Monday, July 4, 2016

Recap: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" Intro

Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

Everybody has different ways of celebrating the birthday of the United States. Most of the world, not being part of America, doesn't celebrate it at all.

People like this more than make up for the rest of the world, though.
Some people honor the nation's veterans, some people set off fireworks in their backyard... and some people choose to wave around Confederate flags in their patriotic fervor. Even despite the fact that if the Confederacy had their way, those particular states wouldn't even be a part of America anymore. Kind of like waving a British flag to show support for the European Union.

For the love of Odin, let's not start a big debate about Confederate flags, please? I think we can all agree that there are better places to debate that than here. Odds are, the people reading this have more of an interest in costumed individuals punching each other, as do I.

My point is that America has as many viewpoints as there are Americans. Gun control, abortions, taxes, you name it. America is a land of many different viewpoints that sometimes fundamentally disagree with each other.

So when Captain America is supposedly a representation of America... what does that even mean? How could a single person possibly exemplify "America" when every American has a different definition of what America stands for?

Yeah, the Captain America movies certainly have a few philosophical obstacles to hurdle before they can get down to business and show superheroes punching bad guys.

Like eating your broccoli before you can have dessert. Violent, violent dessert.
Captain America: The First Avenger was, as I explained at length, simply okay. It wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly had some great touches to it. But it had the same problem as some of the worst movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it wasn't made because they had a great story idea. It was made because they had to lay the groundwork for the next movie.

The ending with Captain America going into the ice and staying frozen for a few decades was basically mandated by the need to bring Cap into the 21st century in time for The Avengers, meaning that his next adventure would have to take place in the modern day, which is not the time period he was meant for. By all rights, Captain America comics should have stopped being published long ago.

I don't mean that the character isn't still interesting, or that I even dislike the character. On the contrary, I can barely imagine the Marvel universe without Captain America showing up in some form. But Captain America beat the odds when he showed up in the pages of The Avengers for the first time.

Though Captain America predates America's entry into World War II, patriotic superheroes started coming out of the woodwork once the USA threw their hat into the ring. But World War II didn't last forever, and costumed heroes socking ol' Adolf in the jaw didn't have the same oomph after Hitler committed suicide.

Or when he was burned to death.
Or when he was killed by Bucky.
Or when he was gunned down by Cable, Deadpool, and Nick Fury.
Boy, they sure do love killing Hitler over at Marvel.

But with Hitler dead and gone in the real world, and World War II ending, the patriotic heroes slowly faded away, including Captain America. He had a brief revival in the 1950s where he fought communists, but it just wasn't the same. Stan Lee even ignored the 1950s comics when he brought the good Captain back in 1963 to join the Avengers after spending a decade as a Capsicle.

The following decades were pretty rough on the ol' Captain. The youth culture of the 1960s had a distinctly anti-authoritarian streak, and Captain America kind of rubbed them the wrong way. And once the 1970s came around, and America had experienced both the Korean and Vietnam wars... well, the star-spangled spandex seemed like a quaint relic, leading to a prolonged bout of Captain America rediscovering himself, even going through a phase as "Nomad: The Man Without a Country."

Evidently, he was so ashamed of that flag on his chest that he decided to wear the ultimate v-neck.
And he got his bellybutton removed, apparently.
Eventually, the writers solved the problem of how to tell stories with a patriotic character without having him look like a government puppet: He started working for S.H.I.E.L.D. And at the same time, they embraced the fact that Cap was essentially a relic. This allowed them to tell stories where he was out-of-touch and forced to evolve as a human being as well as stories where he was the lone voice of reason in a world going crazy. Some truly great Captain America stories ensued, one of which was the perfect framework for a sequel: The Winter Soldier.

"Yeah. Bucky."
Whoa, Cap, you just spoiled that for everyone!

"Oh, come on, everybody knows that twist by now. It wasn't even a secret when the film came out."
Okay, that's a good point.

Bucky as the Winter Soldier is the worst-kept secret in Marvel Comics.

Apart from Matt Murdock as Daredevil.
Anybody who read Marvel Comics knew about the twist either from having read the original storyline or reading any comic published after 2005. And it was even spoiled as soon as the reviews for Captain America: The First Avenger poured in. Every reviewer mentioned that the scene where Bucky falls off the train sets up his eventual return as the Winter Soldier. And when the subtitle "The Winter Soldier" was announced for the sequel, every news site mentioned that Bucky was the Winter Soldier from the arc of the same name. And on top of that, it was spoiled on the poster.

Hey, look, it's an unmasked Sebastian Stan.
So while the excellent Winter Soldier storyline was a good story to adapt, the next film wouldn't be able to survive on the Bucky twist alone. So in 2011, before the first film was even released, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely began work writing a sequel incorporating the Winter Soldier story, which they held up as the epitome of Captain America's modern storytelling. Of course, they hit more than a few tonal snags in the process.

When Joe Johnston worked on the first film, he aimed to make a classic '40s war film. And since World War II science fiction is a surprisingly common genre, the more outlandish aspects of Captain America's story elements worked quite well. But for the sequel, they wanted to make a '70s political thriller. Which means that the outlandish elements would need to be integrated carefully.

But they still felt that the '70s political thriller was the way to go because of how the Cold War changed the world. All of a sudden, everything's about secrets and lies, and a straightforward guy like Cap is going to have trouble trusting anybody. Which also meant that they had captured the fish-out-of-water element of the post-1960s Cap stories, too. But they still had to find a director who could balance a gritty conspiracy story with over-the-top comic book elements. So after considering George Nolfi and F. Gary Gray, Marvel hired Joe and Anthony Russo for that job, who were best known for their work in quirky sitcoms. And yet, it turned out to be a better choice than when Fox handed the Fantastic four over to a promising up-and-coming director with a recent hit. Go figure.

And the casting, filming, et cetera went off without a hitch, which is why I had to fill time by talking about Captain America's publication history.

The film was released April 4th, 2014 and quickly made back its $170 million budget. Then it went on to make $644.4 million more worldwide, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of that year when all was said and done.

"Yeah, well, most of that was probably thanks to American fans."
Nope. Only $259.8 of that came from America. The rest of the world had actually connected with a Captain America film in a way the first film couldn't manage. And many people said it was the best entry in the MCU as of that point. Some people still say that.

"Well, let's not be too hasty."
"No, let's. The reign of Iron Man as 'the greatest MCU film' is over."
"You really think your bland villains in suits can top my awesome rogues gallery, John Cheese?"
"Iron Man 3 was the beginning of the end, Tin Man."
Hey, I liked....

"Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, even Ant-Man started one-upping you."
"Right. Well, guess who was popular enough to feature prominently in your third movie?
Oh, wait, that's right. Me."
"And Ant-Man. And Vision. And Scarlet Witch. You're just a face in the crowd, Eisenfuhrer."
"Don't you...."
"You're not a big man even with that suit of armor, Stark."
"Yeah! That's my thing now!"
"I ruined the moment, didn't I?"
"Little bit, little man."
Well, then, I'll go ahead and end this little conversation before you guys get into a second Civil War.
So let's see exactly why Cap's sequel was supposedly that breath of fresh air that was needed after the controversial Iron Man 3 and disappointing Thor: The Dark World.

Coming up in Part 1! The Star-Spangled Man and the Secret Plans!

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