Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Shield V S.H.I.E.L.D

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is a man out of time and being embedded in the ice for seventy-odd years has its consequences, like falling behind on popular culture for instance. Also, it means our wartime idealist must face a world where you can’t always see your enemy as well difficult moral judgements. This all becomes clear when Director Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is killed by a masked assassin called The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) but this doesn’t happen before the agency that Cap thought was good and fair has been compromised from within.

When Cap takes Fury’s advice on trusting no one, he is demonized as a traitor by S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s now a fugitive on the run, and he must get to the bottom of this mystery with aid of fellow Avenger, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and new ally Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Captain America is the human embodiment of liberty, freedom and justice. Three things that he tries to uphold throughout this story and this comes at cost. He finds enemies from the unlikely of places and this new adversary, The Winter Soldier looks disturbingly familiar.

The righteous Captain America (Chris Evans) (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

A darker take on the righteous Captain America (Chris Evans)
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

When Steve fought in the war, it was easier to be a good guy, unlike now when there are so many grey areas. The enemies were obvious, looking at Nazi regime in the form of Adolf Hitler, Red Skull and Hydra. It was easier to distinguish between what was good or evil and what was right or wrong. The colours of black and white from Cap’s past are now grey. Heroes and villains are now one and the same, depending where your vantage point is. S.H.I.E.L.D. (previously SSR) isn’t the organization it once was.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is a cobra. It slithers, observes , deceives, cheats, manipulates and lies. It’s not as pure as it was when Agent Peggy Carter was running things. The types of enemy changed, and S.H.I.E.L.D. had to change with it. It employs people like Captain America but it also employs those who are the polar opposite to Cap, like Black Widow. She’s a ruthless agent, trained killer, full-time liar and has all the factors that make up a great spy. When Cap is on a mission with Widow and company to free a S.H.I.E.L.D. sea vessel from pirates, he learns that Fury has secretly given them different missions, as we see when Nat is doing something different to Cap. When Cap asks Fury about it later on, Fury says that he knew Cap wouldn’t be comfortable with it and “Agent Romanoff is comfortable with everything.”

The badass Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)

The badass Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

Fury is probably the most ruthless character in the MCU along with Black Widow and Thanos, but there are lines that even the Director Of S.H.I.E.L.D won’t cross. When he finds out he’s been locked out of some high-level files, he becomes edgy. When Hydra agents cosplayed as cops try to kill him, he becomes even more agitated. Then a guy with a metallic arm nearly kills him. Now he knows something’s up. He turns to Cap for help. He tells him that S.H.I.E.L.D isn’t what it once was, and that it has been compromised from within. There’s a cancer in S.H.I.E.L.D and it needs to be eliminated. Cap isn’t politically savvy. He works best when he’s on the battlefield with his bike and his shield to throw at his enemies, enemies that he can see. This is completely new to him. He doesn’t know who to trust.

Cap fights for liberty, freedom and the American way. But this isn’t open warfare where you crawl under the wire. This is hit and run. This guerilla warfare where they pick you off one at time. Steve is in a moral predicament as well as in fear of the enemy he can’t see. All Steve ever wanted was to do the right thing. But even in S.H.I.E.L.D. which is supposed to be a good organization, so many morally questionable things take place. In this new world, he’s now unsure what the right thing is. To put a definition on right and wrong is an argument worthy of Karl Marx. “I guess I’m not quite sure what that is anymore” when Nick shows him a new breed of super war machines designed to eradicate crime and Cap says “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.” which kind of reminds me of the current Civil War II comic story arc where Captain Marvel is taking on Iron Man in a similar battle of ideologies.

