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Tansy Rayner Roberts

That Captain America Movie (and that imaginary Black Widow movie)

May 8th, 2014 at 11:53

falcon-character-poster-for-captain-american-the-winter-soldierI didn’t expect to start caring about Captain America. Even when I started getting seriously into the reading of Marvel comics (something I’ve only been doing this decade as opposed to DC comics which first captured me back in the early 90′s), he was never a character that interested me.

It probably didn’t help that I read the Ultimates pretty early on, which didn’t just have the effect of ruining me for the ‘real universe’ versions of Nick Fury and the Wasp (just not as good), but also set in my mind that Captain America was a bit of a dick, really.

Reading the Civil War run of comics didn’t actually change my mind on that, so it’s not just the Ultimate universe’s fault. Like Superman, Captain America has a long history behind him of being the straightest guy in straight town, and it’s hard to get invested in that as a character.

And let’s face it, I met the Justice League parody of Captain American, General Glory, two decades earlier. I was never going to be able to take him seriously. (the one where Power Girl ends up trapped back in time as the replacement for Bucky/Ernie? Priceless)

The first Captain America movie was okay, but I was mostly in it for Peggy Carter. It was in The Avengers that I really started warming up to Cap, as the man out of time who doesn’t get any of the pop culture references. A brief cameo in Thor 2 (one of Loki’s disguises) made me realise – oh, yes. I like this character.

Then came Captain America 2 – The Winter Soldier. Which I flat out loved. There were so many things to enjoy in this movie! Sadly, the Winter Soldier himself was the least interesting aspect of the story, but I’m okay with that.

Things I liked (SPOILERS FOR WINTER SOLDIER):

Peggy Carter is still Cap’s love interest, as is only right and proper. Yes, they’re obviously placing the mysteriously competent fake nurse secret agent Sharon there as a future love interest, but he’s allowed a longer mourning period for his what-might-have-been than action heroes usually get.

agent-carter1The scenes of him spending time with Peggy in the hospital, still obviously in love with her despite the age difference, were really sweet. I also appreciated that they went to so much trouble to show Peggy losing herself through dementia/Alzheimers rather than the obvious cheaper option which would have been to show Cap sitting sadly at a grave.

I’m a bit bewildered that they haven’t yet established whether or not Sharon is Peggy’s niece yet, though. Obviously I’d prefer not if they’re doing a romance (creepy!) though it would be awesome to show Peggy’s legacy continuing if Sharon was going to be a great ensemble teammate and not Cap’s future love interest. So… I guess it’s okay that they’re hedging their bets.

Given the wonderful use of friendships in this movie, I would kind of love it if they kept Peggy as Cap’s girl and continued to focus on him making connections in this modern world that are not about romance. Not everyone needs a current soulmate to make the stories satisfying! That’s what fanfic is for.

Speaking of friendships, Sam Wilson (the Falcon) was brilliantly used in this movie. His backstory and the reason for his participation in the superheroic side of things was set up very well, and his character brought an really important perspective to the story. Captain America is completely about military stuff, it kind of has to be. So having the issues of modern veterans front and centre added a great deal of depth. Falcon made a good team with Cap and Black Widow, and it was nice to see the acknowledgement of how hard it is for those who have fought in wars to adjust to civilian life – not least because this becomes a significant theme for the entire movie, not just for Cap but also for Natasha and the rest of the survivors of the SHIELD collapse.

How annoying is it that there are almost no publicity photos of Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon together, considering that their trio is the heart of the movie? REALLY ANNOYING.

I would a zillion times like more development of the friendship and partnership of Cap and Falcon in the third movie, more than a romantic storyline with some girl who isn’t Peggy. If Sharon comes in as a platonic ally, taking Black Widow’s spot in the trio in the third movie, I will be happy. Or, you know, she could fancy Sam instead of Cap. (yes obviously the third movie will have a lot of Bucky in it too, probably as friend rather than villain but I don’t CARE, the Winter Soldier part was the least interesting bit, I’m bored even typing this)

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-scarlett-johansson-chris-evansThe big theme of this movie (I like it when movies have themes) apart from the isolation that military people have when out of their professional element, was ‘Trust Exercises.’ I loved how much the idea of ‘trust’ ran through the story, so that pretty much every talking scene was somehow about the layers of trust and lack of trust between the main characters – Captain America, Nick Fury and Black Widow in particular – and nearly every action sequence was a variation on a trust exercise, with them relying on each other, hurling themselves out of windows expecting their friends to catch them, and so on.

