I promised last week that I’d start off the review with this line, so here we go:
Now I’m happily married, straight, blah blah, other miscellaneous male het-cis disclaimers, but I’ve just gotta say:
Chris Evans’s Butt
(Also, maybe don’t google “Chris Evans butt.” Unless you’re prepared.)
Seriously. This guy.
There hasn’t been a more effective male role model to make me work out harder since Man of Steel.
And that dude could lift oil platforms.
And Evans’s favored, impossibly physically demanding combat tactic in the movie?
Clocking guys while sprinting like Mario on speed.
Even if they’re George St. Pierre.
Most winningest MMA fighter in history, btw. Also Batroc the Leaper, a.k.a. best moustached brawler in Marvel history.
Ok, one more picture of Captain America (in his gray Under Armor shirt, no less), and then we can move on. Promise.
Check out my arms, brah.
Why, do you ask, did I go on for so long about Chris Evans and the awesomeness that is his fine physique?
Well, it has to do with the majority of the other, professional reviews . . .
(as in, the other reviews, which happen to be by professionals, unlike me–I’m not a professional reviewer, in case that wasn’t obvious)
. . . That waste so much time reasserting their masculinity by gushing over Scarlett Johansson (another phrase you should probably not google) and how they’re amazed that she’s so pretty, sexy, etc., whatever vaguely creepy and entirely expected term you want to use. And you know what, she is pretty darn amazing, but not only (or even chiefly) for how she looks. So let’s just skate right past that and get to the really cool stuff that less secure male reviewers seem to be missing.
Black Widow: The Winter Soldier
Black Widow, whose movie this pretty much was.
The only reason that this movie was called “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was that the majority of it was shot from Steve Rogers’s perspective. It could just as easily have been from Black Widow’s perspective, and knowing the Winter Soldier story from the books, that would have worked out just great.
(And still might. Marvel set up a natural in for a Black Widow movie, one that reveals more about her sordid, KGB past and features the Winter Soldier as a supporting character. Make Mine Marvel!)
One of my favorite characters from my comics-filled youth, the Black Widow is an inspiration to me in writing a certain type of female character–the mysterious femme fatale, for lack of a better term. The Fox-at-Twilight from my Forgotten Realms novels, for instance, or Lady Vengeance from my comic book, JUSTICE/VENGEANCE and a bunch of other prose works. But there’s so much more depth to all of these characters than the concept of the “femme fatale” makes it sound.
Back in the day, the Black Widow originated out of the noir style, where women were either dangerous or helpless or both, and either way they had to be protected and skated around like some sort of cracked patch of ice: one wrong step, and you’d plunge through into a chilling grave. If you ask me, that’s just fear of women talking–fear of intimacy, fear of entrusting yourself to a woman, and generally fear of what a woman might do if you let her too close. Natasha Romanov was that sort of character: treacherous, from a dark and unknown past, whose loyalties could never be known or trusted. And that’s pretty much the role she played in Iron Man 2: the back-stabbing agent sent to spy on Iron Man with the aid, apparently, of her seductive powers. (Though any seduction in that movie was limited to googly eyes and witty rejoinders–perhaps Tony Stark was too chronically inebriated to be taken in.)
This, of course, is just the surface, as demonstrated in both the Avengers and in The Winter Soldier. These scripts have given her much more to work with in terms of both her emotional journey–a little heavy-handed in Avengers, dead-on in Winter Soldier–and her ethical/moral dilemma: does she do the right thing, even if the personal consequences (revealing her dark past) might prove devastating?
Not to mention that she kicks just as much ass as Cap, suffers just as much crippling pain as Cap (SMALL SPOILER: just watch her widow sting herself–gah! END SPOILER), and is just as effective at taking on the Winter Soldier as he is. The movie shows her being clever, ruthless, resourceful, and driven. And when it comes to the movie’s emotional side, she really shines.
But before I get to that, a word about Anthony Mackie.
The Falcon. Kick ass.
I do what he does, only–y’know–slower.
You know, when I first saw trailers and heard that the Falcon was going to be in the movie, I was a little uneasy about it. Marvel doesn’t exactly have the best track record when writing non-white heroes (that’s a fascinating blog you should really check out). But it turns out that I needn’t have worried.
The MCU Sam Wilson in the Winter Soldier is not only a badass, capable of astounding feats of aerial acrobatics (which made me kinda wonder how his buddy could get taken down by a RPG), but he’s funny, smart, emotionally connected, and a complete equal with both Cap and Black Widow. For a man who’s just being introduced in this movie to go up against two leads that have had at least two movies to develop themselves, Mackie does an amazing job holding his own.
And that last fight against the bad guy’s main muscle? Amazing.
This Anthony Mackie guy is a keeper, Marvel. Use him as much as possible.
The Mood and Tone of Winter Soldier
The emotional depth of this movie is great. I’m not saying it’s an art-house movie or that it will hit you in the feels (it might), but the character development doesn’t take a back seat to fighting and explosions as in many summer blockbusters.
Emotional tension, with only a slight hint of chemistry that will never turn into romance. Perfect.
You see Captain America’s journey as well as Black Widow’s journey, and when they meet up and start walking the same road, it achieves this great synergistic story that’s really a treasure to watch. They help each other so much throughout the movie: his sunny earnestness vs. her dark experience, each drawing the other . . . and by the end, you can really understand how these two seemingly fundamentally different characters can be so close and work so well together.
Cap and the Falcon: buddies 4eva
A major theme of The Winter Soldier is dealing with PTSD, and it manifests differently in all the various characters, from the obvious (Cap frozen from a different time, Falcon’s buddy dying in the war, The Winter Soldier OMG GO SEE THE MOVIE) to the less obvious (Black Widow’s deadly past, Nick Fury’s inability to trust anyone, etc). Trauma shapes these characters, and we see the emotional toll that their struggles take on them. The sheer strength of character it takes just for them to keep going is amazing, and far exceeds any super soldier serum.
And they can rely on each other. Cap and Black Widow work so well together, but so too do Cap and the Falcon, and even Fury and Black Widow are clearly made to help each other through this.
A line that jumped out at me from the first Captain America was the amazing Tommy Lee Jones telling Cap that “You’re a science experiment. Everything special about you came in a bottle.” Genius zinger, absolutely not true. And this movie really shows us the power and majesty of Captain America as a character: that one man simply doing the right thing can accomplish wonders, even when everyone and everything is against him.
(Though it’s great to have a little help from his friends.)
The Message: Choose Freedom, Not Fear
This isn’t freedom. It’s fear.
While watching the Winter Soldier, I was struck by how timely it all was.
We’re coming on the heels of the Supreme Court essentially declaring America owned by the super-rich, striking down key voter protections, and making corporations people (Arnim Zola, anyone?). This after decades of gutting our education system and convincing us that it doesn’t matter who we vote for, because they’re all the same. The mantle of control is growing heavier and heavier on the American people, and our lovingly tended political apathy is reaching dangerous levels.
The Winter Soldier offers us a clear message about the hazard of surrendering freedom for surveillance–about how those in power can quietly take control of us without us even noticing, with potentially catastrophic results.
And that the message comes through a disparate trio of heroes like the earnest Captain America, the pragmatic Black Widow, and the honorable Falcon makes it ring all the louder.
That is something that really good fiction can do: it doesn’t so much tell us about our own world, but make us really FEEL it, deep in the core of our being. Kudos to Marvel for taking on such an ambitious subject, and extra kudos for making it work so spectacularly.