How To Solve A Problem Like ‘Bucky’
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Wonder why I couldn’t like this movie more. It’s well made, has a unique look, the right amount of heart, and nice-looking set pieces and action scenes. Found it boring at first, gave it a second look and found Joe Johnston’s efforts, quite admirable, though still not a knock down punch. Maybe because it’s just so predictable. I already knew Cap’s only gonna end up frozen, he’s not gonna die. Could he even get hurt? I’m not really sure. Looks like he’s nearly invulnerable. And that’s a major superhero storytelling problem. Thus, he’s journey from the skinny undersized soldier with an oversized heart to the beefcake super soldier with undersized shirt, is just a little bit more than plain information dump (i.e., Cap was once a mascot, he once worked with Stark’s father, he’s still a virgin, etc., etc.)
If there’s one strong reason to watch this movie, it would be Agent Carter. Carter working with Cap, getting jealous with Lorraine, and giving Cap that last-minute kiss somehow made me forget that I’m watching an Avengers prequel. I wished there were more scenes with Cap and Agent Carter together, much more than that last minute kiss. Some late night “fondue” would have been nice. And the ending could have been more heartbreaking.
Bucky? Well, it seems the movie wasn’t that interested in Bucky at all. That’s a problem that extends up to The Winter Soldier and Civil War. Behind Cap, Bucky was like the fourth or fifth most interesting character (ditto with the rest of Cap’s spec-ops squad, who barely registers in the movie). Before Bucky, there’s Agent Carter, that German scientist, Howard Stark and Tomy Lee Jones. Let’s be honest, among the main characters, Bucky was the least interesting (that is, unless, either you read the comics and you’re a big Bucky/Winter Soldier fan, or your ovaries/testicles explodes at the sight of Sebastian Stan). Oh, and I haven’t considered Red Skull and Zola yet.
Bucky’s supposed to be Cap’s best friend, but I don’t see it why Cap should risk his life to save him. Just one scene of Bucky saving Cap from a bully? That’s ticking the checkbox. Then, suddenly, he’s the big bad in next movie. And they want me to buy Steve Rogers’ I’m-not-gonna-fight-you-because-your-my-friend drama. Hell, no!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
I’ll be brutally honest. And straight to the point. Like a metal arm punching a shield made of vibranium. I didn’t like this movie. At all. It’s a decent action/spy thriller from Marvel—that’s much I can agree with fans of this movie. Having said that, even those considered worst Marvel movies (Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor: The Dark World) are all pretty decent. So, saying The Winter Soldier is decent movie isn’t really saying much.
In a video essay titled “The Problem with Action Movies Today,” Chris Stuckmann breaks down what makes a good action movie and where most modern action movies fail at: an interesting story, a hero to root for, a villain with clear motivation, the stuntworks, the cameraworks, and last, the vulnerability of the hero. Liam Neeson’s Taken movies and Fast & Furious series are easy targets but Stuckmann glossed over the fact that most Marvel movies regularly fails on at least two of those categories, especially The Winter Soldier.
Sure, it’s action-packed. But also, over-edited. The stuntworks is amazing but the cameraworks and the editing don’t do them any justice. It’s shaky, which isn’t really necessary, shot too close and over-edited, therefore annoying. Which is a shame, because the fight choreography is really good.
Interesting story? No. For a supposedly spy thriller, there are no gray areas in The Winter Soldier. Steve Rogers is supposed to be caught in a situation where he can’t trust anyone. But the distinction between the guys he can and cannot trust is as clear as night and day. There’s no doubt Romanoff and Falcon are the good guys and Pierce and Romlov are the bad guys. The villains’ motivation? Very convincing. The bad guys are bad because they’re fuckin’ Hydra.
Remember Iron Man 2? There’s a scene there where a senator asked Tony, “Is Iron Man a sword or a shield?” There’s none of that in The Winter Soldier, even if it is supposed to be inspired by Three Days of Condor. And you could smell Robert Redford’s the bad guy early on. Otherwise, why would he be in this movie? A villain who is bad because he’s a Nazi isn’t interesting. And so is the hero who just wants to kill them.
