Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Matt Looker,
Ali Gray,
Becky Suter,
Luke Whiston,
Ed Williamson

27th February 2019

Following the low-point (both in terms of the MCU and our attempts at having an insightful discussion) that was Thor: The Dark World, we’re back on track now with Captain America’s first solo sequel. Don’t let that fool you though - we certainly haven’t stepped up our game in any way. The recurring feature of diminishing returns continues!

Previous Marvel musings
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The Avengers (2012)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Thor (2011)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man (2008)
Matt: I reviewed this film for the site when it came out and I gave it three stars, which in hindsight is really quite harsh, but I still stand by my reasons at the time.

I just remember being really conflicted when I came out of the screening because as much as I love the whole franchise, I was a bit disappointed. Partly because a) this is the film for me that first really consolidated the Marvel formula - the quips, the style, the aerial assault final act - and it felt a little too 'by the numbers' to me, and b) it felt really episodic. It's Marvel making it clear that these are no longer isolated standalone movies - Bucky escapes, SHIELD is disbanded, Nick Fury is in the wind... tune in next film to find out what happens next. Now this is just the accepted Marvel model, but I wasn't on board with this approach on first watch.

Of course, I have re-evaluated since then and these things don't bother me as much, but did you guys feel any of this? Or am I just a terribly hateful person?

Ed: Yes, you are, but I enjoyed it. Loads of good Nazi bits, love the bit where they discover Toby Jones's mind in a creepy Nazi supercomputer (which I accepted entirely on the basis of "they had old secret tech back then" but I couldn't get past how they put a big expository video on a screen that was in no way built to have video on it). Love the Nazi voices ripped from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on the Amiga.

(For clarity: I am against Nazis. If I had to come down on one side I'd say they were bad.)

Ali: I also remember being a bit disappointed, but I find that hard to process now, especially coming off the back of Thor: The Dark World. It's definitely one of the better sequels.

I think I was getting tired of the glib humour, which seemed to be deployed equally across all franchises and characters, no matter the situation. It was Nick Fury going "It's not like they put the numbers on the outside of the building" after a daring helicopter rescue that did it - a good gag, but for fuck's sake man, YOU ALL NEARLY DIED.

Ed: Why is Rogers jogging at the start? Isn't he just superfit for life now because of the serum thing? Or is he one of those awful people who enjoys exercise?

Ali: Steve Rogers lives Mark Wahlberg's daily routine. Up at 2.30am, pray, big poo, exercise, PTSD flashbacks, exercise, bit of Avenging, snack, exercise, meetings/family time, more exercise, cry over black and white photo of your dead girlfriend, bed.

Luke: Do you think his poos would be super massive chunks of discarded muscle he's somehow ejected from the inside, or small efficient marbles of pure waste send email.

Matt: Ali, you're editing this one.

His every movement is tactical.

Ali: Anyway, with the benefit of hindsight I can see the wider strategy - all movies from this point on have a one-line genre 'sell' that differentiate them from the last one. Thor 2 was 'Game of Thrones-style fantasy'. The Winter Soldier is '70s political thriller'. Guardians of the Galaxy is 'MCU meets Star Wars'. Ant-Man is 'heist movie'. Very wise, and in a lot of cases it's mere lip service, but I appreciate the need to make each MCU movie distinct from the others.

I remember at the time lots of Film Twitter saying "it's up there with the best political thrillers", but is it though, is it really? Because one movie ago the hero of this political thriller was fighting a screaming red Nazi skull and singing a showtune. I don't remember anyone in All The President's Man befriending a man in a robot bird suit. Is it fuck a political thriller.

Matt: The political thriller stuff is 10% in the script and 90% in the fact that they cast Robert Redford. That's it.

Ed: Redford does play it completely straight like it's a proper film though, which is to his credit. Imagine if Pacino had done it. (Think I read Marvel wanted him for a corrupt senator role at some point?) Would've hammed it right up. Redford acts like he's in a Sidney Lumet.

However, he does drink the smallest glass of milk I've ever seen. Why would he bother coming downstairs at night to drink that amount of milk? This voids the whole film for me.

Luke: If you edit out my question about how big Captain America's poos are but leave in Ed talking about Robert Redford's glass of milk, then you'll make me the angriest man in the world.

