“See, I took a seat on the Council not because I wanted to but because Nick [Fury] asked me to, because we were both realists. We knew that despite all the diplomacy and the handshaking and the rhetoric, that to build a really better world sometimes means having to tear the old one down.” – Alexander Pierce
Marvel’s The Avengers, (2012) is the most spectacular Marvel movie because it offers a full roster of Avengers together in one awesome film. Nevertheless, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) is the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) picture in my opinion. It has the best story and most substance wrapped in a spy action thriller. It is also an excellent sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). The Winter Soldier is an amazing movie for various reasons. First, it is interesting to see Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Chris Evans) trying to adjust to the modern world. As we know, he was frozen in the Atlantic Ocean and in suspended animation for over six decades after the events of The First Avengers. As one could imagine, there is a bit of culture shock waking up in a drastically different world. In addition, it is fascinating to get the perspective of an “old fashioned” hero on the complicated issues of the current day. The most impressive aspect of this film is that it comments on one of the biggest hot button debates today, balancing the measures needed to ensure security with safekeeping freedom and civil liberties. In my opinion, the film provides a chilling, brilliant, and powerful commentary that challenges one’s view on the subject. While the rest of the films in the MCU offer fun and entertaining stories that I love, The Winter Soldier definitely has the most substance and relevance to real world issues. Moreover, the film wraps all these great elements within an action packed, spy thriller that includes unraveling a hidden, decades long scheme to destroy the world and unmasking the identity and origin of the mysterious Winter Soldier. Chris Evans continues to be the perfect Captain America and leads an exceptional cast. Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Cobie Smulders reprise their roles as Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury, and his second in command Maria Hill. Notable newcomers include the legendary Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. member serving as Secretary to the World Council, and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/ Falcon. Of course, The Winter Soldier is linked to the MCU. As such, there are plenty of supporting characters and cameos that serve as Easter eggs to previous and future films as well as the comics. When I describe the brilliance of this film, I do not say it is a great Captain America movie. I call it an amazing movie that Captain America just so happens to be in.
After The First Avenger, Steve Rogers is awakened him from his suspended animation in ice and is thrusted into the modern world. Obviously, the world is vastly different from what it was in 1945. In The Avengers, Rogers is first seen hitting a punching bag and thinking about his last moments in the airplane before he crashed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Naturally, his thoughts are stuck in the past. However, Nick Fury immediately recruits him for the Avengers and they save the world from Loki and an alien invasion. As a result, Rogers really never has time to worry about adjusting to the modern world because he was preoccupied with an urgent mission to save the planet. In between The Avengers and the Winter Soldier, Rogers has had time to catch up on the things he has missed in his slumber. The film begins with Rogers on his morning run at dawn. He repeatedly runs past another runner and hilariously says “On your left” each time. Since Rogers has superhuman speed, the other guy really has no chance to keep up. The other runner is Sam Wilson who is a fellow veteran: “Fifty-eighth, Para-rescue. But now I’m working down at the VA.” They talk after they finish their respective runs and immediately hit it off. Wilson is an ideal person for Rogers to meet. He understands the difficulty of a soldier adjusting back to civilian life and his job is helping other soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, he relates to Rogers by saying “Your bed, it’s too soft. When I was over there, I sleep on the ground and used rocks for pillows, like a caveman. Now I’m home, lying in my bed, and It’s like…” Rogers finishes the thought with “Lying on a marshmallow. I feel like I’m gonna sink right to the floor.” After World War II, there was a significant transition for soldiers returning home from war. However, they had their peers and government programs to help them make the adjustment. Rogers is thrusted into the same situation but needs to deal with it alone. Consequently, Wilson is a great resource. Of course, Rogers also needs to deal with catching up on the seven decades he missed. He comments to Wilson “Well, things aren’t so bad. Food’s a lot better, we used to boil everything. No polio is good. Internet, so helpful. I’ve been reading that a lot trying to catch up.” As such, Wilson recommends “Marvin Gaye, 1972, “Trouble Man” soundtrack.” Rogers adds it to a list he has in his notebook which includes I Love Lucy, the Moon Landing, Berlin Wall (up + down), Steve Jobs (Apple), Pisco, Thai food, Star Wars/ Trek, Nirvana (Band), and Rocky (Rocky II?). It is an excellent idea to include that list in the film. The list also changes depending on the different international versions of the movie. Wilson is a great addition to the MCU. He becomes a great friend and ally for Rogers.