The friendship between Falcon and Captain America in particular was set up in dialogue and a mutual understanding, but expressed through action scenes in which they relied on each other to be in the right place at the right time. I liked that Falcon was quickly included as an equal partner to Cap with Black Widow, having established a history that meant they knew exactly what he was capable of in a tough spot.

And of course the ongoing tensions Cap had with Nick Fury and Natasha are resolved through action sequences too. It’s rare for an action movie to be so clever and satisfying.

Nick Fury himself got a lot more screen time in this film, including some full on action scenes, enough that I did believe they were actually going to kill him (for a while at least). Maria Hill was not used enough (again) but was great in what she did.

Jenny Agutter kicking butt, even if it was really Natasha underneath it all, may have been my favourite minute in the film. Also, Jim from Neighbours was part of the secret council! Classic.

JohanssonEvansBlack Widow is brilliant from beginning to end in this movie. Of course. I really enjoyed Scarlett Johanssen’s take on the character in The Avengers, and she balances Cap out really well. Lovely to see a platonic male-female friendship – in fact, more than one in this movie as we also saw a lot more of Natasha’s relationship with Nick Fury, and how important they are to each other.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about people wishing for a Black Widow movie – and don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that. Right now she’s the best candidate for the first solo female superhero movie of the twenty first century. I’m a little skeptical about how it would turn out, though, largely because I find many of the solo Black Widow comics I’ve read to be a bit cold and alienating. When she doesn’t have a team or a partner around her, we get Soviet spy angst and grimdark assassination stories – the current title, for instance, looks great, but I couldn’t bring myself to read beyond the first issue. Marjorie M Liu’s The Name of the Rose is really good but violent – I think I’d steer well away from a movie based on it for the same reasons I can’t bring myself to watch The Hunger Games.

I love Natasha best as a character when she’s paired with someone who is a contrast to her, and allowed to have wit and to show her competency. Which is why she is brilliant in teams. So far in the Marvel movies, they’ve shown this to great effect with her in scenes with Captain America, Hawkeye and Bruce Banner. (the latter was especially good because it made her the least angsty person in the room)

By all means, bring in the Soviet spy angst and assassinations, but leave the grimdark in her chequere past, please. Two hours of Natasha being great at her job with interesting people backing her up would make me happy, but not two hours of blood-stained snow, loneliness and miseryguilt.

It’s pretty obvious from Winter Soldier that Black Widow isn’t necessary for the next one (unless they are doing the Bucky-Natasha romance, bleurgh) – but I can see how easily she could become the renta-sidekick for other Marvel movies, always the bridesmaid and never the headline act, just because her character works so well for that. Which, considering how much audiences are howling for her to get her own movie, would be a waste of resources. Let’s NOT have her get around all the other franchises in order to make it look like there are more women in the Marvel universe than there really are.

marvel-black-widow-the-marvel-girls-tpb-1A Black Widow movie, for me, will live and die on who she’s paired with. I’d watch the hell out of Black Widow and Hawkeye, but for the sake of actually showing a solo female “superhero” movie that can work, I’d like them to do what they did in Winter Soldier with Falcon – establish a movie-new Marvel superhero for her travel alongside, who could also later join the Avengers/Marvel Movie franchise in her own right. Black Widow makes a great trainer/mentor figure, and there’s no reason that her shepherding a newbie into the fold couldn’t be the main thrust of a story while keeping her as a protagonist, especially if that is combined with a plot that has more to do with Black Widow herself. I can think of a lot of great possibilities. Spider-Woman. She-Hulk. Captain Marvel. Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. Valkyrie. Mockingbird.

It doesn’t look like we’re getting the Wasp in the Ant-Man movie (or are we?) – bring her in here!

Actually I kind of love the idea of doing a Black Widow and Hawkeye movie, which doesn’t just feature the two character from the Avengers, but adds the other Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) to the party. What a trio that would be!

Or steal Lady Sif from the Thor franchise, and team her up with Black Widow to hunt down and capture the Enchantress.

