Spring tends to start the trend of must-see blockbuster Hollywood films and it continues on through the summer months. 2014 is gearing up to be the year of the comic book superhero movies, films like The Amazing Spiderman 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The first one up is the newly released Captain America: The Winter Soldier this past weekend. Like all comic book movies, you can expect big explosions, cool fight scenes, and the hero needing to save the world from a large scale threat.
I went to go see the movie over the weekend and I absolutely enjoyed it. Winter Soldier is just as good as the first movie, maybe slightly surpassing the first film in story. I could write a review where I gush about how this action scene was cool or how hot and perfect Chris Evans was as Cap, but I won’t. If you haven’t seen the movie, definitely go out and watch it. Instead, I’ll be discussing an ongoing theme in the film’s story, which is the nature of trust. Be forewarned, there will be spoilers ahead.
When we see Cap again, or Steve Rogers, he has more or less adjusted to civilian life in the present day. There are times when his old school upbringing and sensibilities still remain, such as a hilarious scene where Steve meets Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) during a morning jog. Sam recommends Steve to check out an album by Marvin Gaye to get up to speed on the great culture and music of the times. Steve takes out a notepad and pen from his pocket and adds it to the list of things he has to see or do. It’s funny in the sense that no one really carries around a notepad and pen with them. With the age of smartphones, most people would either look up something right away or type the reminder in a memo app to remember for later. It’s all part of what makes this all-American superhero really endearing and loveable in these smaller moments.
After the events of New York City in The Avengers, Steve is now doing missions for SHIELD with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) as his partner. Their mission is to save a SHIELD vessel after being taken captive by pirates. When Captain America has secured the hostages and has disposed of the pirates on the ship, he calls Black Widow to report in and stay with the rescued hostages. When Natasha doesn’t respond to his call, Cap later finds her in a room downloading files and information off a computer and onto a USB drive for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Cap is angry that Natasha is ignoring their mission, which he believes is rescuing the hostages and getting them off the ship. She responds that the rescue mission is really his mission and her mission is different from his. This lack of communication and transparency doesn’t sit well with Steve’s code of conduct and he confronts Fury in his office at SHIELD headquarters after the mission.
Steve and Fury butt heads over how the mission was handled. While Steve believes he should have been informed about all aspects of the mission, including Natasha’s own orders on the vessel, Fury disagrees, telling Steve he doesn’t have to know everything. The idea of trust becomes the dominant theme in the film, as well as who can you really count on as your trusted friend and ally. The lines are blurred and muddied when the very people you think are on your side become the very people you need to be wary of.
There’s a scene in the elevator where Fury tells Cap a story about his grandfather’s job as an elevator operator. Fury’s grandfather often got big tips from customers and would walk home daily with a bag full of money he earned for the day. Being a friendly guy, he would greet everyone in passing. When the neighborhood started changing and got rougher, Fury’s grandfather became more wary of people and started carrying a gun with him everywhere, especially after feeling threatened by a thug on his usual walk home from work. Fury ends the story by saying, “My grandfather loved people. He just didn’t trust them very much.”
Trust is everything when we interact and connect with people. It’s the very foundation we build relationships on. Take away that trust and what do you have left? Paranoia and a negative world view that it’s better to rely on yourself and no one else? The theme is explored even further with the friendships between Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a senior leader at SHIELD, and Steve and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Both these friendships show what happens when trust is broken and how each person deals with the fallout.
Fury and Pierce have been longtime friends and colleagues. Fury believed he can entrust his entire life to Pierce and thought they were fighting for the same things, which is a safer world for everyone. When it’s later revealed that Pierce is working for HYDRA, a terrorist organization, and his motives for a safer world is more warped and corrupted to get there, Fury’s life is in danger after Pierce orders a hit on his old friend. The Winter Soldier assassinates Fury and it’s believed the director of SHIELD has been permanently eradicated.
Through an elaborate scheme, Fury manages to fake his own death, go into hiding, and comes up with a plan to put a stop to Pierce’s and HYDRA’s nefarious plans to eliminate a compiled list of millions of people who could pose a potential threat to HYDRA’s plans in the future. The showdown between Fury and Pierce has the two old friends having it out against each other. The betrayal hits Fury hard when, before shooting Pierce dead says, “I would have taken a bullet for you.”
My assessment of the soured friendship and betrayal between Fury and Pierce has probably left Fury more cynical and paranoid about who is trustworthy. Fury may have eventually realized he can trust Cap and a select few with sensitive information and to carry out missions for the good of all humanity, but I don’t think it extends to anybody outside of that circle anymore. It’s made worse when SHIELD has been unknowingly used as a vessel to carry out HYDRA’s more sinister plans since the end of World War II.
