Right after the opening salvo of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which we find Captain America and Agent Romanoff displaying their super-awesome fighting skills against a group of mercenaries in a SHIELD vessel, I wasn’t sure if I was in a movie house or if I just watched a perfectly executed tactical/brawler/action-RPG.
Was it the works of an invincibility cheat or was the player just really good? One thing is clear though, Captain America is someone Samuel L. Jackson would call a real bad-ass motherfucker! He was called super-soldier; only now do I understand. He’s better than Scott Adkins’ Ninja, James Bond, Col. Guile, Rambo, Ethan Hunt or all of them combined. He’s super-tough, and also, super-fast—cameramen could hardly follow his punches.
Captain America used to be a bore. Unless he’s got the wise-crackin’ Tony Stark or the brash god of thunder Thor on his side. But pair him with the Winter Soldier, and you’ll get a sophisticated “political thriller” featuring a shield-throwing Jack Ryan on steroids and a bad-hair day Jason Bourne with a cybernetic arm, in a movie that’s less Three Days of Condor and more like The Bored Ultimatum.
As for its socio-political subtext, Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely ripped a few pages from Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Pandemonium, which explains the movie’s strong partisan views in using the shaky cam as both its political and artistic statement. Because shaky cam equals Ludlum and Ludlum equals political thriller.
Is this really a superhero action movie or an action-video game? In fairness with video games, some games may have a well-thought out, if not more intricate plot than what’s in The Winter Soldier.
In a game your goal is to finish each level and stay alive; the less hit you take, the better. Sometimes, you’d have to trade the thrill and difficulty of fighting or playing it fair, for infinite lives and invincibility cheats, just to finish the game. Because sometimes, there’s a short cinematic nugget in the end.
Movies [used to] work differently. The audience may be goddamn sure that the heroes are going to succeed and win in the end but at one point or another we, the audience, are supposed to care for them.
That’s why heroes are given disadvantages, they’re made vulnerable. Superman has the kryptonite or Zod and his friends, who are as powerful as him. John Rambo may be a killing machine, but his not impervious to bullet wounds and pain. Zatoichi is blind (or is he really?), the T-800 is an older model fighting newer more advanced Terminators, and Kenshin Himura uses a reverse edge sword (no matter how stupid that idea is) and took a slashing, one time too many.
You make them super, but you also leave them some amount of vulnerability, if not humanity. You give them human-sized pain to which the audience could relate to. The worse you can do, is make them invulnerable action figures, who can act and speak their lines.
When playing video games, one doesn’t really have to care for the character more than the objectives in the game. Video game characters don’t feel pain, show emotions or get rattled or stressed. They can take large amount of beatings and still stand up as long as their life bar isn’t completely drained.
Most of the time game characters retain all their abilities and fighting skills regardless of their injury. A shot to the head could be as harmless or deadly as flesh wound on the leg. There’s also very little room for emotions, because the game requires focus and concentration. Some games feature shaky-cam aesthetics to simulate the character’s POV and rumble pack to—I don’t know—shake the players’ hands?
Wait, did Cap just shut down that Quinjet using his shield? Holy mother… earth! Well, should be no surprise there. Already in his third movie, Cap has now reached the apex of his shield-throwing ability hitting targets with 100% accuracy and getting his shield back at the exact right time he needs it. How about shooting Cap the exact time he throws that shield to someone, he’s not faster than bullets, maybe he doesn’t wear Kevlar, or do bullets bounce off his jacked chest and arms?
If I remember correctly, the shield doesn’t always comeback to Cap in earlier movies. Joss Whedon did it in the Avengers and even emphasized it one time. But he also does some inventive stuff with it… especially when Cap teams up with Thor. The Russo’s on the other hand, are just happy showing how cool Cap could be by doing their best Jason Bourne imitation: Cap swings left and right and the mercs go flailing around without getting hit.
Here are some plot points in the movie that conspicuously sound like a video game strategy guide: Get the USB drive. Hide it in a vendo. Kiss on the escalator. Go to the bunker, Zola will explain the whole thing. But escape or take cover before the missile hit the bunker. I know, this sounds really stupid, but it will get you to the next level. Deactivate the Hellicarriers. But be prepared, the Winter Soldier will be waiting there for you.
Furthermore, if you’re playing Captain America, you may or may not fight the Winter Soldier—he’s Bucky, your BFF, remember? You could beat him up to achieve your objective—which is, deactivate the blah blah blah because many people will blah blah blah… But if you chose not to fight him and let him beat you up instead (without sacrificing your objective of course), you’d be surprised—no, you’d be rewarded with cinematic nugget, a surprise twist ending. And that would be the most thrilling, most dramatic, most poignant moment you’ll ever get in this video game—sorry, movie.
That is, only in case you weren’t already thrilled watching Cap make those awesome combo moves and take down ten Hydra secret agents in just six seconds.
Hail Gameloft! What a game!