Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Just as I did for The Wolverine and Thor: The Dark World, I got to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier at 8PM Thursday night, the night before it officially opened. And it was awesome.

Surprisingly, the theater was sold out, as was the next showing at 10PM. Watching it in a sold out theater made the experience that much better. It was great to get the reactions from the movie-going masses, and most of the theater actually gave the movie a standing applause at the end. It was also interesting to see who the true MCU veterans were: they were the ones sitting in the middle, because they got there first; and they were the ones last to leave, because they've been well-trained by now to wait for both After-the-Credits scenes.

And it was awesome.

Hopefully, by now you've seen the movie, so the "spoilers" below won't ruin your day.

SO much better than The First Avenger. Better, even, than The Avengers! In fact, at the end of Act 2, during the part when Captain America is having his epic climactic battle with The Winter Soldier while fighting to insert that disk thing into one of the new Helicarriers to stop it from murdering all 20 million people on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ramped-up Index of current and future threats, I thought to myself: this might be the best movie I've ever seen.

Seriously. I tried, and I can't think of any movie I've ever seen that's better. If you can make an argument for one, I'd be glad to hear it, but I'm at a loss.

There are movies that I liked more or that had more of an impact on me (Fight Club, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers...), but Captain America: The Winter Soldier might just be the greatest movie I've ever seen. I'll have to watch it a few more times to be sure, but it is definitely at least the greatest movie of the past decade and solidly now sits in the top half of my Top Ten Favorite Movies of All Time list.


Which is ironic, because The First Avenger is my least-favorite movie in the MCU. The Russo Brothers fixed everything that was wrong with the first film.
  • In the flash-back scenes, Skinny Steve's head was realistically attached to his body this time.
  • When Steve Rogers visits the Smithsonian, the exhibit actually calls The Howling Commandoes by name.
  • As far as I could tell, Captain America never actually kills anyone. When he and Black Widow attack the Lemurian Star, she's murdering thugs left and right, but the Captain always goes for the takedown rather than the kill--heck, he doesn't even carry a gun!
  • Best of all, as Samuel L. Jackson said on The Daily Show Wednesday night, this movie actually has a plot! It's not just giant mosters or robots fighting each other!


When I found out GSP was going to be in this movie, I got really excited. Then, when the last UFC Fight Night started out with a Captain America: The Winter Soldier / UFC mash-up, my brain overdosed on awesome sauce.

When Steve Rogers confided in Sam Wilson that he didn't really know what he wanted to do with his life and Sam suggested Ultimate Fighting, it was quite possibly the greatest thing I've ever heard in a movie! I literally did a fist pump in the theater and started to stand up and clap until my wife grabbed my arm to keep me from further embarrassing myself. But it was awesome!

The fighting in the movie was AMAZING! It wasn't too overpowered and out-of-this-world like Thor: The Dark World or Man of Steel, both of which made me want a live-action DBZ movie. Instead, it was some of the most grounded, unique, and incredible fighting I've ever seen on screen. There were flying armbars, hurricanranas, triangle chokeholds, metal arms clashing with vibranium shields, sleeper holds, and so, so much more! Without a doubt, The Winter Soldier had some of the best fight scenes of all time.

The Writing

There was an incredible amount of well thought out, insightful, witty, and meaningful writing in The Winter Soldier. Nearly every scene was like a gift from the writers to my ears.

As I become more and more of a movie critic, one of the things I'm starting to pay more attention to is the writing. Not just in movies either, but also TV and comics. One of the the techniques I'm starting to love is when two people will be talking about something, then later in the movie one person quotes back to the other person something they said earlier. That technique is the one that comes to mind when I think about the awesome writing in The Winter Soldier. Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff have several of these moments, and every one feels like a little reward to the audience for paying attention earlier. Of course, the "on your left" moment between Cap' and The Falcon is one of the best example of this; Thursday night in the theater, you could almost feel every audience member smiling when Cap' woke up in the hospital bed and said this.