Ali: I had to look up Robert Redford's tiny glass of milk, and you're right, it is indeed tiny, in a gigantic glass. This movie is stupid.

Maybe it was taken from the world's smallest cow.

Becky: Maybe he was saving the rest for his cornflakes in the morning? When I was a kid, my mum told me it was dangerous to drink milk before you went to sleep and it was literally last week when I realised it was all bullshit so she could ensure she’d have a cup of tea the next day.

Luke: I think now that we can go into Asda and buy a jumbo 4 pint bottle of milk for £1 that lasts two weeks, people have forgotten how difficult it was to get milk if you'd run out.

I'm trying to find a way of saying this without being insulting... but the "it's a political thriller" stuff was 100% fuelled by excitable Film Twitter types finally having something to cling on to validate Cape Movies in the eyes of adults. Does that make sense? It's like if they hired Jean-Luc Godard and Groot came out "Je suis Groot" then they'd all start wearing berets and citing Guardians of the Galaxy as a French New Wave film. Despite how well the two things may work together, it feels like suddenly getting a political notion at 16 and storming out over dinner.

Becky: I admit to being caught up in the “it’s like a 70s Cold War thriller” hype, although, unlike this “Film Twitter” you have so much disdain for Luke, I didn’t feel the desire to validate a kids movie. I just liked it.

But on my subsequent rewatch about 3 weeks ago, I see how maybe at the time it was just hubris. It's enjoyable, but hardly Marathon Man. There weren't many jokes in that, IIRC.

Luke's comments have made me think, though (not the one about Captain America's morning constitutionals). Kudos to Marvel to create all those cookie-cutters and decide an espionage/conspiracy thriller was going to be one of them, but...why?? Because kids really dig socio-political commentary? Or is it a cynical attempt to legitimise the childish cultural tastes of infantilised adults? (And I say this as someone with a Star Wars tattoo, so I'm well aware I'm walking a very fine line here).

Ali: I think I would be more on board with the 'political thriller' aspect of the film, if the politics in question were more complex than 'use giant hover-ships to shoot all the bad people in America with a massive gun'. I can't be the only one who has a problem with that method of 'cleansing'. What about all the people who are inside a building, for a start? Or standing behind someone else? Or zig-zagging? Need to workshop this one guys, because we spent a fuck-tonne on the giant hover-ships.

Luke: The bad guys took down the hover ship pretty easily in the first Avengers film. What did they have in this one - like, four of them? Hardly Independence Day.

Ali: The thing that I really enjoyed was the HYDRA revelation, because that had a proper lasting effect on the MCU, and indeed the TV show (I've never seen Agents of SHIELD, but I did like the fact that the writers of the show had no idea this movie was going to fuck them over). I like it when the actions and events of the movies extend into the ones that follow. It's a really neat way of continuing the pulpy Boy's Own adventure-style subterfuge and spy stuff from the first movie. Secret Nazis working in the US government! What a ridiculous concept!

Ed: It's also one of those films which has a character who's initially good but then turns out to have been secretly a bad guy all along. But because he's played by Frank Grillo you know this for an absolute fact before it's revealed. Frank Grillo is not an actor who plays good guys. He plays corrupt cops who think Internal Affairs aren't real police. Couldn't they have got someone else in to make it less obvious? Like Reg Hollis from The Bill?

Ali: 'Frank Grillo' would be a really good name for a gorilla

Ed: When I googled him I misspelled it and it brought up lots of results for diners called "Frank's Grill"

And he's playing a character called like "Brock Badperson" or something.

Happybones, before the accident.

Ali: I have to say, the action set-pieces in The Winter Soldier are all uniformly brilliant, it's insanely well choreographed. The Nick Fury car attack is bum-clenchingly tense. The pirate takedown on the boat is great fun. Cap's fight scene in the lift is just amazingly shot. I remember thinking the first real fight scene between Cap and the Winter Soldier was incredible, really brutal and savage, they're taking full swings at each other. You really get a sense of the disparate fighting styles of the two men. Even if you suspect they might start making out at any minute.

