Feb 28, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  Next, arguably the best movie in the entire MCU.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Comics Cube Roundtable

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released on April 4, 2014 and made $95 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $259 million in the United States and $714 million total worldwide.

BEN: One of the great times I’ve had in a theater. From the opening action, with Black Widow and Captain America taking down the bad guys with brutal efficiency, I was hooked. The action was so visceral and exciting. It immediately set a new high bar for me.

JD: I’ve seen this 20 times and the poster still gets my hyped.

JEFF: Any excuse to watch this movie again.

MATTHEW: I've been waiting for this roundtable. Far and away my favorite of Marvel's movies. The movie is just awesome.

LAMAR: The Winter Soldier is the both the best Marvel film and the most well-crafted superhero film ever made...but get back with me in a few weeks (when Black Panther opens). *This roundtable took place prior.*

TRAVIS: I would have enjoyed this one more, but for the marketing. It's not a political thriller and if you can't guess who the baddies are the first time any appear onscreen, you can't be an adult who's seen movies before. Hella good action movie, though.

DUY: I think it's the best MCU movie, top to bottom. It was the best one when it came out, it's still the best one now. And I think one of the things that makes it work so well is it doesn't fall over into joke territory like all the other non-Cap movies have done.

MATT: I am a tremendous fan of this film. I think it picks up nicely where Steve left off after both his first movie and the Avengers. SHIELD is out there and Steve's at the forefront, fighting Darth Maul. I do think that these movies all try to focus on different themes and genres. The first is a classic WW2 movie. Steve respects authority and finds his heroic means. In this film, Steve learns that Natasha has some skills he doesn't, like skepticism of authority and how to use computers. The reveal that all these people in SHIELD are actually HYDRA isn't the real reveal, it's Bucky — the titular Winter Soldier.

KATHERINE: Just read this on IMDB: The "winter soldier" title is assumed to refer to either Bucky's nickname, the Cold War, or how he was kept in a cold-based suspended animation between missions. But, from the commentary, it actually refers to an eighteenth century quote from Thomas Paine: "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he (the winter soldier) that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Therefore, the titular "winter soldier" is Cap, not Bucky.

DUY: Nice, double meanings. I like.

MATT: Also, that Fury is prepared for betrayal and manages to escape the ultimate assassin is pretty great. The fight scenes are excellently done, and since Steve doesn't have laser beams or a magic hammer, they are tightly focused and often brutal (the elevator scene is expertly done as is the ambush).

JEFF: I actually think the way Fury gets away is badly done, there's no way that little lightsaber devices he had(from his Mace Windu days I imagine) should have cut that deep a hole in the time it would take Soldier to walk over to the vehicle.

ANTONIO: The dude is all shot up and bleeding profusely! Just jump down into the hole and kill him the rest of the way, dude. Way to give up so easily, Bucky!

CHRISTOPHER: Fury with that lightsaber shit to escape is a serious hard sell.

It immediately set a new high bar for me. -Ben

BEN: I’ve gone back and forth over the years on if this was better than Avengers, but after re-watching both now, I had a lot more problems with the Whedon dialogue in Avengers. I think this is the best MCU movie. It doesn’t hurt that it has both of my favorite Avengers in it.

CHRISTOPHER: This movie is Marvel's most focused and tightest film to date. It managed to elevate into much much more relevant territory the story of Steve.  By far this is the top Marvel movie for me and will probably hold that place for good simply because as the movies expand upon the lore of its universe it will never come to this level of focus.

JEFF: The action in this movie is unbelievable, from start to finish. Cap is like a juggernaut in the beginning taking out all the mercenaries on the ship and barreling through everything in the way when pursuing Winter Soldier after Fury is shot. The scenes for Fury’s chase and the first fight between Cap and Winter Soldier are pure intensity, I love how Soldier has a never ending arsenal of knives and pistols to use against Cap.

DUY: And yet, despite all that action, I love that he takes Bucky out with a sleeper hold. Because it's Bucky, and only because it's Bucky.