The Message

Normally, I go out of my way to avoid spoilers. If I'm not caught up on a show on my DVR yet, I'll do everything possible to not read anything more than a headline. Sometimes I won't get online at all if I know something is going to be talked about everywhere.

Not so for The Winter Soldier. I couldn't help myself and read all the spoilers and even the entire plot ahead of time. And I'm so glad I did. I got to watch the movie in a whole different way. Instead of sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, who was going to die or un-die, I saw the not-so-subtle messages the Russo Brothers were trying to get across. And it was awesome!

It is such a relevant movie, so appropriate for the times we live in.
  • The technology was futuristic and a little science-fictiony, but by much. 
    • Nick Fury's autonomous SUV could be on the roads (probably minus the automatic weapon in the center armrest) in the next 5-10 years

    • Arnim Zola having his consciousness transferred to the giant computer bank was probably a little far-fetched to have happened in the '70's, but that could happen in another 30 years or so.
      • I love that Natasha mentioned Operation Paperclip when Steve couldn't believe S.H.I.E.L.D. would actually work with a HYDRA scientist! 
    • The Winter Soldier being cryogenically frozen and thawed out repeatedly could happen any day now.

  • Natasha Romanoff is Edward Snowden.
    • She released the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s intel.
    • Amazingly, Snowden's revelations weren't even a direct influence on this plot device:
      • "It was all leading up to Snowden," Joe [Russo] says. "It was all in the ether, it was all part of the zeitgeist. The Snowden stuff actually happened while we were shooting.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Black Widow use Twitter. 
    • Agent Sitwell wanted to know if anyone Tweeted about Captain America.
    • Black Widow noted her intel-dump was Trending.
  • HYDRA's kill list is Obama's kill list
    • How many "terrorists" is it OK to kill to make the world a "safer" place?
  • The Helicarriers are drones
    • Really, really big and expensive drones.

A few weeks ago, as I was riding in the excruciatingly slow elevator up to my desk at my government job, I was thinking about how dumb Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is, but how it really shows some of the scarier sides of the people-monitoring capabilities of this big, expensive, covert organization. I thought to myself, man, if Whedon and Feige and their crew push this S.H.I.E.L.D. thing a little bit further, they'd have an organization a million times worse than any of the conspiracy theorists accuse the NSA or CIA of being. And with the HYDRA New World Order, they totally did exactly that. And it was awesome!

Captain America is my New Favorite Super-Hero

Back in the '90s when I first really got into super-hero comics, Captain America was probably my least favorite super-hero. I was really into Gambit and the X-Men, guys that were cool. And Captain America was most definitely not cool. He was a huge dork, running around in his spangly outfit and playing the good American boy scout.

Later in the '00s, when Bush sent our troops off to two different wars, America's popularity was at an all-time low, and I was almost embarrassed for Captain America.

Things started to change with Marvel's "Civil War" event. Admittedly, I wasn't into comics at the time and am still catching up, but when I played Ultimate Alliance 2 a few months ago, I chose the side of Captain America and his rebel super-heroes who refused to register with the government. And Captain America became a little bit cooler. Instead of standing for apple pies and baseball, he started to represent the true American patriotic ideals, like true freedom, civil liberties, and even states' rights.

Just last month, Avengers Assemble had an episode where Cap' personifies the greatest single quote encapsulating the most important of American liberties:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
And in The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers is the coolest Captain America I've ever seen. I had a feeling this would happen from the trailers, where Cap' tells Fury, "I thought the punishment came after the crime."  He makes me proud to be an American. He is my new favorite super-hero.

And he doesn't beat you over the head with it, either, which makes it all the more cool. It's a subtle thing. It's believable--Captain America knows the difference between right and wrong and will stand on the side of right, every time, no matter what. That is a message I am proud to have my kids learn. During the movie, I thought several times to myself that this single film might have a more positive impact on more 10- to 15-year-old kids than any other piece of media they'll be exposed to during those formative years. With the seeds of liberty this movie sows, it truly could have a meaningful and lasting impact on the world.