The movie mainly pairs Rogers with Natasha Romanoff. Scarlett Johansson was given a much larger and more significant role in The Avengers than her first appearance in Iron Man 2. While she was awesome in The Avengers, it is great to see her with a main role without the full Avengers ensemble so she receives even more focus. She is the perfect Avenger to put with Rogers in this film. She is a strong, independent, and capable character and not a damsel in distress. She is a super spy and agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who has already fought alongside him in The Avengers. With Rogers joining S.H.I.E.L.D. since the end of the Avengers and leading his own S.T.R.I.K.E. team, she is a great resource for him in showing him the ropes of the spy game. While she can be considered a sidekick for Rogers, she is more like a partner. Moreover, she serves as a friend. She genuinely cares about his well-being and is worried about his difficulty in adjusting back to civilian life. Throughout the film, she encourages him to have a personal life. Her relentless teasing and prying, even in serious situations, serves as comic relief. For example, their first mission in the film is to rescue a ship, the Lemurian Star, from the pirates who captured it. On the plane on route to the ship, she asks him whether he has plans on Saturday night. He responds, “Well, all the guys from my barbershop quartet are dead, so… No, not really.” The statement highlights another hurdle Rogers deals with related to the fact that most of his peers from the “Greatest Generation” have passed away. Accordingly, it is difficult for him to make friends and have a personal life since there are so few people that he can relate to. Similarly, it is even more difficult to have a love life. For this reason, Romanoff continually suggests different women for Rogers to ask out on a date. However, he is clearly uncomfortable about it and deflects it every time. Before he jumps out of the plane to clear the deck of pirates before his team arrives, she notes “You know, if you ask Kristen out, from Statistics, she’ll probably say yes.” When she arrives via parachute on the deck of the ship, she immediately continues their conversation and suggests “What about the nurse that lives across the hall from you? She seems kind of nice.” Of course, he is focused on the mission and asks that she do the same: “Secure the engine room, then find me a date.” She wittingly responds “I’m multitasking.” No matter the gravity of the situation, she continues to multitask. At one point later in the movie, she kicks a person off a building and casually asks Rogers ““Oh, wait. What about that girl from accounting, Laura…?” It is a running gag in the film that also keeps it fun. In another scene in the film, they are evading capture. In order to avoid being spotted, she instructs him to kiss him. Afterwards, she teases him by asking “Was that your first kiss since 1945?” The contrast in the two characters is drastic. Romanoff is obviously less inhibited and willing to challenge personal boundaries. She is also a gorgeous women with a flirtatious personality. On the other hand, Rogers is uptight and guarded about his feelings. She obviously does not have issue pushing the envelope and making him feel uncomfortable in an attempt to loosen him up. Moreover, there is clearly a sexual tension and great chemistry between the two incredibly attractive people. In fact, I would not have been surprised if the MCU decided to feature a romance between the two. However, it decides to go in a bigger, greener direction and keeps Romanoff as Rogers’s wingman.