MATTHEW: They made Arnim Zola work. Let that sink in. They put Arnim Zola in a live-action film and made it work.

JD: Twice.

MATTHEW: The part in the elevator where he realizes what’s up and offers everybody a chance to get off.

CHRISTOPHER: I loooooove how Cap's all up in everyone's face like he's there only to kick ass and take names, but with Bucky he's all about the bromance.

JEFF: I like when Rumlow says nothing personal cause he knows exactly how the fight between him and Cap is going to end.

MATT: The brutal efficiency of that scene is amazing.

MATTHEW: The whole scene with him escaping the Triskelion is just awesome. Everything about that just played so perfectly. I love how they basically made Cap unstoppable. It didn't matter what was in front of him. He knew what was right, and he was kicking every ass necessary to straighten shit out.

JEFF: I love the scene where Cap jumps from the jet without a chute and one of the strike team guys asked was he wearing a chute to which Rumlow shakes his head and says no he wasn't with a little smile on his face, admiring Cap even though he's really Hydra.

MATTHEW: Hydra or not, he's a warrior, and he's going to carry a healthy level of respect for that dude.

BEN: Maria Hill has one of the great moments in all of the MCU in this movie.

DUY: I marked the hell out for Maria, which was a testament to how into the story I was, since I didn’t like her in Avengers.

BEN: Cobie was legitimately bad in Avengers.

Despite all that action, I love that he takes Bucky out with a sleeper hold. Because it's Bucky, and only because it's Bucky. -Duy

DUY: How did your theater audiences react to the Bucky reveal? Because I saw it twice and I don't think people made the connection the first time. They either probably didn't see the first movie or he looked too different.

TRAVIS: The actor wanted to go with short hair, didn't he? For that reason? But, Brubaker explained the long hair in the wind = cool thing?

BEN: I think they could have done a little more to remind the audience of Bucky without it tipping too far into obvious.

SAMANTHA: I saw it New York. I feel like New York City has more Marvel fans per capita than most places. There was a pretty huge pop. The camera work for that reveal was fantastic to begin with, though.

DUY: Yeah, the first time I saw it, there wasn't much of a reaction. The second time, I heard some murmurs of "Oh it's his friend! That guy!" Katherine also told me that she saw it with someone who knew who Sebastian Stan was, who saw him on the poster, and who knew he was Bucky, and was apparently so engrossed in the story that when the reveal happened she still belted out an "oh my God!"

BEN: Even a quick cut to a WWII Bucky in that moment would have helped. But I guess they didn’t anticipate the audience not getting it.

KATHERINE: Wasn’t lingering on the shot of the two of them laughing together in the museum enough? He even stares at the giant poster of his face as the VO talks about how his best friend since childhood, Bucky Barnes, was the only Commando killed in combat.

DUY: I'd normally say yes, but those two scenes are too far away from each other, I think. Then again, if it were any closer it would have been more obvious.

KATHERINE: He spends a full 20 seconds in front of that memorial. They did more than enough to remind the audience! Isn’t that the equivalent of the rule of Chekhov’s gun? Why show a pistol hanging on the wall in Act 1 if you’re not gonna use it? Why spend 20 seconds on this guy’s face if it’s not gonna be important? You don’t see him focusing on Tommy Lee Jones’ memorial. Or maybe I’m just expecting audiences to pay too much attention.

DUY: But (1) he's not introduced in Act 1 full out, he's introduced in Act 1 in a picture where he's wearing a hat and he has a clean cut, and (2) when he shows up again much later, his hair is much longer, he's got the sexy stubble, and he's wearing mascara. It's like introducing, in a vacuum, Clark Kent in Act 1 and then having Superman show up an hour later.

KATHERINE: That logic is crazy! That’s like saying if you introduce a girl in Act 1, then she reappears in Act 2 but with a different haircut, the scenes are too far apart to connect that it’s the same person! Gah!!

BEN: You’re preaching to the choir here, I would have gotten it even without the comic book background going in.

