I took my son to see Captain America: Winter Soldier this weekend. He’s four years old and has seen several Marvel films in the past, usually at home, but this was the first time I felt comfortable taking him to see one in the theater when he wasn’t scheduled to nap through the climax (as he did with Iron Man 3). To his credit, he assured me throughout that he wasn’t “scared one little bit.” I’m sure that had nothing to do with being snuggled in my lap for the entire film.
I had heard that Scarlett Johansson was the star of the show for this movie, and – while I would hesitate to go that far – I was pleased to find that she was nearly as important as Captain America. Johansson was an amazing “get” for the franchise, and my only regret is that she can’t now be tapped to play Rogue in the X-films. (Actually, that isn’t true; my greatest regret is how poorly Rogue has been written in the X-franchise. In its present state, the role is far beneath Johansson’s star power.) Add Scarlett Johansson to the list of A-list actors/actresses who have made me fall in love with characters for which I previously cared not a whit. (For the curious, she shares this list with Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, James McAvoy, and – to a lesser degree – Hugh Jackman.)
Warning: Spoilers below.
It doesn’t really matter how many books I’ve read or how many movies I’ve seen; I’m completely incapable of predicting surprise plot twists. So when the Winter Soldier assassin of 50+ years was revealed to be Bucky Barnes, I was just as shocked as some giddy screenwriter was hoping I would be. And the scene toward the end of the film where the middle-aged, female council member kicks everyone’s butt before revealing that she’s Black Widow in disguise…? Yeah, I had no idea what was going on, even as she was pulling off her (amazingly awesome) digitally rendered face. On the plus side, I’m pretty sure I enjoy films with easy-to-spot plot twists more than my eye-rolling counterparts. On the minus side, I’m pretty sure that a side effect of this superpower is the frequent inability to notice glaring, helicarrier-sized plotholes.
While it’s rare for a sequel to surpass the original work, Marvel has been doing well in this regard, of late. I would argue that Wolverine: Origins, Thor: Dark World, and Captain America: Winter Soldier all fit this bill. Maybe the paces of superhero origin films are simply too familiar to make for an interesting story anymore, and a second act is required to begin to create a more interesting narrative. (Although, conversely it was actually Wolverine’s origin story that surpassed whatever hot mess of a narrative its predecessor was intended to portray.) It might be tempting to argue that CA:WS is more interesting partly because of its technological advancement, but there is definite beauty in the way that WWII-era technology was depicted. Certainly, the number and variation of villains – a virtual rogues’ gallery – made for a more interesting set of antagonists than even the inimitable Hugo Weaving (Red Skull, Elrond, Agent Smith) could contend with. Besieged on all sides by enemies long-thought dead, friends brought to mistrust and manipulation, and a brand new crop of H.Y.D.R.A. villains far more insidious than their predecessors, the protagonists of our film – Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, and Nick Fury – are forced to trust each other implicitly, if they are to have any hope of overthrowing a vastly militarized NSA-esque plot of global domination and oppression.
Tender moments such as Steve Rogers’ and Peggy Carter’s bittersweet reunion and his quirky but surprisingly believable escape with spymaster Black Widow serve as clever counterpoints to relieve the tension of the more grand story arc. I was surprised but nonetheless convinced that Samuel L. Jackson had decided to leave the franchise, so I 100% bought his on-camera death and teared up on cue. (Again with the terribleness at spotting plot twists.) And I can’t think of more beautifully executed, complex technologies than the three helicarriers. (Hey, True Believers! what’s better than a helicarrier?? THREE helicarriers!) In short, it was the perfect non-origin film for a long-beloved character. It makes me long for the same sort of treatment to be given to a number of my favorite heroines: Rogue, Ms. Marvel, or even Mystique. (Imagine the possibilities of a Salt-style film featuring Jennifer Lawrence as our favorite blue-skinned anti-heroine.) And, on a similar note, I fully intend to see Johansson’s upcoming release, Lucy, and to pretend it’s the Black Widow film I’ve been waiting for: