Thoughtful Captain America: The Winter Soldier stretches more than just the uniform

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Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Redford. Rated PG. Now playing

What makes a man put on a flag costume and carry a shield?

For Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), it is his humility as a former nerd, his unquestionable albeit chemically enhanced leadership skills, and his fervent martial spirit, which arose from a selfless desire to share the burdens of friends going off to fight the Second World War.

As shown in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Rogers was transformed by comic-book science into a superhuman specimen, issued with stretchy uniforms and sent by the army (and, later, ominous wetwork agency SHIELD) to fight… who exactly? These and similar questions are raised by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which the hero grapples with his service and Marvel Entertainment attempts the paranoid-thriller genre.

The movie opens with Steve Rogers undergoing yet more drastic transformation. He and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are first seen as part of a SHIELD strike team, eliminating a shipload of kidnappers with ninjalike élan. While this lifestyle is acceptable to Black Widow, the honourable Cap cannot fail to consider the scope and effect of his orders, and their propriety.

So Cap is troubled even before he meets the Winter Soldier, a legendary assassin. His poetic handle recalls the Winter Soldier Investigation into Vietnam-era atrocities, which in turn referenced Thomas Paine’s conception of “the summer soldier”, who serves when it is easy to do so.

And yet it is not a heavy movie, thanks to a hectic pace established by directing brothers Anthony and Joseph Russo. While the major effects are saved for the end (in whatever sense an episode of an ongoing fantasy epic can be said to end), there are considerable human effects provided by Robert Redford, as SHIELD’s wise political overseer, and by Evans, whose performance as Cap suggests that the spangliest of the Marvel superheroes is also its most genial, wistful, and radical.

Comments (4) Add New Comment
Ron Y
I actually wrote this review about five different ways, each geekier than the last, until I cut out all of the stuff about the essential themes of the Marvel heroes and their relevance to contemporary western culture, and just went with the above.

It's actually harder to write less about something that geeks you out.
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Adrian Mack
You should have just filed that old picture of Robert Redford hanging out with Richard Helms
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Hazlit
Hi Ron,

I went to see it last night. Mostly escapist fare to be fair, but if you DID want to suggest that it stretched the mind as well as the uniform, you would need a few extra paragraphs in there suggesting that the movie presents a paradox: that sometimes choosing the riskier and less certain way--e.g. relying on humans (even if they are superheroes) instead of technology to keep us safe--is the better way. The paradox lies in the fact that some technology may liberate us, but too much enslaves us. Sorry to seem like a pretentious a*hole writing your review, but this is what you might have said.
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Ron Y
Hey Hazlit.

I don't have the paragraphs for print but I do here, so let's discuss!

SPOILERS FOLLOW

I didn't get the same paradox you did in that both the evildoers and the goodguys are using technology at more or less an equivalent level. Indeed, Captain America is the product of advanced movie-gibberish science - he could not effect his feats of goodness without it, therefore the argument could be made that too much normalcy would have defeated us.

What stretched my mind, admittedly no great feat, is the revolutionary quality of this character. I do not know if Marvel realized that they have made a sort of Tea Party argument here: that the surveillance state must be taken apart by any means necessary. Including revolution (or, technically, counter-revolution).
But then, armed resistance to tyranny is one of the founding visions of the state whose colours cloak the hero.

In sum, CA is a much more difficult, layered, problematic and therefore interesting character than, say, Iron Man, who is an independent technocrat and therefore always a vigilante, as opposed to SHIELD which is some sort of a vaguely defined trans-governmental police force - what Interpol would be if it had a SWAT force.

Speaking of interesting characters, Marvel has not made particularly great movies of Thor, but he sure is intriguing. Basically, these movies tell us that the Norse gods are real, but they are not actually gods but space aliens, mortal often flawed although obviously on another strength level from humans.

What a ballsy idea to drop into western culture! I am surprised that more people don't perceive the heretical power of the Thor concept, but maybe it's just too big, too drastic, too inflammatory to apply more generally...

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