Unbeknown to Romanoff, the real reason for Rogers’s reluctance to date is that he still loves Peggy Carter. Rogers cannot move on with his life because he cannot stop thinking about her and his lost opportunity to be with her. As the saying goes “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Rogers and Carter knew they were soul mates. As such, how can he ever find someone who is more than a soul mate? How can he reconcile that he never had the chance to be with her when he knows he should have? He can never have closure. It is heartbreaking and impossible to accept. At the beginning of The Winter Soldier, there is a great scene where he tracks down and speaks to a 96 year old Peggy. She sadly notes to Rogers that “I have lived a life. My only regret is that you didn’t get to live yours.” He also speaks to her about his reservations about the moral grey area in the new world. Unlike the World War II era when the Allies fought the Axis Powers, there is no longer a clear delineation between good and evil. However, he joins S.H.I.E.L.D. knowing that she helped to create it. For someone confused about his world, clarity is precious. He can believe in the mission of S.H.I.E.L.D. because of Peggy. From his perspective, it is part of her. Accordingly, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. allows him to be with a piece of her. However, she is at an advanced age and suffering from dementia. Near the end of their conversation, she forgets everything and resets their talk. She is again stunned and happy to see he is still alive and returned to see her. In a somber tone, Steve responds “Well, I couldn’t leave my best girl. Not when she owes me a dance.” which alludes to the dance they agreed to and never had before he crashed into the ocean. Whenever Romanoff pries into his love life, he has a look of sadness and we know he is thinking about Peggy. Somehow, he has to convert his immediate thoughts about her to the amazing, yet limited moments they had together instead of the ones of pain and loss. Of course, part of that process is acceptance and another is finding someone else. Unfortunately, he is imprisoned in denial and isolation. His mind and heart are stuck in another time.
Another fascinating aspect of this film is Rogers’s struggle with the morality of the spy game. During the Lemurian Star rescue mission, Fury sends Romanoff on a side mission to download information from the ship’s computer instead of helping with the hostage situation. Naturally, Rogers takes issue with the secrecy. When he returns to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in Washington D.C., he protests to Fury that “Soldiers trust each other, that’s what makes it an army. Not a bunch of guys running around and shooting guns.” On the other hand, Fury notes “The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye. Look, I didn’t want you doing anything you weren’t comfortable with. Agent Romanoff is comfortable with everything.” Nevertheless, Rogers is absolutely correct in that “I can’t lead a mission when the people I’m leading have missions of their own.” Fury also makes a valid point about what is required to be a spy: “It’s called compartmentalization. Nobody spills the secrets because nobody knows them all.” The contrast in the philosophies between the two men is interesting. Rogers is a soldier who knows that trust and integrity are essential to lead and run a squad to victory. However, he is from a time when the battles were different. In a total war where two armies meet on a battlefield, the enemy and mission are very clear. In the modern day, wars are generally not fought by armies on the battlefield. They are fought with spies and special operations. Accordingly, agents may go into a mission without entirely knowing who the bad guys are or even what they are looking for. The spy game can be a messy and dirty game which requires some deception. As such, it does not allow for participants to be as straightforward as Rogers would hope they would be. Regardless, he is absolutely correct in expecting trust from his teammates.
Next, the film does an amazing job at presenting how the ultimate, old fashioned hero in Rogers perceives some of the debated issues of today. In order to regain Rogers’s trust, Fury decides to inform and show him Project Insight. As they travel on an elevator to the top secret area, Fury tells Rogers a compelling story about his grandfather: “Yeah. My grandfather operated one of these things for forty years. My granddad worked in a nice building. He got good tips. He’d walk home every night, roll of ones stuffed in his lunch bag. He’d say “hi”, people would say hi back. Time went on, neighborhood got rougher. He’d say “Hi”, they’d say, “Keep on steppin’.” Granddad got to grippin’ that lunch bag a little tighter.” When people eventually asked him what was in the bag, he would sometimes open the bag to show them a 0.22 Magnum. As Fury explains it, the moral of the story is that “Granddad loved people. But he didn’t trust them very much.” As we know, global terrorism has become a major concern and fear in the world. Since 9/11, the United States has taken significant measures to try to prevent another large scale terrorist attack on the mainland. However, there has been much debate about what actions go too far and infringe freedom and civil liberties. The NSA spying on its own citizens and reviewing private information and the use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists without trial are two of the most well-known examples. Fury’s story about his grandfather reflects the same sentiment. In the MCU, the alien invasion at the Battle of New York enhances the world’s desire for more security. It is a great idea to link the project back to the events of The Avengers. As a result, Project Insight intends to launch three next generation Helicarriers that feature Tony Stark’s repulsor engines and are “synced to a network of targeting satellites.” The satellites were launched from the Lemurian Star and “can read a terrorist’s DNA before he steps outside his spider hole. We gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.” If these Helicarriers were in the air during the Battle of New York, the satellites would have quickly targeted all the Chatiuri invaders and killed them all with their guns.
While the use of the Helicarriers will make the world safer from such threats, it does not come without some unwanted consequences. Rogers does well to point out his objections. First, he notes that “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.” in regards to Fury’s thought about neutralizing threats before they even occur. Of course, punishing or killing someone before they commit or are proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have committed a crime is clearly against the principles of the Constitution and our values as a nation. It parallels the concerns about the use of drone strikes and imprisoning suspected terrorists and holding them indefinitely without trial. In regards to these real life issues, the opposing perspective argues that the rights of individual citizens under the Constitution do not apply to combatants or terrorists on a battle field. As such, it is complicated and not a black and white issue. Regardless, Captain America takes the former stance on the issue. In the context of the plot and events of this movie, it is probably the appropriate side for him. Next, Rogers points out that Fury will be “holding a gun at everyone on Earth and calling it protection.” Relating his opinion back to his era, he says “Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so the people could be free. This isn’t freedom, this is fear.” Of course, it is an excellent point. Defense and security can be used to justify anything. However, it is perfectly healthy in a free society and democracy to question whether something is absolutely necessary or is too much power for anyone to wield. As with the use of the Helicarriers in this film or drones in the real world, they can be great tools if used properly and by the “good guys”. If they fall into the wrong hands, they can be deadly instruments that you wish those individuals did not have at their disposal. Is it better not to have those options available? Does the costs outweigh the benefits? There is a delicate balance between security and freedom that needs to be achieved. Of course, there is no definite answer on where that balance should be. This film challenges you to think about this issue as well as show you the nightmare that can happen when this great power falls into unintended individuals.
Of course, The Winter Soldier is also action packed and an exciting spy thriller. Starting with the rescue of the Lemurian Star and throughout the film, Captain America showcases a lot of neat and new tricks with his shield and hand to hand combat expertise. The most dramatic part of the movie is the spy game. Similar to other great spy movies, the good guys and bad guys are blurred. It is difficult to sort out who is on which side until it is revealed. Friends turn out to be enemies and suspects are actually good guys. When Fury tries to access the information from the Lemurian Star on the flash drive provided by Romanoff, he is denied despite having a Director override. As the ultimate spy, he is obviously paranoid. Naturally, he immediately becomes suspicious and wants to delay Project Insight. He also calls Maria Hill to meet him in Washington D.C. because he needs his trusted right hand. He is driving in his SUV in the streets when he is surrounded and attacked by enemy agents disguised as fake cops. Of course, Fury does not go down easy. In fact, his car is fully equipped with bullet proof glass, armor, machine guns, and an artificial intelligence similar to Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. It also has a propulsion system for flight which is damaged and disabled by the initial attack. Fury narrowly escapes after a thrilling car chase around the streets of D.C. Near the end of the encounter, his car is upended by a mysterious figure with a metal arm. Of course, he is the Winter Soldier. After Fury sneaks away, he heads to and hides at Rogers’s apartment. When Rogers returns home, he hears music playing inside. The noise is so Fury can mask his conversation with Rogers since the apartment is bugged. Instead of speaking, Fury types on his mobile device “ears everywhere” and “S.H.I.E.L.D. compromised”. In addition, he hands Rogers the flash drive. Since Rogers is the incorruptible, flawless superhero; he is one of the few people Fury can absolutely trust. In the spy game, total trust is a rare commodity. After the short exchange, Fury is shot three times by the Winter Soldier through the window from the building across the street. Before he passes out, he warns Rogers to “Don’t trust anyone”. Afterwards, Fury goes into surgery at a hospital and is declared dead. Fury’s death puts forth the questions that set up the spy thriller. Who or what group attacked Fury? Who is the Winter Soldier? What is wrong with the Helicarriers? This scene also drops a solid Easter egg to the source material. Before Rogers enters his apartment, he has a brief conversation with the nurse living across the hall, Sharon. After Fury is shot, she rushes inside the apartment and reveals herself to be Agent 13, who has been assigned by Fury to protect Rogers. In the comics, she is Sharon Carter and the niece of Peggy Carter. Her true identity adds to the theme that nothing or no one are what they appear to be. Sharon is portrayed by Emily VanCamp. It is a small role but VanCamp does a good job portraying a strong, capable, and loyal agent.