Worldwide Appeal

Captain America personifying the most precious of American ideals is the perfect message to send to the world, especially in this day and age of drone strikes, water boarding, NSA eavesdropping, and covert assassinations. During the raid of the Lemurian Star, it hit me that this film had already debuted in Europe, Central America, and all over the world, and I wondered how they reacted to seeing this American SOF team taking out a bunch of Algerian pirates.

By the time Agent Sitwell put Captain America on America's Most Wanted List, I knew. This was quite possibly going to have a huge impact and will hit home for people around the world maybe even more so than it would here at home. And it was awesome.

Coby's Rating - 9.5/10

If Steve had put the Insane Clown Posse on his list of things to catch up on and if he had rolled a joint of medical marijuana for the elderly Peggy Carter to help with her Alzheimer's, this would be a perfect movie and I would give it a 10 out of 10 score.

I only really could find three other things to criticize about The Winter Soldier:
  • Some of the lines Chris Evans delivered with a kind of dead-eyed soliloquy style.
    • But without his shirt on makes my wife happy, and I ain't jealous!
  • The Falcon's super-reflexes allowing him to out-maneuver the Helicarriers' missiles was a bit too far-fetched.
    • But you could say he had years to perfect the thing in combat situations, so I can get that he's really really good at flying in it.
  • Arnim Zola kind of brought the movie to a screeching halt with his exposition-heavy recap of events.
    • But this was still kind of necessary to make sure the audience was all on the same page.

Easter Eggs

One of the best parts of the MCU movies is their nods to the comics fans. The Winter Soldier had all of that, and then some! Here are some of my favorites:
  • Stephen Strange
    • Agent Sitwell drops Dr. Strange's name when he's being questioned on the rooftop.
  • "The path of the righteous man..."
    • On Nick Fury's tombstone, as Samuel L. Jackson infamously delivered in Pulp Fiction whenever he was about to off someone. I only heard a handful of chuckles in the theater when the camera stayed on this for a beat, but I was happy to catch the reference myself.
  • Brock Rumlow
    • I saw him getting his charred body loaded onto an ambulance after The Falcon sent him down with one of the Helicarriers. I hope they bring him back as Crossbones, but they might just leave him out there like they did with The Leader from The Incredible Hulk and Red Skull from the first Captain America.
  • "Shall we play a game?"
    • Black Widow asks when she's logging in to the Arnim Zola-inhabited computers. I'll admit I knew the line, but couldn't remember the movie it's from and I'm not sure if I've ever seen it. Add WarGames to the my own list of things to catch up on.
  • "I am so fired."
    • Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo as a security guard at the Smithsonian.

What Happens Next?

Unlike Thor: The Dark World, where I had some questions left over that made me angry and I didn't understand, The Winter Soldier left me with questions that made me happy and excited to see where the MCU goes next.
  • Will Nick Fury wander the earth like Caine from Kung Fu, or will he and Coulson team up to form a new "Secret Avengers"?
  • What happened to Councilwoman Hawley and the rest of the World Security Council?
  • How will the other countries react to their World Security Council delegates being murdered by Pierce?
  • Will Black Widow get her own movie showing where she goes after she left Cap' at the cemetery?
  • Will Doctor Strange get his own movie?
  • Will Zola transfer his consciousness to the Super Adaptoid and become M.O.D.O.K. and/or The Clairvoyant in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
  • Will Bucky take over the Captain America name? He really knew how to work that shield....
  • Will Steve hook up with Agent 13, and is she Peggy Carter's niece?
  • Whatever happened to the Zodiac?
  • Is Loki's scepter the next Infinity Gem?
  • Was Maria Hill applying for a job at Stark Industries?
  • Where were Iron Man and Hawkeye during all of this?
  • Will everyone be really confused at Quicksilver showing up in X-Men: Days of Future Past and then a completely different Quicksilver in Avengers 2: Age of Ultron?
  • Was Baron von Strucker insinuating that they created the "miracles" in Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch through experimentation?
  • So Marvel's letting Fox keep the "mutant" trademark and they're going with "miracles" in the MCU?
  • Are there going to be other "miracle" people, or just those two?
I can't wait to find out!

And it will be awesome!