Matt: Totally agree on the fight scenes. I'm going to shock you all here, but I'm not really a 'fighting' kind of guy. In most films I find that kind of action quite dull to watch, but the choreography here is genuinely brilliant and, more importantly, actually memorable. There are some cool moments that really stand out - the knife drop mid-fight with Cap, kick-flipping up the shield after the elevator fight, the pretty brutal, awkward throws into cars - and the moments of mounting tension are superb, like Bucky rolling his ball grenade under the car to where Black Widow has left her comms thing. Plus it's just great seeing Cap fighting with the shield in civilian clothing. This film makes so much of the action stuff feel quite fresh and creative, and to think the Russo Brothers' went from a few episodes of Community to this is insane.

Ali: Not sure how I feel about Bucky as a character. I don't think I care all that much really. It's not like they went out of the way to make his 'death' in the first film feel like a massive loss. I already knew the Winter Soldier was him so I guess maybe I denied myself that moment of shock, as it were. How did it go down generally? Most people would have already known, right?

Matt: I was going to ask about that, actually. Does anyone here remember if they DIDN'T already know the Winter Soldier was Bucky when they watched this film for the first time? I always felt like the film swells and falls around this one big 'reveal', but everyone knew it already, right? It doesn't make a difference to the story, obviously, but it's a shame that the film feels slightly out of step with the audience at that point.

Ed: I can't remember whether I considered Bucky being the Winter Soldier a reveal at the time, but the colon in the title suggests Captain America is the Winter Soldier so I can remember presuming that. It's the same grammatical structure as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. If it turned out halfway through that Ace Ventura's mate was the pet detective because he'd been brainwashed and given a bionic arm by Nazis it would've been a bit of a gyp if you ask me.

Matt: Did you think Thor was the Dark World? Did you think Mad Max was the Fury Road? Did you think Resident Evil was the Final Chapter?

Ed: None of those things are job titles.

Matt: I will say though that one of the biggest problems I have with the film is the dull colour grading. I think that 'realistic grey concrete' look really harms this film (although its just about justified given the grittier conspiracy thriller tone) and especially Civil War. That palette that the Marvel films adopted at around this time (it was there in Thor: Dark Elf too) just looks really lifeless to me. Does it bother anyone else?

Luke: The dull colours make it more political.

Matt: It's definitely all a Brexit shade of grey.

Ali: The only colours Captain America cares about are red, white and blue.

Matt: Especially when it comes to his passport.


Luke: Sorry if someone has already said this, but I think by this point there had been enough films that killing one of the heroes off was a real possibility.

Becky: Kill off who? The Captain? Or Bucky? Also, I don't if its because whenever I see Sebastian Stan I just see Carter Baizen, but I've never really understood why Bucky was so important to the Marvel Universe or why everyone stans him. I alway consider him one of the B cast.

Matt: I love that you've just referenced Carter Baizen in our MCU chat and the others are going to have to Google to see who that is.

Luke: I'm not scared to admit I had to google that. But if I recall the big death rumour was Iron Man, as his run had finished. They sure made fools of us!

Matt: I don't think that's the case for this film, but I get what you mean. There's always been rumours with the various contracts, but we knew at this point that we were building towards Thanos, so would have expected Iron Man to survive until then. Plus marketing for Age Of Ultron had begun before this film was released. Oh yeah, and Iron Man isn't in this film. I know what you mean though. I don't think I ever believed that Nick Fury was really dead, because that's the nature of his character, but basically anyone who isn't a top-tier Avenger seems more 'at risk' from around this film onwards.

Becky: There's never been any sense or feeling that any of the main characters were ever actually going to be killed off, though? It's not like Game of Thrones, all the main dudes are untouchable. The only question is how are they going to fight their way out of their current predicament.

Ed: Isn't Captain America basically immortal anyway? I don't understand/remember the pseudo-science that froze him for 70 years but does it mean he can't die or that he'll live till 2060 because his body only starts deteriorating now he's thawed, like sausages?

Becky: And if his it's his shield that's impenetrable, why do the bad guys never shoot at his feet?

Ali: Like sausages, once Captain America is defrosted, you can't freeze him again, otherwise he'll give you the shits. It feels like this has come full circle now, again with the poo talk. I am an adult.

Matt: We'd get through these a lot quicker if you could just stop talking about bowel movements for a couple of hours.

Luke: I haven't rewatched it yet. But I did somehow manage to watch Age of Ultron.

Ali: That's it, that's the natural end point of the feature - Luke telling us he hasn't seen it. Mic drop.

Onwards to Guardians Of The Galaxy then. Who knows if everyone in the group has even heard of it.

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