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Soldier and Spy

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) by Anthony and Joe Russo

I feel like it’s so much harder to write about a movie you liked than about one you disliked. Ranting is so much easier than saying why you liked something, why you’re excited about it. Or maybe it’s just me.

Well, I’m excited about this movie because I think it’s the best solo movie in the MCU so far. One of the things that makes it easy to love for me? I don’t have to think or feel self-conscious about the female characters in this because they’re not being put on display. They’re not treated as bodies but as characters. No, The Winter Soldier isn’t the first movie in the MCU to do this, but it’s the first time Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is treated as a fully realized character and not just eye-candy and I’ve been waiting years for this to happen.

What else happens in Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

Pirates have taken over a ship that belongs to S.H.I.E.L.D.. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. critical response team under Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) infiltrate the ship and free the hostages. But in the middle of all this hassle, Black Widow downloads some critical data for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) – the beginning of the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. as we’ve come to know it.

Suddenly, someone’s trying to kill Fury and he barely escapes to Steve’s apartment where he’s being shot at again – by someone Black Widow later refers to as a Russian myth: the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Fury dies, Steve is accused of treason and hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D., and there are still more secrets to uncover where it all began.

Marvel movies are at its best when they leave their own conventions behind and become more than stories about superheroes. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an excellent spy movie, first and foremost. We learn more about the agency Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) helped found after Steve disappeared and about its operatives, the counsel overseeing it, and Project Insight, a secret project allowing S.H.I.E.L.D. to spy on the world without it knowing.

And we learn why it all had to fail because Captain America is all about freedom and spying on its own people just isn’t the American way – well, not for Cap anyway.

As I said, Natasha is much more of a character here than she’s been before. We learn a little more about where she comes from and where her loyalties lie. And for once, she’s not pressed into a latex catsuit for the whole length of the movie – a relief, really. As the only female avenger so far, we needed to see her as more than her body parts and The Winter Soldier delivers here as in many other aspects. Again, it took Marvel too fucking long – female representation remains one of Marvel’s absolute weak points – but they present us with a great character. The source material for all those female heroes is already in place if the MCU would only choose to use it. Here they do, and it turns out great. More of that, please.

An important introduction in this movie is Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), of course. He’s the one who’s going to pick up the shield and become Captain America after Avengers: Endgame. Something to be excited about and Sam is certainly a hero. Falcon quickly became a favorite for me but with him (and Rhodey) as with female heroes, there’s the question of why it takes Marvel so long to represent HoC (Heroes of Color)? We’re in the 2000s and it’s still serve white, straight dudes first – this shit just has to stop. I hope this will start to change in Phase IV.

I’m putting all these negatives here because there’s really not much to say about the movie. It’s as perfect a solo hero movie as Marvel ever made. Captain America becomes a little bit edgier, less of a mindless soldier type who just follows orders. His relationship to the Winter Soldier will cause problems around the corner. There are a lot of things that will stay with the character, Steve Rogers, that make him more relatable. His new friendships, one with Natasha, the other with Sam, will become even more important in Captain America: Civil War.

Yes, context is important for this movie. The character of Rumlow, for example, will be back with a vengeance and it’s good to remember him from this movie or else the beginning of Civil War becomes a little bit of a question mark. Then there is the first glimpse of the twins: Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in the mid-credit scene. And also the annihilation of S.H.I.E.L.D. which isn’t just important for the tv show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but for the whole MCU.

The Winter Soldier changed a lot, it brought some of the best characters into the MCU or made great characters of heretofore cardboard characters (and, yes, that includes Bucky Barnes). I would always recommend you watch it whenever you want to watch an MCU movie for fun because it’s just a really good movie. It brought the Russo brothers into the fold, too, so…

Next: Guardians of the Galaxy (I could really do without Star-Lord, how about you?)

 

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Just dropping a note: The Conspirator

The Conspirator (2010) by Robert Redford

The Trailer:

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have seen this – busy weeks to be precise – but I still wanted to write something about it, ’cause it was actually really good.

It was a tough decision to go watch it. I had seen the trailor – as I have mentioned in my post about Robin Wright – and liked it. But when I sat at home that evening thinking about it again, I remembered it as belonging to a trope  in which a woman is judged by a room full of men – and I do so get tired of movies like that.

Going to the movies seems to involve a lot of convincing on my part lately. But I am glad, I convinced myself to watch The Conspirator. For once, it is an interesting piece of history. Everybody knows the name of Lincoln’s assassin but the story that followed is not so very well known and it is rather a sad testament of law taken into the hands of vengeful men.

The acting is brilliant. Robin Wright and Evan Rachel Wood showed great performances of Southern women who – possibly – didn’t do anything wrong but are still blamed for the wrongdoings of the the men in their lives. James McAvoy shows another strong performance, and Kevin Kline – who is and always will be one of my favorite actors – is so brilliant that I only recognized him halfway through the movie. And playing an arrogant tyrant becomes him quite well.

The weak point of the film is probably that it is a story about a woman told through the story of a man. McAvoy’s character, Frederick Aiken, is also the main character. His fight for justice in the face of a paralyzing crime takes center stage, while the struggle of the woman he is fighting for, Mary Surratt, is pushed to the sidelines. And we are talking about the first woman who had been lawfully executed in the United States (and it is just possible that she was “innocent”) while Aiken quit practicing law after her trial. One wonders who the more heroic figure of the two was… (in case you are still wondering: it was her!).

The supporting cast was another strong point of the film (you really cannot complain about the casting). Beside Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, and Tom Wilkinson, Trekkers will rejoice in seeing Colm Meaney, while Gleeks will cheer for Jonathan Groff (who I don’t like any better now than when he first appeared on Glee).

If you got the time, give this film some attention. It deserves it, and it is certainly not just for people who study the subject – as I do.