Director Fury (Jackson) is not a happy bunny (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

Director Fury (Jackson) is not a happy bunny
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

When Cap learns that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been corrupted by an old enemy of his called Hydra, his unwavering moral compass increases exponentially. He is the one incorruptible soul in a now murky machine. He’s not completely pure by any means, but he’s purer than everyone else. When Nat and Steve’s predicament motivates them to steal a car, he reminds her that they’re only borrowing it and she should not put her feet on the dash. She asks him where he learnt to steal cars and he replies “Nazi Germany”. It’s little things like that show that Cap will push the boundaries a little to do what needs to be done. Steve gets some assistance in his crusade against Hydra in the form of Black Widow, as manipulative as she is, she sacrifices a lot to help her friend including her own background before S.H.I.E.L.D. Sam Wilson AKA The Falcon, a new friend, ally and future Avenger is his eye in the sky, risking his own self-preservation. Agent Mariah Hill (Cobie Smulders) returns to help Cap as she is a loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as well as having a good heart, much alike our Captain America.

Cap is a big advocate of life itself and he even tries to save the bad guys. This movie has been out for two years and I can say without being spoilerfic that The Winter Soldier is in fact his old friend, Bucky Barnes. They grew up together and fought during the war as comrades in arms. Even as Cap is beaten within an inch of his life, the iconic quote is uttered, “I’m with you ’til the end of the line.” The friendship that has spanned the best part of century is still alive even as his friend is remorselessly beating on him. Cap has run-ins with loads of bad guys, knocking them out with his  shield or pummeling them with his fists. Others take more effort with powerful kicks which send adversaries into the ocean. There are many instances where we hear the point of impact, which adds to the dark aura of this movie such as the elevator scene…“Before we start, would anyone like to get out?” Giant war machines fire on each and take out big expensive buildings. Bones are broken and people are skewered. It wouldn’t be fun if we didn’t see Natasha in action, as we see her mow down some guys as well as take on The Winter Soldier in the epic highway scene. This isn’t just a comic book movie, it’s a spy movie in its own right.

Bucky Barnes AKA The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)  (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

Bucky Barnes AKA The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

One of the great things about its predecessor is that it’s pure and innocent whereas its sequel is dark and gritty. They are polar opposites about the same character. Cap hasn’t changed much within himself, but the times have. The Winter Solider is a darker and colder movie than anything we have seen in the movie side of the MCU. Sam (Mackie) advises soldiers on how to deal with PTSD. And Cap admits that he wishes he could forget some of the things that he did during the war. Some of the things make him sleep uneasily. His generation wasn’t as a great as they make it out to be. In my opinion, the best thing about this movie aren’t the fights or the themes of moral ambiguity but the political overtones. S.H.I.E.L.D’s compulsive lying and obsession with secrets as well as having tabs on the world’s population can draw comparison with NSA’s recent experiences in their Big Brother culture.

You could even compare Black Widow and Steve Rogers to Edward Snowden in the way they dumped all of S.H.I.E.L.D’s secrets on the internet. Its ideologies on “justice” will remind audiences of the questionable and controversial parts of “The War On Terror.” When S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised again, we may think of what Snowden did with the NSA and what Assange did with Wikileaks. The protagonists in this movie are asking “Are we the good guys and how do we know that?” Our ideas of what is good and what is evil are relative to our experiences, feelings and beliefs. You can’t put an outright definition on it. Everybody is right in their own mind and sometimes doing the right thing, isn’t always what’s necessary thus we have the many moral conundrums throughout this feature.

Agent Mariah Hill (Cobie Smulders)  (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

Agent Mariah Hill (Cobie Smulders)
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios)

In conclusion, this an excellent movie about very real problems and issues such as freedom, security, moral ambiguity, invisible enemies, friendship. This is my favourite movie in the MCU and incorporates some quality acting performances from all the cast and heart-racing, edge-of-your-seat viewing. The fight choreography is to the quality of the Bourne Trilogy or The Raid movies and I couldn’t have asked for a better film. It’s utterly flawless. It’s a grand comic book movie but an even better political thriller and espionage movie in its own right. But what’s even greater about this movie is how relatable Captain America is. Deep down, he’s still that kid from Brooklyn who just wants to do the right thing.

Freedom, politics, liberty, security, whistleblowing, moral judgements, corruption; all very real issues, and it’s great see them in the mainstream