I've always loved how Hydra's big plot played so perfectly into very real fears that exist in our society. Blown up to Herculean proportions obviously, but very real. -Matthew

DUY: So what did everyone think of Hydra being behind everything? They couldn't have planned that out from the beginning, because some continuity errors show up too much, but I think it adds a new wrinkle into the older movies, figuring out which ones are Hydra and which ones aren't. And I think with the Avengers having been established at this point, it was okay to do away with SHIELD for a while.

MATTHEW: I've always loved how Hydra's big plot played so perfectly into very real fears that exist in our society. Blown up to Herculean proportions obviously, but very real.

JEFF: I love the use of Jasper Sitwell in this movie, he's prefect to add a bit of humour and completely disposable.

LAMAR: #ripGaryShandling and all that, but was I the only one that thought ol' buddy Senator Stern looked he smelled like feet and stale farts?

SAMANTHA: You weren’t. He was repugnant - well done Garry Shandler, I guess? Or was he lending himself to the image?

LAMAR: The ill-fitting suit was the capper though, I was praying for his downfall like Biggie Smalls with DMC.

Of course it’s taken to an extreme, but the root of that feels super real. Also, the return of Nazis? It sounds so crazy yet it’s happening!!! -Katherine

TRAVIS: I think it's a very good kid’s movie. And, good for the kid-in-adults. I can't get behind it being "great" as an adult movie, whatever "great" actually means in that way. Hydra's great big plan is flying tanks? This is less sensible than the Death Star. But, it's a great something-we-can-punch for superheroes to fight. If Fury had been rotten, or anyone we "liked," if Bucky had been more blatantly culpably guilty, it could have hurt audiences too much. If the threat as one that was harder to remove...

BEN: Travis also kicks puppies.

TRAVIS: You don’t kick ‘em now, they’ll lose their tread in six months and it’s your fault.

SAMANTHA: I don’t know that we’re supposed to focus on the "flying tanks" so much as what those flying tanks actually do. Being able to pinpoint individuals, to spy on/take them out in a split second is terrifying - and we are closer to that reality than ever. I realize that sounds silly, but the fear of Big Brother, in my opinion, was what that was all about.

TRAVIS: I guess I’m not as afraid that half my government and police could be evil and want me dead or enslaved. That’s never felt like a What-If?

BEN: But what if they did???

MATTHEW: The problem is that as it all becomes more and more automated, it makes it all too easy for the wrong person to get their finger on the button.

KATHERINE: Wasn’t it basically a bunch of giant drones? And that’s literally what drones do now for the military, they’re programmed to take people out efficiently and remotely. I’m totally not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t believe the government is out to get me at all, but we’re definitely living in a time when it’s obvious that our current government leaders are putting their interests above anyone else’s, and certainly would sacrifice innocent people in the name of protecting “their own” - so I think this movie has even more resonance today. Cap is calling out the potential for the abuse of power and how people will defend it and become complicit because of fear. Of course it’s taken to an extreme, but the root of that feels super real. Also, the return of Nazis? It sounds so crazy yet it’s happening!!!

TRAVIS: Giant drones kind of defeat all the purposes of drones. I dunno, maybe it’s just me.

DUY: I'm going to take what Samantha said further and mention that it's not just about Big Brother to me, but the fact that they could take them out before you did anything. And that's not just "closer to reality", that happens in all countries (I live in one), but people don't get that, and it's a big thing for a big wide-reaching movie to point to it and be all "Hey, this is happening, could be happening, and this is wrong."

KATHERINE: The crazy thing is in light of the latest news that’s been breaking about Russians getting indicted and conspiring with Americans to destabilize the government and influence the election is some total “Hail Hydra” shit. The truth really is stranger than fiction.
I can't get behind it being "great" as an adult movie, whatever "great" actually means in that way. -Travis

JEFF: I forgot they dropped the name Stephen Strange in this movie, makes sense that Dr. Strange happens before this film in the MCU timeline as he seems a more practiced sorcerer in Ragnorok.

DUY: Huh, I didn't think of it that way. I just figured Stephen Strange, the very intelligent doctor, had the background and skills to be able to pose a threat to Hydra.