After Fury’s death, Rogers is immediately ordered to return to S.H.I.E.L.D. and talk to Alexander Pierce, Secretary to the World Council. Pierce is portrayed by the distinguished Robert Redford. He has had a brilliant career honored with 2 Academy Awards. It has been confirmed that Redford went rogue and went off script in some scenes. However, he is Robert Redford so he has earned that privilege. In my opinion, he delivers the best performance in a film filled with great performances. He has presence and exudes leadership in every scene in his role as Pierce. The character is a confident, assertive individual who is not afraid to use sarcasm and belittle the members of the World Council when they are making irrational and/or ignorant remarks. Pierce is also great friends with Fury. He was instrumental in the advancement of Fury’s career. During a hostage situation with rebels in Bogota at the U.S. Embassy, Pierce wanted to negotiate but Fury defied orders to stand down and launched a military rescue mission anyway to save the hostages. The rebels had no intentions to negotiate but found the hostages were already rescued when they tried to execute them. The hostages included Pierce’s daughter. For these reasons, the two men have a long history and a strong bond. When Fury asks Pierce to call for a vote to delay Project Insight so he can investigate his doubts, Pierce is shocked because he knows it will be a political and logistical nightmare. Nevertheless, he stands by his friend. However, he does hilariously request “Fine. But you gotta get Iron Man to stop by my niece’s birthday party. And not just a fly-by, he’s got to mingle.”
When Pierce talks to Rogers, he asks why Fury was in his apartment. In addition, he shares information that suggests Fury hired pirates to attack the Lemurian Star to cover up his role in the acquisition and sale of classified information. Of course, Pierce knows Fury is being set up and says so to Rogers. He also tries hard to gain Rogers’s trust. He speaks about his long past and shared beliefs with Fury. Moreover, he notes his anger at the people who killed his friend. Nevertheless, Rogers takes heed of Fury’s last words to “Don’t trust anyone” even though Pierce seems like a trustworthy person to inform about S.H.I.E.L.D. being compromised and the flash drive. Accordingly, Rogers refuses to tell Pierce anything of significance. In response, Pierce warns “Somebody murdered my friend and I’m gonna find out why. Anyone gets in my way, they’re gonna regret it. Anyone.” Shortly after, Rogers is in an elevator and his S.T.R.I.K.E. team joins him in there. As the elevator descends and stops at various floors, more and more agents enter. However, Rogers notices different tells that tip him off that all the men are in there to capture him and bring him in for more questioning. Of course, a small army of agents is needed because taking down Captain America will be extremely difficult. Despite being grossly outnumbered, he knows those men are in trouble. As such, he asks “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” The fight scene is one of the best in the movie. Rogers spectacularly defeats everyone, uses his shield to charge through the glass of the elevator, and gets past a quinjet on a motorcycle. On the other hand, these actions of Pierce and his men do not necessarily make them bad guys. For any character in the movie, it is reasonable to be suspicious of Captain America: “Captain Rogers has information regarding the death of Director Fury. He refused to share it. As difficult as this is to accept, Captain America is a fugitive from SHIELD.” Moreover, Pierce adamantly defends Fury against the allegations against him to the World Council as well as ask to delay Project Insight because of Fury’s concerns. Unfortunately, Fury has been discredited. As such, the Council decides to reactivate Project Insight. Nevertheless, these actions suggest he is on the side of Fury and is not aware of any enemy schemes.