I think in many ways the betrayal has shaken Fury’s good faith and he doesn’t really know what to believe in anymore. Broken trust and betrayal is not an easy thing to get past. It makes you question everything you ever believed in and how well do you really know someone. Fury thought knowing Pierce for years ensured he had a friend who would never be capable of the stuff he has done, but Pierce proves him wrong by trying to kill him and carrying out his own questionable agendas.
Steve and Bucky have been longtime childhood best friends. They also have a friendship where they could trust each other completely with their lives and offer emotional support when needed. When Captain America thought Bucky died in Captain America: The First Avenger, you knew it was devastating for Steve to know he lost his only best friend growing up. Their reliance on each other and their close friendship is even further shown in a flashback Steve has of him and Bucky. Steve just lost his parents and Bucky offers to stay the night with Steve, so he wouldn’t have to go through the grief alone. Steve tries to decline the offer, but Bucky insists and tells him, “I’m with you until the end.”
Imagine Steve’s surprise when he discovers Bucky is alive, but isn’t the same person he has known his entire life. Bucky is the deadly assassin, the Winter Soldier, and he’s not looking to have a warm reunion with Steve. He’s programmed to kill, even if it means killing his old friend. Steve has a hard time processing seeing his best friend as a killing machine and with no recollection of his former life and what their relationship is to each other.
When Bucky is back in HYDRA’s lab, he gets flashes of a life long forgotten. Among them is the memory of Captain America watching helplessly as Bucky falls to his death. The audience later learns that Bucky didn’t die, but got taken in by HYDRA to transform him into the Winter Soldier, was cryogenically frozen, and he later gets reawakened in the present day to do Pierce’s bidding. The memories confuse Bucky, but he seems to latch onto the fact that he knew the guy he fought with earlier. When he tries to ask about the memories he’s getting, Pierce brushes him off and orders Bucky’s memories get wiped clean and prepared for the next phase of HYDRA’s plan.
Towards the end of the film, Captain America and the Winter Soldier have a pretty brutal smack down on one of HYDRA’s Insight Helicarriers. When Captain America successfully recalibrates the final Helicarrier from killing millions of people and all three Helicarriers have been reprogrammed to destroy each other, Cap refuses to fight his friend any longer. He also seems to be at peace with possibly dying on the ship with Bucky.
The Winter Soldier keeps pummeling Cap in the face, insisting he’s not this Bucky Captain America speaks of and all he has is this mission he has to finish. A bruised and bloodied Cap tells him, “Then finish it. I’m with you until the end.” The words seem to trigger something in the Winter Soldier, but the instability of the crumbling ship knocks Cap off and he free falls into the water below. It seems like the unconscious Captain America will die by drowning, but an arm reaches out and saves him. The arm belongs to none other than the Winter Soldier, who pulled Cap out of the water and leaves him on the shore to be found.
The final few moments between Captain America and the Winter Soldier displays Steve’s faith in Bucky and their friendship. Before the big fight, Sam points out to Steve that the Bucky he knew may no longer exist. When the time comes, Steve may have to put an end to his old friend if Bucky can’t remember their relationship to each other. Steve is reluctant to accept that possibility and simply says he’s hoping it doesn’t come to that. Everyone else believes Bucky is a lost cause and not worth saving, but Steve refuses to believe that. It was a risky move for Steve to give up fighting against Bucky, but he trusted the old Bucky was still in there somewhere. Steve’s faith in Bucky is extremely strong and his loyalty shows it’s still worth trusting and believing in people, even when things seem hopeless.
The friendship between Fury and Pierce represents a resigned hopelessness in the very people you think you can trust, while the friendship between Steve and Bucky represents hope that even in the worse of times, that unwavering trust you have for someone closest to you is worth holding onto. Maybe trust has left Fury’s faith in people shaken, but not for Captain America. It may be foolish naivete on Cap’s part to believe in people when he probably shouldn’t, but it makes him who he is. He doesn’t give up in a fight and he certainly won’t give up on people he thinks are worth fighting for and deserve a chance.
The explosions and fight scenes in the movie may be entertaining and cool, but what resonated with me after I left the theater was the story and personal relationships going on between the characters. Those smaller moments when things got quiet and the smoke cleared are by far the best parts of the movie. When a popcorn flick like Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes you think about the story and theme on a deeper level, you know you have a gem of a movie you’ll want to watch again and again for a new perspective every time.