JEFF: Strange was an uncaring arrogant prick before his accident, he was probably more in the possible recruitment category then threat for Hydra.

TRAVIS: The transition from modern espionage Cap costume to non-costume costume, to more traditional costume was fucking excellent.

JEFF: When I first saw the WWII costume back on him I was assuming It was going to be a plot device to help Bucky’s memories.

BEN: I never thought I’d be happy to see that costume back considering my disdain for it initially. It grew on me, and it was a great touch.

DUY: Big coincidental thing, Winter Soldier came out here the same week that the second-to-last issue of Superior Spider-Man came out, so both of them had these "Return to the classic costume" things going on.

BEN: “Return of the classic costume” is such an iconic comic book cover thing.

DUY: So a common complaint I hear about this movie, aimed at me specifically, is that they don't show Cap and Widow breaking into the military compound to get Falcon's stuff. That's usually the fireback when I say that Dark Knight Rises didn't show Bruce getting back into Gotham. But the biggest difference is at that point in the movie, Cap and Widow had already done so much, that we can easily fill in the blanks. Batman didn't do anything in Rises other than get beat up a lot, and he also loses to Bane after that scene, so getting into Gotham would have been the one competent thing he could do.

TRAVIS: Rises is just not in any way as good. Rises is the low point of everything, except maybe, "How much money can we blow on an airplane scene?" They won that one.

JEFF: When Sam tells them what they have to get through to get the wings their response was "Shouldn't be a problem." It's just in the movie to add a little humor, which was needed. It already had enough action.

MATT: My single biggest complaint (apart from Robert Redford's bad speech toward the end) is that SHIELD destroys Roosevelt Island to build their stupid building. I mean, I know this area, the Park Service would never let that happen. Talk about unbelievable!

ANTONIO: The one bad thing about this movie is that afterward every Marvel fanboy wanted all MCU movies to basically be just like this one. Also, Batroc got gypped.

DUY: Batroc Ze Leapair is in my Masters of Evil for a Phase 4 movie. My biggest nitpick is that the start has the introduction of the shaky cam in the MCU, which they also use in the beginning of Civil War, and I hate that. It makes me dizzy. I don't know if the fact that I easily get motion sickness actually plays into that, but they don't do it the entire movie, so I'm confused as to what they do it at all.

CHRISTOPHER: Shaky cam is stupid and it should never be used since I feel it detracts from the overall feel of the film.

KATHERINE: Can we take this time to appreciate that Winter Soldier brought Anthony Mackie into the MCU? He's so utterly charming and likeable, I immediately loved and somehow trusted Sam basically from the first frame.

MATT: Falcon is well sold, even if his flight suit is legitimately silly. They just roll with it.

DUY: We went this long without even bringing up Falcon. I feel like when he's your fourth best character you're probably in good shape.

TRAVIS: The opening laps were a sweet, understated way to introduce a lot of characterizations and dynamics. That scene, I thought, was one of the smartest in any Marvel movie.

MATTHEW: Helped cement Cap as just a normal guy. He goes out for a jog every morning just like millions of other people... he just happens to run laps around The Mall at Olympic sprinter speed.

TRAVIS: That's his social hour, too. With Natasha there to pick him up, like a step-mom, meeting new playground friends. Falc even making the effort to keep up, them forming a rapport.

JEFF: Another good score for this movie, listening to it during the end credits helps hearing just how great it is for the movie’s themes.

DUY: The Cap movies have the best end credits sequences.

JEFF: They do.

KATHERINE: The Winter Soldier attack theme in particular is so awesomely scary and stressful. It’s like a horror movie villain theme.

DUY: Also, we have here an old Peggy Carter, the introduction of Sharon Carter, who isn't explicitly named as Peggy's niece, but does mention she has an aunt, and a kiss with the Black Widow. Does anyone have a particular ship for Cap? That doesn't involve Bucky of course.

TRAVIS:  Cap and Tony peek the showers. That's as far as it goes. He def calls Sharon "Peggy" in the moment.

