posted by Steve Kochems
In the last 15 years many of us have enjoyed, and occasionally endured, the wave of comic book movies that many studios now thrive off of. X-Men and Spider-Man were welcome returns to the genre that had last left us with the horrifying taste that was Batman and Robin, but like the start of any genre or wave, poor imitations would soon follow, many of which being sequels. While X2 raised the bar, X3 promptly shat itself before our eyes. While Spider-Man 2 challenged us and the aforementioned character, Spidey 3 showed us how ruthlessly capitalist a studio can be when not guided correctly.
If you’re reading this I doubt I need to educate you on the history of the super-hero genre, but I say these things with reason. Everything changed with the Dark Knight. Yes, Batman Begins really began the gritty reboot stage, but it was its successor that truly presented us with a story of consequence . That’s what Thomas Jane spoke to when he criticized The Punisher, which he stared in. That is the direction comics have gone in the last 25 years and really only one comic book film has thus far. This brings me to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Steve Rogers still runs and guns with SHIELD, along with the trusty (yet inevitably shady) Black Widow. It’s difficult to give much of a synopsis without giving away spoilers since the story twists and turns so unexpectedly (and early) in the film, but Rogers picks up where he left off in The Avengers, with a healthy distrust of what Col. Nick Fury and SHIELD were truly up to.
Rogers goes underground and uncovers much he perhaps wishes he hadn’t. But what’s more telling is his unwavering loyalty to his virtues. It’s what’s always made his character more interesting to me than Tony Stark or Thor. Stark relies on his wits and knowledge, neither of which are innately admirable qualities, while Thor is consistently tricked by his brother and, by the end of his second feature, basically decides he can’t make the personal sacrifices required to his duty. They are both put into situations that go against their nature and overcome it. That’s drama. Rogers is put into situations where his capability may not be enough to satisfy his nature. That’s humanity.
Although there are consequences for the protagonist in this film (and in subsequent films, as we should all know Marvel’s diegetic is consistent), it does not reach a Dark Knight level yet. Therein lies what will either be genius or generality. DC may end up a one trick pony (or 2/3’s a trick considering the rubbish that was The Dark Knight Rises), but Marvel’s expansive cinematic universe may be setting up for something truly shocking and incredible: the Marvel Civil War. If you consider the number of calamities to take place since The Avengers (terrorist attacks, space goo, and the events of this film), doesn’t it just feel as if the mutant registry is around the corner?
I might be off base or simply justifying my liking for the movie, or possibly even giving Marvel too much credit. But at this point, after nine films within one living world narrative and just one coming out below par, haven’t they earned our trust? A cynic would say no, but even if that’s the case, Captain 2 still stands as a movie clearly aimed at a sociopolitical discussion current today. Just as the Dark Knight showed us that unlimited power means nothing to a soulless enemy, or Iron Man 3 revealed that we are often our own worst enemy, The Winter Soldier showed that those who fear transparency have blood behind the curtain. It reiterates that absolute power corrupts absolutely and anyone comfortable with such a force as protector might also accept them as overlord. Rogers trusts his instincts, even if they oppose orders. It’s what makes him admirable and not just a super hero, but a real hero.
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