap’s ... uh, not Eve, but idealist, but their one scene together really isn’t as momentous as the trailer makes it out to be. While Pierce does have a significant role in the film, I just wish he had been woven a little more organically into the story, instead of being just the guy who tells Cap to toe the line or else. How much shinier would Cap’s moral compass be if it had been challenged to send him down a different path for a change?
Still, I suppose something had to give, considering how crowded this movie already is with returning characters, new ones, a kind-of crossover from TV’s Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that whole Winter Soldier thing.
Good as the first Cap film was, it seemed as though Marvel was just churning one out for the sake of giving a key Avengers member his own origin story. With this second film, the character has firmly established himself as a key component of this cinematic universe. He may not have the billions (trillions?) like Tony Stark does at his disposal, or the power of a thunder god, but someone’s gotta handle the stuff that’s hitting the fan at ground level.
And darned if Evans doesn’t make him an inspiring figure whose better qualities shine through beyond shields, symbols and flags.