Posted by Cassandra T. in Captain America, Movie Reviews on April 9, 2014
In hero mythology, all human heroes need a fatal flaw. Captain America is the straightforward good guy, do-gooder hero with no tangible flaws in sight.
Captain America epitomizes the American ideal, the righteous fighting against evil. He does that well in The First Avenger, battling the Nazis in the 1940s. In The Winter Soldier, two years after the Battle of New York, the Cap lives in Washington, D.C. and works for the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. while struggling to adapt to contemporary society.
However, his black and white view on what is good and evil is out of date in today’s world, where good and evil are but shades of grey. There are subtle hints that reveal that he feels out of place as well, through conversations with Sam Wilson, a former military parajumper whom Rogers befriends.
This may be his fatal flaw – this clear, black and white stand that he is forced to reconsider. In The Winter Soldier, the Cap has to battle against all that he once believed to be good and true, throwing his morals off balance. The Winter Soldier is based in a world so much like ours, channelling our contemporary fears about surveillance, secrecy, and the fundamental untrustworthiness of large institutions. It was incredibly disturbing to watch.
Here are the 3 most disturbing things about Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
1) Punishment Before the Crime
When Nick Fury introduces the Cap to Project Insight – three Helicarriers linked to spy satellites that are designed to pre-emptively eliminate threats. This is clearly a reference to the US drone program, where drone strikes are done around the world to pre-empt attacks. Nick tells the Cap that S.H.I.E.L.D takes the world as it is, not as they’d like it to be. Cap protests and says, “This is not freedom. This is fear.” Nick tells the Cap that people would willing give up freedom in exchange for security. Which raises the moral question – which is more valuable, freedom or security?
After 9/11 and other terrorist threats around the world, our freedom has been increasingly limited. Strict airport security checks, no entry to airplane cockpits, increase in surveillance cameras etc. have all put a toll on our lives. We are on the path of giving up freedom for security, and the solution to the problem seems to present a bigger problem in itself.
2) The Kill List
While searching an old S.H.I.E.L.D. underground base in New Jersey, Captain America and Black Widow discover a supercomputer containing the preserved mind of Arnim Zola. He reveals that since S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded after World War II, HYDRA has secretly operated within its ranks. It is also revealed that Zola had been working on an algorithm for HYDRA that could calculate if a person would be a potential threat. The scene where the Helicarriers are activated and they target the 20 million people that are deemed a threat, to be eliminated was extremely disturbing.
This is an obvious reference to the president’s kill list. However, who are we to say who shall live and who shall die? Deciding who shall live and who shall die is generally a power attributed to Gods in most religions; or one can go back to history before the birth of states founded on democracy, when tyrants and monarchs held absolute powers.
Joe Russo, co-director of The Winter Soldier, says, “The question is where do you stop? If there are 100 people we can kill to make us safer, do we do it? What if we find out there’s 1,000? What if we find out there’s 10,000? What if it’s a million? At what point do you stop?”
3) Secrecy and Politics
Alexander Pierce, a part of HYDRA, is a politician who believes that his actions are for mankind’s own good. Even after his secret alliances and nefarious intentions to wipe out a sizable chunk of the population are revealed, he still tries to convince the others on the council to go along with his plans to control the public because he doesn’t fundamentally believe what he’s doing is wrong.
Black Widow and Nick Fury force Pierce to unlock access to S.H.I.E.L.D’s database. Black Widow then does an Edward Snowden by uploading all the classified information on the Internet, revealing HYDRA’s as well as her own dark secrets. Even her morally ambiguous character finally ends ups believing the truth will set them all free, despite the personal price she’ll have to pay.
Beyond the oppressive plans with surveillance data and aerial strikes, there’s also the underlying theme of secrecy and how dangerous a lack of accountability can be.
In The Winter Soldier, the villain is not a single mastermind, it is the very military organization he was supposed to defend. It is a timeless, faceless evil that cannot be defeated even if the head, Pierce is killed. Thus it may be timely when the Cap says that S.H.I.E.L.D. has to go.
It is heartening to see superhero movies taking a realistic twist and not fighting an over-the-top evil plotting mastermind trying to take over the world all the time, but The Winter Soldier hit so close to home, it is truly unsettling.