Or, you know, Marvel movies could just admit that they have a complete gem in Cobie Smulders and send Maria Hill and Black Widow on a mission/road trip together. I’d watch that until it DISSOLVED.

Cough, I just caught myself before posting. The only objection (and the I mean ONLY) I actually have to Black Widow sharing a movie with a male superhero/Avenger is actually my own assumption that she would have to share billing, which would be a cheat and not help puncture the ‘superhero movies starring ladies always fail’ myth. However… why on earth would she have to share billing? Why couldn’t a Black Widow movie have Hawkeye, Hulk or even Captain America as her back up character, while still being a Black Widow movie? This one isn’t Captain America and Black Widow: Trust Issues, now is it?

I wonder how defensive it would make people, though, if Black Widow had an established male Avenger as her sidekick? Would it be “better” or “worse” if it was an Avenger who already had his own movie franchise? Sigh, even I get caught in this trap. I will quietly headdesk over here by myself while working on the latest layer of patriarchy programming that I found in my brain, thank you very much.

I just realised I have in fact talked about almost everything in this Captain America post except Captain America himself. I quite like him now! Though I am unconvinced about whether comics Captain America is of any interest to me… any recs out there to prove me wrong?

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, TRY:
Wonder Woman is Not the Problem
Where the Wonder Women Are: Black Widow
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7 Responses to “That Captain America Movie (and that imaginary Black Widow movie)”

  1. Darren R Says:

    A Black Widow movie that reintroduces Daredevil in the last third would be great!

  2. Grant Says:

    I’m five issues into the Edmondson/Noto run of Black Widow and it’s been great!

  3. Marina Finlayson Says:

    I’d like to see more of Agent Hill too. I thought she was great in The Avengers.

    I almost didn’t go see this one, as I didn’t think much of the first Captain America movie. Captain America is a little too perfect for me. I found him more interesting before his transformation. But this movie was better. Loved the Falcon, and Nick Fury’s car chase sequence was the most enjoyable car chase I’ve seen in years.

  4. tansyrr Says:

    It was a brilliant car chase! I loved how it showed just how ridiculously high Fury and SHIELD’s resources were, and then took them apart.

  5. Rob Hood Says:

    Personally, Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America contains some of my favourite comicbook sequences. I love his blending of noir spy-thriller and superhero aesthetics. Of course that includes the whole Winter Soldier thing and a slab of the Civil War, so if didn’t care for the latter (which I think is one of the most effective and emotionally involving major “Event” sequences) then maybe none of it will work for you. But what I’ve always liked about Captain America is precisely what puts some people off — that he is a symbol of the American ideal. For me, that is precisely why he works so well. Mostly, Cap isn’t about jingoism, but being what he is, he offers the better creators a means to explore major themes, such as social alienation, political ideology vs political corruption, the emotional cost of war, the conflict between State imperatives and abstract ideals, the notion that Power is self-defeating, etc. More than any other major franchise, the history of Cap in many ways reflects the pulse of socio-political affairs in America and the world. For me, as a man out of his time he has remained continually relevant. This latest movie certainly reflects that.

  6. Kevin Says:

    I really loved Winter Soldier, one of the smartest, most propulsive superhero movies ever made. Also it introduced me to Trouble Man.

    If you liked the film, then yeah highly recommend the Brubaker Captain America run. Smart, political superhero spy-fi, that also takes a few shots at Millar’s jingoistic Ultimate Cap at some points. Run actually gets better when Cap dies, which is something.

    My favourite Cap moment is probably his appearance in Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. One of the highlights of the story (which is right up there with their work on Batman: Year One), and it feels like it precedes a lot of the ideas Brubaker plays with.

    I don’t know what they’ll do with Black Widow in terms of solo-films. She’s certainly popular and I bet she’ll have a lot of time in Avengers 2, but I suspect that Captain America is going to be Marvel’s spy-fi franchise. Do like the idea of Black Widow leading a female team.

    Also, if you haven’t given it a look yet, it’s worth giving the new Silver Surfer book a read. Pretty much Dan Slott and Mike Allred doing a Marvel riff on Who.

  7. Grant Watson Says:

    The Slott/Allred Surfer is my favourite Marvel book at the moment.

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