Bias Alert #1: I am a sucker for the espionage genre. After Sci-Fi, espionage and Spy-Fi is where you can find me. Favorite non-SF television shows: Spooks (BBC) and The Sandbaggers — another British show. Favorite non-SF comic book: Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country. Favorite espionage films: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Ronin, The Ipcress File, and The 39 Steps.
Bias Alert #2: I am hyper-vigilant when it comes to the portrayal of black folks on screens, especially in Sci-Fi/genre contexts. This is a trauma response induced by too many horrible portrayals.
Now that you are aware of the above biases, let’s get to it. (Minor Spoilers below.)
Gripes: The Falcon. As badass as he was, he was still the token willing to follow the white hero into any and all danger. There was not one single compelling reason for him to risk his life for the Captain — unless he was so bored with civilian life that he had to get back into the thick of the action. He engaged in too much self-deprecation. There is a scene when Sam Wilson aka The Falcon says (referring to Captain America): “I do what he does, only slower.” Why did he go out like that? Why didn’t he flip it, “I do what he does, only without super steroids?” It would have established him as a bad ass who is ill in his own right, instead of being Cap’s slower, less tough token Negro sidekick — the genius that is David Walker covered this point so eloquently that my analysis of this phenomenon would be a pale imitation. The way he said, “Cap” almost sounded to me like he was saying, “Massa?” But it wasn’t half as annoying as Terrence Howard in the first Iron Man film running ‘round and yelling, “Tony? Tony?” in that high-pitched nasally, “there is no way that this cat will become War Machine” way.
Let’s not get it twisted; this is my favorite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by a very wide margin (if I were talking about every Marvel film, this entire thing would be about Blade 1 and 2). Most people would choose The Avengers, but I wasn’t terribly fond of that flick. It felt too much like a film about superhero frat boys. Loki is about as compelling as a hangnail and the Chitauri are just low rent cannon fodder. The Black Widow/Hawkeye moments seemed the most authentic and Robert Downy Jr.’s Tony Stark has more charisma than the entire cast combined. The less said about Thor, the better.
My next favorite MCU film is Captain America: The First Avenger. That I love these two films is surprising because I have never owned a Captain America comic, nor am I a fan of him in other books. I loved Morales and Baker’s Truth: Red, White and Black — let’s get real, a brother would have got Tuskeegeed with the super soldier serum before injecting it into a blond and blue-eyed white boy — but Cap was never a part of my canon. But this is meant to be about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the movie.
What sets both Cap films apart from the rest of the MCU is that the films are both action and adventure. I felt as if I was on an actual journey, not just hopping from one action set piece to the next. What Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer is the shit!) did in the first film and the Russo brothers did in Winter Soldier was inject chills, and jeopardy, and the feeling that there was some kind of stakes — physical and psychological. They humanized a character that is about as bland as I can think of. Chris Evans gives us just the right amount of “I can whoop your ass” and fish out of water to make Steve Rogers interesting — there is a kissing scene that is played between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Cap that is hilarious — not to mention a running joke of the world’s premiere assassin encouraging the world’s greatest soldier to, basically, get laid. Evans’ acting as Cap is more nuanced and human than I’ve seen before — not too dissimilar from his performance in 2009’s Push (great performance; almost decent film).
And speaking of Black Widow — if she doesn’t get her own film (maybe she has already, 2010’s Salt, anyone?) I don’t know what to say. They finally varied her fighting style from, “I’ll attack you with a flying scissor so that my crotch is in your face” to a more comprehensive fighting style that appeared to be more brutal and less showy.
The fights. The damn fights. They were so dope. From the amazing opening set piece of the invasion of the Lemurian Star ship that shows Cap as the ultimate black ops operator, to the piece’s concluding fight with Batroc (played menacingly by Georges St. Pierre), the choreography was spot on.
There was a little too much shaky-cam in some scenes, but when it counted, the fights were great and told a story — what all good fight choreography is supposed to do. Another noteworthy fight is when Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier meet for the first time. The fight is filled with such brutality and anger that you knew almost all you needed to know about each character. When fight choreographers take the time and care to give a character their own unique fighting style and then take pains to show us the differences when they encounter another style of fighting, we are so much better for it. After this particular fight, I wondered if the stuntmen who filmed the scene suffered any real injuries.
I may have dragged the Falcon earlier in this piece, but he is a great addition to the MCU. I was skeptical about how they were going to show his wings, but damn! Artist and toy creator, Roy Miles (aka the Ghetto Geppetto) said he felt the Falcon’s flying scenes were the best flying scenes he has seen on film. I have to agree.
The flying wasn’t too hard to follow and I felt my stomach seize up a few times. Damn the physics of his mechanical wings, I want a pair. Anthony Mackie played Sam Wilson as the cocksure fighter pilot/para-rescue spec ops soldier he is meant to be. While part of me did not feel the… presence?… I wanted, I feel that his first outing in the MCU bodes well for his continuous character development. And while we’re on character development, the Winter Soldier was downright scary.
Any worthy hero needs to have a villain that invites us to root more for the hero because the villain is just so kickass. The Winter Soldier stalked the film in such a way that we could (almost) question the idea of the hero’s winning. He was that good.
Maybe I went too far in calling him a villain — this label should be reserved for the government, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the personification of the two embodied by Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce. While he didn’t have too much to do, Redford took what he had and presented himself as a credible threat. He was so confident and sure of himself that I wanted to kick him in the nuts — I guess he did his job.
The Winter Soldier (we all know who he is, but I won’t spoil it here) was more a tragic hero. When we are made privy to how he became the way he is, it was heartbreaking — especially in light of what we can read about conditioning real world soldiers. I am so very interested in the next stop on his journey. We got a little hint of it in the second post-credits scene. Yes, there are two post-credit scenes.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier works as an action film, an adventure film, a superhero film, as well as a tech-spionage film. How does it do all of this simultaneously? This film takes something as silly as superheroes, grounds it in a world that has established rules, never breaks those rules, and uses its kinetic energy to not dazzle us with scenes, but to invite us in and to develop empathy for the characters. Most of the beats had a purpose, and the fights told a story. This story had an arc with a satisfying, albeit with “what the hell is the fallout going to be?” aftertaste — and no, I won’t be watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to find out.
Ya’ll know I cannot stand that show.