SAMANTHA: First and foremost, Peggy and Cap are so sweet together and I had to stifle a sob watching him tend to his “best girl” in this movie, particularly when she had the “you came back” moment.  Sharon? I guess. Lol - it doesn’t hit me as hard as Cap and Peggy, or his perfect bromance with Bucky.

JEFF: They don't have time(or make any) for Sharron/Steve in the movies so what happens in the next movie feels like it don't belong.

KATHERINE: They would be a smokin’ couple but I love Steve and Natasha as totally platonic friends and hope they never hook up. (But I would support Bucky and Natasha.) I’m forever Stucky and/or Steggy. He can flirt with whoever he wants but those are the two loves of his life as far as I’m concerned. 

DUY: When you name the best MCU villains, who among you names Bucky?

KATHERINE: Me! But he’s not really a villain. Best antagonist. I’ve had long conversations about whether Bucky would get acquitted if he actually went to trial. In a case of brainwashing when it can be blamed on the Russians, I vote yes, he would be ruled innocent. Cap’s testimony as a character witness would play great with a jury, and the government would be happy to pass the blame onto a hostile foreign power.

DUY: I remember I equated it to putting Angel on trial for the crimes of Angelus and you believing that wouldn't be the same thing.

KATHERINE: It’s not the same thing 'cuz Bucky is a Howling Commando/War Hero/literal POW captured by Nazis and Russians, experimented on, tortured and brainwashed into doing their bidding! That would play so well with a jury! Totally not the same as a dumb kid who had to consent to becoming a vampire. 

DUY: I still don't think him being forced to drink her blood or die is consent, but the basic principle would be the same wouldn't it? It feels weird to punish Liam for the crimes of Angel

KATHERINE: Definitely debatable, but I do think overall Bucky has a way stronger case than Angel. The POW status from people that were worse than Nazis alone gains him huge sympathy!

 I’ve had long conversations about whether Bucky would get acquitted if he actually went to trial. In a case of brainwashing when it can be blamed on the Russians, I vote yes, he would be ruled innocent. -Katherine
DUY: Who wins the Kilmer Award? And if it's Evans, who wins best supporting?

MATT: Supporting I would say has to be Widow. Steve would be toast without her.

JEFF: You could make an argument for Stan or Mackie as they both do a great job but I think Scarlet Johansson is best supporting. Try picturing another character like Hawkeye in Widows place and I don't think it's as good. Also Johansson plays perfectly off Steve's too serious wall he keeps up most of the time, developing a nice chemistry between the two characters.

KATHERINE: Bucky! He said like two sentences in the whole movie but you still feel the pain and confusion he’s going through. He communicates a lot with I believe literally 5 or 6 lines. If we don’t feel for him in this movie, wouldn’t everyone be Team Iron Man in Civil War? That little break in his voice on “But I knew him,” and then submitting himself for more electro-shock therapy is a heartwrencher.
I think this is the movie that cemented Chris Evans as the spiritual heir to Christopher Reeve. -Lamar
DUY: Comic recommendations for Winter Soldier?

JEFF: Captain America To Serve and Protect, American Nightmare. These are the first two trades from Mark Waid's return to Cap. Not as great as his first time on the book but a worthwhile read with a cool "Hydra" story. Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes, a great Brubaker WW2 story.

TRAVIS: Chaykin's Scorpio comics. Hama's Maverick comic, The Sword Sung on a Barren Hearth. And, Gruenwald Captain America.

BRIAN: Mark Gruenwald wrote some cracking good Captain America books in his day. And dangit, I enjoyed the Ron Lim run on Cap!!

PETER: Obviously, Ed Brubaker's Captain America run. Specifically the first 20 or so issues. Start with the Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection and continue into the Red Menace Ultimate Collection. Or get the Omnibus if you can find or afford it. Brubaker and Butch Guice also had a short Winter Soldier series which was pretty good and featured Black Widow a lot.

LAMAR: I think this is the movie that cemented Chris Evans as the spiritual heir to Christopher Reeve. Which now that I think about it, considering that this movie is less overtly fantastic as far as tights and flights goes than anything in the MCU, is quite a feat. 

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