2014-04-04

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Security vs. Freedom

by Yo Snyder

Has the Marvel cinematic universe found it’s Dark Knight with Captain America: The Winter Soldier? While it’s not quite the
masterpiece that Christopher Nolan crafted with Batman, what the Russo’s have
done with Captain America comes pretty close. For arguably the first time, this
is a Marvel move that isn’t just some fizzy, fun, brightly colored super hero
romp; it’s a movie that deals with some very current, very real-world issues…and
it also happens to have some super heroes and cool action scenes in it as well.
How much freedom are we willing to give up for being secure? We see that
struggle in the headlines all the time these days as citizens wrestle with just
how much monitoring of their lives the government should be doing in order to
protect them. This precarious balance is at the heart of Captain America 2, with Steve Rogers’ idealist, old-fashion
views of freedom and liberty clashing with Nick Fury’s more pragmatic, cynical,
do-whatever-needs-to be done view of what it’s takes to keep things secure.
Toss in the mysterious Winter Soldier along with a twisty web of intrigue and
espionage, and you have one of the best Marvel films yet, and yes, perhaps
Marvel’s very own Dark Knight.

Captain America: The
First Avenger
was my favorite stand-alone Marvel film. I loved the
pulpy-adventure tone and the period setting; it gave it a somewhat Indiana
Jones-ish feel. It was a fun, exciting romp that had undertones of seriousness,
darkness and melancholy. It didn’t really feel like just another Marvel super hero
movie, and quite frankly, I was kind of hoping to see more of Cap’s adventures
with the Howling Commandos during World War II in the sequel. I suppose that
wouldn’t have lent itself well to Marvel’s cinematic universe building plans
leading up to Avengers 2, but I still think it would have been a great deal of
fun. What Captain America: The Winter
Soldier
does well is it takes a different genre for its inspiration and
uses it extremely well to give Cap some context and relevance in the 21st
century. This movie has more of the ‘70s spy/espionage thriller feel to it;
with a generous helping of big, polished effects. It’s the twisty intrigue of
the shadowy nature of SHIELD and the world it operates in, and how that
collides with Captain America’s more clear-cut, black and white view that gives
this movie some real tension. I love a good spy flick, and this one definitely
falls into that genre. Not only does it give a unique setting for the struggles
of Steve Rogers, it’s also the perfect setting to allow Black Widow really come
into her own as a character. She’s always seemed a bit out of place in the
world of Iron Man and the Avengers, but here she blends right in and shows not
only why she’s a great character, by why she’s a great foil for Captain America.
She’s willing to do what’s necessary, he’s willing to do what’s right.

Then there’s the Winter Soldier. It’s been said that the
best movies don’t rest on the heroes, but on the villains. Well if that’s the
case, then Captain America 2 is a
great movie because it’s found a great villain. The Marvel cinematic U has been lacking in truly iconic,
memorable villains – outside of Loki of course – but the Winter Solider
definitely makes up for that. Dark, edgy, unstoppable; when he’s on the screen,
you can’t help but wonder if the heroes really have what it takes to defeat
him. Toss in some very interesting twists concerning who the Winter Soldier is
(which I won’t spoil for the few who aren’t aware) and the ties he has to Steve
Rogers’ past, and you have a complex, intriguing foil for Cap and SHIELD to
take on. Interestingly enough, despite the subtitle carrying his name, the
Winter Soldier really isn’t in the movie all that much; a wise move on the part
of the Russo’s in not over-using him, so every time he appears he truly feels
like a force to be reckoned with.

Still, it’s the twisty plot of paranoia that really gives
the movie its grit. As the debate rages between security and freedom, an
interesting statement is made; “Humanity can’t be trusted with its own freedom.”
It’s interesting because, for the most part, it’s true. We take freedom for
granted. We believe it’s something we’re entitled to, not something that’s
gifted to us. And if there’s one thing that history has shown since the
beginning of time, it’s that given the freedom to do so, humanity will make the
wrong choice. It’s why Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit, it’s why our world
has hardly ever known an extended period of peace, it’s why we feel compelled
to lock our doors at night – we don’t trust others to use their freedom well.
We squander our freedom and often use it to indulge in the worst that humanity
is capable of because…we can. Ah, but here’s the big twist; maybe we aren’t
really free. Maybe after that first time when our freedom led us down the wrong
path in the garden, we’ve never truly been free since. However, God loves us,
and he wants us to truly be free, and so “through Christ Jesus the law of the
Spirit who gives life as set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans
8:2) And here’s an even bigger twist; if humanity can’t be trusted with its own
freedom, as has been amply demonstrated, why would God risk it? Why did he risk
it in the Garden, why risk it now through Jesus? There’s so much that could be
said about that, but what it really boils down to is this: He thinks it’s worth
the risk. He thinks you are worth the risk. And he thinks that because of how
much he loves you. Freedom is more than an ideal, to God, it’s an essential
aspect of his love and desire to have a relationship with each one of us. Cap
reminds everyone that freedom comes at a high price, but it’s one that God felt
was well worth it.

Captain America: The
Winter Soldier
isn’t a perfect movie; there are some threads that are woven
together with the rest of the web of intrigue, and an interesting McGuffin that
truly seems to serve no purpose other than to get characters to where they need
to go. However, it also feels like the least Marvel-ly of all the Marvel films
thus far. It’s much more of a tense, paranoid thriller or a straight-up
action-fill spy adventure than any sort of super hero movie, and it’s the
better for that. Oh, it still has many of the hallmarks of the Marvel brand,
but it isn’t beholden to continue in the vein of that brand. Indeed, the events
of this movie may change the Marvel brand all-together going forward. Not
completely, of course, but enough to make it feel fresh again as we rush
head-long into Avengers 2. We know now what to expect from a Marvel movie, but
this one doesn’t do all those expected things. That’s twice now that Cap has distinguished
himself from the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe, and while The Avengers
may be the poster-child for what that universe is all about, Captain America
has marched to the beat of his own drum, especially in this power-house sequel,
which leaves me feeling his films might be the best of the bunch. Yes, even
better than The Avengers.

Score: 6 of 7 – This Captain America is a bit darker and more serious than other Marvel films, but it’s not as edgy as Iron Man 3. For older families, it’s a fun outing, though the complex plot may need some explaining. Expect the usual super hero violence, and a slight smattering of language and very brief innuendo.