The next stage of the film involves Rogers trying to unravel the plot and sorting out friend from foe. Before he was called in to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, he hid the flash drive in a vending machine in the hospital. When he returns, the drive is gone. As he turns around, Romanoff has it and smirks. He immediately grills her with accusatory questions. He suspects that she knows what is on the drive and that Fury hired the pirates. Romanoff is naturally suspicious because of her past as a Russian agent then a double agent who now works for the United States. Could she be a triple agent? Sure. However, she falls under the category of too obvious. In a spy movie, the mole is never the first person you suspect. In the end, she gains Rogers’s trust by quickly giving him the flash drive. Accordingly, they partner and go on the run together. Eventually, she accesses the drive and acquire coordinates that ironically sends them to Rogers’s boot camp during World War 2 in New Jersey. They discover an underground bunker that is key to the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. As we know, it was founded by Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and Colonel Chester Phillips who were featured in The First Avenger. In the reveal of the biggest twist in the plot, they find Dr. Armin Zola’s mind preserved by the computers in the bunker. Zola was the Red Skull’s and HYDRA’s top scientist in The First Avenger. He was captured by Rogers and disclosed key information about the Red Skull and HYDRA. In between films, he was one of the German scientists “with strategic values” who S.H.I.E.L.D. recruited as part of Operation Paperclip. When Zola received a terminal diagnosis, his mind was successfully uploaded into computers. In addition, his cooperation and work with S.H.I.E.L.D. was a part of a greater HYDRA scheme: “HYDRA was founded on the belief that humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom. What we did not realize, was that if you try to take that freedom, they resist. The war taught us much. Humanity needed to surrender its freedom willingly. After the war, SHIELD was founded and I was recruited. The new HYDRA grew. A beautiful parasite inside SHIELD. For seventy years HYDRA has been secretly feeding crisis, reaping war. And when history did not cooperate, history was changed.” This shocking revelation is brilliant. First, I should have known better than to think HYDRA was eradicated after The First Avenger. As their motto goes, “If they cut off one head, two more shall take its place.” However, as an organization, HYDRA completely vanished without a trace since World War II. As a result, this twist in The Winter Soldier is perfect. Surviving, infiltrating, and growing within S.H.I.E.L.D. is a clever way to explain how HYDRA has not been seen until now. In addition, Zola’s thoughts are very relevant for the real world issues the country faces today. In our efforts to combat terrorism and protect our citizens, we need to ensure that we do not surrender too many of our freedoms in the process. While there are many serious threats in the world, we need to maintain our composure, not overreact, and come up with rationale responses.
Next, Zola teases Rogers and Romanoff about an algorithm he has written. A silly flaw of the villains in the James Bond’s series is that they blabber their entire evil scheme to Bond before they intend to kill him then never kill him. I like that Zola is not like the typical Bond villain. He only tells the heroes enough to stall them so a missile strike can arrive to kill them all. Of course, the strike fails. Rogers and Romanoff take cover and he utilizes his shield to protect them from the blast. However, the air strike tips Pierce’s hand. They realize that he is with HYDRA because he is the only one high enough in S.H.I.E.L.D. to order a domestic air strike. Although I really wanted Pierce to be a hero in the film, it is a spy movie so you really cannot trust anyone: “This man declined the Nobel Peace Prize. He said, “Peace wasn’t an achievement, it was a responsibility.” See, it’s stuff like this that gives me trust issues.” Moreover, Pierce’s true allegiance proves that Rogers and Romanoff really cannot trust anyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. For this reason, they seek Sam Wilson for help since he is a former soldier with no affiliations to S.H.I.E.L.D. or any other spy organizations. When they arrive at his door, Romanoff can only say “Everyone we know is trying to kill us.” Naturally, Wilson is ready to help Captain America. Off screen, they infiltrate a heavily secured base to steal advanced technology that equips Wilson the abilities of the Falcon: metal wings and flight. Rogers, Romanoff, and Wilson go to track down Jasper Sitwell, who was on the Lemurian Star. Sitwell has been a minor character in the MCU but he has been consistently a persistent, loyal agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nevertheless, the team suspects he is with HYDRA. The suspicions are confirmed when Sitwell is seen talking to Senator Stern, portrayed by the late Garry Shandling, and Stern whispers “Hail HYDRA” to Sitwell. As we know, Stern is the senator who had a contentious relationship with Tony Stark and tried to confiscate the Iron Man armor in Iron Man 2. He is a character we love to hate so I enjoyed the revelation that he is HYDRA.
