Written by Guest Contributor: Jefferey Pinkos
The S.H.I.E.L.D. of the MCU is an interesting organization. Seemingly limitless funding - in a recovery economy no less. A massive armory of WMDs that makes Star Wars - Reagan’s, not Lucas’s - look medieval. And aside one or two public forays in front of congressional subcommittees, a surprisingly minimal level of accountability. It is one Emperor Palpatine away from becoming the evil Empire - Lucas’s, not Reagan’s. So, the obvious logical question is, in the time since its inception during the days of Howard Stark until the first days of the Avengers Initiative, how has this globe spanning policing organization occupied its time. History - especially that of the twentieth century - is full of horror stories. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s role in those stories might make an interesting tale, indeed.
Like how Thor: The Dark World is a Loki movie in disguise, looking into his frayed relationships with the Asgardian royals and his next move in his all-consuming quest for power, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie in disguise, finding the ins and outs of an organization that thrives on deception and secrecy. The New York incident stirred things up for the Avengers team. Tony went all PTSD/fallout shelter mad. The Nine Worlds destabilized, leaving the Asgardians became open for attack, with all of this shedding new light on Thor’s ascendancy and the throne of Asgard. Captain America appears unfazed by the events, and has jumped back in to S.H.I.E.L.D., to his own distaste. S.H.I.E.L.D. is spycraft through and through, and this not the best environment for Cap and his unblinking moral code. In a le Carré-ish universe where bad and good intermingle, Steve needs to reevaluate everything.
Chris Evans shines as Rogers. A character whose main quality upstanding virtue is a hard-sell in today’s cinematic climate. But quality writing and Evans’s own ability adds a depth and heart to a character who, in the wrong hands, might come off as hokey. For most of the movie he is partnered with Black Widow, in the form of Scarlett Johanson, who here is at her most casual and open. The rapport they have is great; she ribs Steve and he jaws back. It’s the closest to a buddy-buddy relationship the MCU has thus far (discounting Tony and JARVIS) and it works. Their clashing moral codes (Nick Fury: “Agent Romanov is comfortable with everything.”) lends some tension to the proceedings, that is, until it’s waylaid by the bond being hunted down together provides.
The other half of the titular team is the Winter Soldier, in the form of Sebastian Stan. Stan has little to do, acting wise, set across a few scenes here and there sprinkled in the pile of action sequences, but he’s good across the board. In the action sequences he is the Terminator reborn, a stomping, unassailable mercenary beast. In his Acting scenes (capital A for emphasis), he glowers with the best of them, giving off an intensity and a clarity. An electroshock therapy scene — styled to replicate Cap’s transformation scene in The First Avenger, except in a low-rent Saw-inspired basement — watch his eyes, big and angry, as he stares a fucking hole through his caretakers, and just before the screaming, watch him chomp into a mouthpiece with a trained obedience. In other scenes he’s a robotic mercenary, here he’s a dog. Apparently Stan’s signed on to do god knows how many other films with Marvel, and that’s a good thing.
Fury excels as always. Listen to him explain to Cap the new S.H.I.E.L.D. armed satellites with ease and comfort and defends it against Cap’s protests. Is it his warning of things to come? To quote Tony, he is the spy, his secrets have secrets. But we have a new entrant to the proceedings, Alexander Pierce, or Robert Redford, as Fury’s boss. Pierce is quintessentially Rumsfeldian (apologies to any conservative Bastards out there; please dismiss it as leftist bullshittery / someone who’s anxiously awaiting Errol Morris’s documentary The Unknown Known) in his threatening nonchalance. Here is a man with an agenda and the means to see it through.
In a spoiler-filled interview with Comic Book Resources, producer Kevin Feige lays out the idea and influence that pervades Winter Soldier. He and Marvel wanted a ‘70s era conspiracy thriller along the lines of 3 Days of the Condor, All the President's Men, and The Parallax View. Winter Soldier is a fantastic send-up to that genre of Watergate shrouded control and fear.
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Studio: Marvel Studios Run Time: 136 Min Release Date: 4/4/14