I, my husband, and two of our friends watched Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier on Saturday night. I’ve been pretty happy with most of the movies produced by Marvel so far, despite a few missteps (Iron Man 2, I’m looking at you). In particular, I think that The Avengers is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. So I went into the theatre with reasonable explanations for a nice popcorn flick.
Instead, I came out feeling sad and cranky. I think I may have reached my limit of superhero movies that attempt to be smart by addressing current political topics and yet fumble the ball.
Note: Spoilers ahead.
Where to start? Well, how about…
Its simplistic depiction of institutional evil
I’m not going to summarize the plot, but it’s pretty standard spy-movie territory. (Blah blah, SHIELD infiltrated, No One is Trustworthy, Big Data, mass pre-emptive drone strikes, people are sheep and will trade freedom for security, it was Robert Redford all along, whatever.)
When it’s finally revealed that Hydra’s been pulling the strings and that the helicarriers are really targeting people based on the threat they pose to Hydra’s new world order, the proceedings feel hollow, somehow. Captain America patches into the speaker system of SHIELD’s HQ and gives a Rousing Speech revealing that Hydra’s filled the organization with spies, that the corruption goes all the way up to the top, and that the true agents in support of Freedom and Democracy have to fight back.
As Rousing Speeches go, it does its job, and the various loyal SHIELD agents turn against their foes. Meanwhile, Cap and his trusty fellow soldier manage to board each of the three helicarriers (AKA: floating, geotargeting remote drone-strike platforms of doom) in time to rewire their targeting systems so that they will simultaneously shoot each other instead of all of the innocents targeted by Hydra’s potential threat algorithm. There’s even a helpful counter on each ship’s screen, showing the number of targets dropping dramatically from 700k to 3. A general sense of relief pervades the film when all the ships (undoubtedly stuffed to the gills with Hydra baddies) explode and fall into the ocean.
But let’s think about this: if Hydra really wanted to ensure its grip on SHIELD, would they really have placed the majority of their units onto these three ships, especially knowing that others within the organization have become suspicious of the plot? And if Hydra’s really been a parasite within the agency for 50 years, would one speech have been enough to make The Good Guys understand? This sort of warped thinking can’t be purged easily. It really shouldn’t take three big explosions to destroy half a century’s worth of war-mongering.
Which leads us to…
Too many explosions
This movie has a serious case of Man of Steel syndrome. After a while, all the fighting, all of the hand-to-hand combat and awesome mechanical wings and cybernetic arms gets kind of… exhausting. Lots of CG, lots of shattered glass, lots of just-in-time escapes, you know the drill.
Oh, and let’s not forget…
It (almost) fails the Bechdel Test
I know, I know, the Bechdel Test has its flaws. But there are not one, not two, but three badass military women in this movie (four if you include the bits with Peggy, even though her character is in a nursing home dealing with Alzheimers). Two of them, Black Widow and Maria Hill, share at least several moments of screen time. But when do they share that screen time, and what do they discuss? They’re either in the hospital talking to others, or at the recovering Nick Fury’s bedside. Yes, they talk about ways to disarm Hydra’s helicarriers of doom, but never – not for a single moment – do they have a private chat.
I got into a big discussion about this with my husband. He pointed out that the girl that Steve Rogers asks out for coffee (who is really an undercover SHIELD agent assigned to protect him) is actually Peggy’s niece, and that she’s seen finishing off a phone call with her aunt before he talks to her. But Peggy’s never seen onscreen during this conversation; if he hadn’t told me that she was Sharon Carter, I would not have made the connection. I doubt that other viewers unfamiliar with the comics would have picked up on this either. So yes, nominally, this movie grudgingly passes the test.
But honestly, is this the best it could do? Both Thor movies passed the Bechdel Test without having to rely on a technicality like that. It’s not that frickin’ hard. The fact that they failed to do this even in the wake of The Avengers just pisses me off. On top of that, despite this conversation, this scene is all focused on the male protagonist: the phone call is used as a way for Rogers to break the ice and ask her out. After she declines, she reveals that the stereo in his apartment has been playing loudly for a while. This isn’t a scene based on any sort of female actualization or agency in any way – she’s presented as date material, then gives him a handy warning. Again, is that the best this movie could do?
This movie is fun. It’s got explosions. It’s got neat fight choreography, snappy dialogue, and a paucity of shaki-cam. But I don’t know…I guess I’m becoming a bit bitter.