Afterwards, the team captures Sitwell and bring him to a roof to shake him for information. Rogers and Romanoff utilize a variation of good cop/ bad cop. At first, Sitwell remains silent because he knows it is not in Rogers’s nature to hurt him. However, Romanoff does not have such reservations and kicks him off the roof. Rogers and Romanoff casually discuss his love life while they wait for Falcon to catch Sitwell and bring him back up to the roof. Naturally, Sitwell is completely intimidated and discloses that Zola’s algorithm helps identify potential threats to HYDRA: “You! A TV anchor in Cairo, the Undersecretary of Defense, a high school valedictorian in Iowa City, Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, anyone who’s a threat to HYDRA! Now, or in the future.” Furthermore, the algorithm is aided by how much information there is on every person on the internet. It is an allusion to the information the NSA collects and how much information about private citizens it should have. Once the targets are transmitted to the Helicarriers, their machine guns will take them out. Sitwell’s statement provides a lot of great Easter Eggs. The most notable is the reference to Stephen Strange, who will have his own movie Doctor Strange. More importantly, it explains the horrors that can occur when powerful weapons fall into the wrong hands. The Helicarriers are a great tool if they are used to defend against an alien invasion or enemy combatants. However, they will become instruments of murder and terror in the hands of HYDRA. Again, it is a parallel to the use of drone strikes. As it currently stands, the President of the United States has the power to authorize drones strikes for a kill list of terrorists. Regardless of your political persuasion, it is a valid concern to question whether any individual should have such power. Even if you support the current President, imagine a future President, possibly one you do not support, wielding this power. Are we safer as a country with these weapons or are we safer if no one has these tools to misuse? At the very least, we need to decide what checks and balances and oversight there should be for such power? The Winter Soldier does an excellent job forcing you to think about these considerations.
Of course, the title of the movie is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. However, it is a bit misleading because the movie is not really about the Winter Soldier. He is an instrument of death used by HYDRA rather than a main theme. After Fury’s death, Romanoff briefs Rogers on her past encounter with the Winter Soldier: “I know who killed Fury. Most of the intelligence community doesn’t believe he exists, the ones who do call him the Winter Soldier. He’s credited with over two dozen assassinations in the last fifty years. Five years ago I was escorting a nuclear engineer out of Iran, somebody shot at my tires near Odessa. We lost control, went straight over a cliff, I pulled us out, but the Winter Soldier was there. I was covering my engineer, so he shot him straight through me.” Although she briefly tried to hunt him down, all paths led to a dead end. He is basically “a ghost story”. He is elusive because HYDRA only activates him for extraordinary situations. In between missions, HYDRA keeps him cryo-frozen. When Pierce’s missile strikes fails to kill Rogers and Romanoff, he assigns the Winter Soldier to the task. The Winter Soldier tracks and ambushes the heroes on a D.C. freeway and the resulting fight spills onto the streets of downtown D.C. It results in a deadly and dramatic battle between the Winter Soldier and HYDRA agents against Rogers, Romanoff, and Wilson. Near the end of the battle, Captain America engages the Winter Soldier and unmasks him. For comic books fans, we already know his true identity is Rogers’s best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Accordingly, we were not surprised at all. At the movie theater, we got to enjoy the gasps of shock for a lot of movie goers who were not familiar with the source material. Although I knew Bucky is the Winter Soldier, I can appreciate how well the movie set up and revealed the twist. Naturally, the sight of his best friend startles Rogers. Afterwards, he has flashbacks to their past when Bucky took care of him after the death of Rogers’s parents. During this time, Bucky reassures Rogers that “I’m with you till the end of the line, pal.” Obviously, Rogers will do everything in his power to try to save Bucky and remind him of who he is.
At the conclusion of the battle in downtown D.C., HYDRA agents close in on the heroes. With the media airing the battle from helicopters, they opt to detain the heroes and execute them later. However, Maria Hill infiltrates the van transporting them by disguising herself as a HYDRA agent. Cobie Smulders reprises the role of Hill and does another fine job. She is capable, badass, and provides a lot of witty humor. After she rescues the group, she brings them to Fury. For comic book fans, it is another twist we expected. Again, Fury is the ultimate spy. It would take a lot more than the Winter Soldier shooting him in the middle of the movie to get the final drop on him. He always has something up his sleeve. In the source material, Fury has faked his death many times. In this film, Fury utilized a serum obtained from Bruce Banner that lowers a person’s pulse to one beat per minute. It is a clever plan by Fury since he knows his enemies will not stop until he is dead but they “Can’t kill you if you’re already dead. Besides, I wasn’t sure who to trust.” It allows him to fall off the radar and figure out who the real enemy is. When the team discusses their plan of attack, Fury informs them that he has new targeting chips that will destroy the Helicarriers. However, one chip needs to be placed in the computer of each Helicarrier. Although Fury only plans to neutralize the Helicarriers, Rogers dictates “We’re not salvaging anything. We’re not just taking down the carriers, Nick, we’re taking down S.H.I.E.L.D.” For Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D. is his life’s work. Obviously, he does not want to see it destroyed. However, it has been completely compromised by HYDRA. He wants to preserve as much of his organization as he can even though he should probably know it is way too late. Despite his objections, even Maria Hill agrees with the group. He tries to glance at Wilson in hopes of finding an ally but Wilson answers “Don’t look at me. I do what he [Rogers] does, just slower.” Finally seeing the light, Fury relents that “Well… Looks like you’re giving the orders now, Captain.”
The climactic battle at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in D.C. is worthy of the exceptional film. Before the battle, there is a nice touch when Rogers goes to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian and grabs his old uniform. Even in the complicated and very different modern world, there is still a place and need for an “old-fashioned” hero as Agent Phil Coulson put it in The Avengers. When the heroes enter the headquarters, they immediately capture the control center. Over the public announcement system, Rogers informs everyone in the building of the situation. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised. It has been taken over by HYDRA and Alexander Pierce is their leader. In addition, his own S.T.R.I.K.E. team and the Project Insight Crew are HYDRA. If the Helicarriers get in the air, a lot of innocent people will die and HYDRA will take over the planet. He pleads for any agents still loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D. to act and fight HYDRA: “I know I’m asking a lot, but the price of freedom is high, it always has been, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.” The speech is a bit cheesy but still great. I enjoyed the film acknowledging both aspects of it by having Wilson tease Rogers about it. Accordingly, fighting breaks out throughout the headquarters between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA agents. Falcon and Captain America move to handle the Helicarriers. At the same time, Pierce captures the World Council and brings them to his office to witness HYDRA’s triumph. However, Romanoff disguises herself as a Councilwoman to infiltrate the council, neutralizes all of Pierce’s agents, and takes control of the room. Fury makes a dramatic entrance via helicopter. With Fury and Pierce, they have the two alpha level members of S.H.I.E.L.D. required to override the security measures and dump all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s and HYDRA’s secrets onto the internet. In essence, it compromises both organizations. It is the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. and beginning of the end for HYDRA. Of course, Pierce had Fury’s security clearance terminated. As I noted before, Fury always has a trump card. In this case, he uses his damaged right eye below his eye patch. Afterwards, Fury is forced to kill his former friend, Pierce, when he tries to kill Romanoff. On the Helicarriers, the battle concludes the only way it can: Bucky versus Captain America. It is a fight to the death between two friends. Obviously, Captain America is able to complete the mission without killing his friend. Fury’s new guidance chips forces the Helicarriers to fire on each other and crash into the Potomac River. True to Captain America’s selfless nature, he instructs Hill to command the Helicarriers to fire immediately even though he is on one of them. As the Helicarriers descend, Bucky pummels Rogers relentlessly but Rogers refuses to fight back. Repeating the promise Bucky once made to him, he notes he is with his best friend to the “end of the line”. Naturally, the reminder triggers Bucky’s old memories and he saves Rogers from the crashing Helicarrier.
At the end of the film, S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone. If you watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury later names a resurrected Phil Coulson as the new Director and gives him a tool box to rebuild the organization from scratch. In this film, Fury decides to go into hiding. In other scenes, Agent 13/ Sharon is seen joining the FBI, Maria Hill applies for a job at Stark Industries, and Rogers and Wilson begin a mission to track down Bucky. As one could conclude, The Winter Soldier has a seismic impact on the MCU highlighted by the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. In my opinion, it is the best Marvel film to date.