I use to love this character. Primarily ’cause he wore blue, and America had a different reputation. But with time and learning my cynicism outgrew the Captain’s front-door heroism. My attention was drawn to more complex personalities.
After the Avengers incident and the reveal of a hostile alien species, ‘The Man out of Time’ is adjusting to 21st Century life after his seventy year hibernation since World War II. Steve Rogers is still living his convictions and righting wrongs however possible, while trying to locate an historic assassin named the Winter Soldier. Not much can be said beyond that without spoiling the twisting turns – some with consequences that permeate significantly into Marvel’s film universe.
Captain America is the poster boy for classic hero archetypes and general boringness. Which is why I’m so strangely pleased his movies have been as good as they have. The Winter Soldier closely resembles a spy thriller with high-octane action. However Steve Rogers becomes interesting when his Kantian ethics and romantic soldiery clash with the skepticism and ambiguous morals of present day. The vague battlefield of information warfare creates intriguing sparks of reaction with Captain America’s classical worldview.
Here the movie finds what it’s all about, and one of the reasons Steve Rogers, despite his simplistic nature, has remained relevant all this time. The film cleverly takes a very doric character and puts him in a situation where he has to be interesting. It spawns a stark reminder that for all our ‘enlightenment’ and intellectual savvy – there’s no replacement for old-fashion virtues.
What’s further impressive is that across three films, Captain America has lost none of his iconic idealism – no character development at all. Even with severe culture shock and time adjustment, Steve Rogers carries on undistracted. Character progression is a fundamental storytelling trope, yet here we deliberately and rather bravely see none of it. It takes a certain self-assurance to take the reins of a character like this, roll with it, break the ancient mould and have it come out winning.
Adding to the cornucopia of praise is the film’s structure. Capt 2 is a tightly-paced work with no excess fat. It’s not rushed, it’s not slow, it’s elegant, and flows along at a tidy yet stimulating gait.
It even touches on some pertinent issues concerning freedom vs security. Every time a threat arises in society that gets everyone at least mildly anxious, however relevant or overblown, it seems we lose a few luxuries in the name of safety. Instead of necessary and well-reasoned changes, it can feel like frivolous, pseudo security.
Captain America’s ‘thing’ has always been about reconciling the old with the new. Any writer can place him in such a scenario, as many have, but not everyone has achieved it as commendably as The Winter Soldier. It’s progressive yet antiquated; intelligent yet basic; sly yet brusque. The only vice I can think to attribute is the simple sin of the hypothetical – it always could have been better. The existential torment every creator must wrestle with. But if that’s its only problem, I count it a good one to have.