Intricate plot? The Dark Knight, that’s a movie with an intricate plot. The Winter Soldier‘s plot is next to a video game (i.e., hide flash drive in a vendo, kiss-pretend to blend in public, virtual villain explaining the evil plan). Of course I’m not saying all video games have stories this dumb.
CA:TWS plays like a perfectly played Action-RPG—with cheats/infinite life activated of course. It’s video game-like plot is built on movie that doesn’t exist, a movie where we’re supposed to get why Captain America cares so much about Bucky. Maybe we’re supposed to get that connection in The First Avenger, had not Bucky been the least interesting main character in that movie. It wasn’t a problem in The First Avenger, but it’s a problem that should have been addressed in The Winter Soldier. Some people went out after movie wondering who the Winter Soldier is. But it doesn’t matter, the fans were ecstatic the MCU has finally had uber-cool Captain America unlocked.
Vulnerability? While there may be a couple of sequence where Nick Fury and Black Widow were convincingly in danger, Cap was clearly invulnerable throughout the whole movie. Except when he needed to show the vulnerability card for a dramatic final fight with Bucky. How are we supposed to care for a hero whose only weakness is Bucky—his kryptonite? He may have struggled a bit in that elevator melee early in the movie, but the tension in the sequence is completely undone the moment Captain America jumps over and shut down a Quinjet with so much ease and just by using a shield that comes back to him 100% of the time.
I could care for a hero he narrowly escapes an elevator full of bad guys. But a hero who can bring down a Quinjet with his shield with so much ease? Come on!
Topical? Tell that to Tony Scott’s face, who made a much more grounded and entertaining movie (Enemy of the State) about surveillance years ago. Not to mention CA:TWS doesn’t have any real insight about surveillance. Grounded? Cap shut down a Quinjet with ease and we’re supposed to think this movie is “grounded”? It’s a shield-wielding Jack Ryan on steroids meets cybernetic Jason Bourne in a “conspiracy thriller” loaded with nausea-inducing action, massive destruction, lots of explosions but short on actual thrills.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Good but not great; a threequel about revenge and forgiveness, which also features great wall to wall action, real high stakes and real character deaths. Not to mention a hilarious dance sequence. Sorry, that’s not Civil War, that’s Spider-Man 3. Civil War? Hmm, what can I say about that movie…
You remember that movie when the heroes tried to kill each other for nothing? Where they have this mid-movie battle just to justify the movie’s title? Oh, sorry War Machine, we have to break your legs, can’t really hurt those other superheroes because of the sequels. But don’t worry, you’ll be able to walk again. And appear in Infinity War. As if nothing happened. Well, because nothing really significant happened anyway.
I remember kind of liking how Zack Snyder re-invented Superman. I think, I like Man of Steel—despite the excessive destruction—except for the part where Clark gets really upset after he killed Zod. I couldn’t say the same for Civil War though (much less for Batman V Superman). Why I mentioned this is because Zack Snyder and Batman V Superman is partially to blame for Civil War. Captain America 3 wasn’t initially going to be Civil War until BvS was on the table. So, Captain America 3 became Civil War which is also The Avengers 2.5. And more comic book characters means more money for Disney, just as it was with The Avengers and Age of Ultron. And no, it’s not because the movie was actually great. Give it five to ten years, and you’ll realize that the movie actually sucks.
I like the idea of the government going after the heroes for the collateral damages they left every time they save the world but that’s not really what Civil War is all about. It’s not so much about forgiveness and revenge either, or breaking up the Avengers. Wait, you still there? Okay, it’s all about Bucky, the most underwritten and most boring “main character” in Captain America movies.
Bucky being uninteresting is not really the problem, but he’s part of the movie’s problems. Civil War wanted us to care about Bucky and feel how Cap is torn between him, the Avengers and Tony Stark. But it is so NOT convincing. Because to do that, they had to make Tony sad, revenge-thirsty and emotional. And they had to make Cap unthinking and unreasonable. What ever happened to that scrawny guy who was so selfless, he’s willing to dive on a grenade? And did he really think anyone could harm Bucky? Well, good luck selling that idea. The Winter Soldier isn’t only a hundred years old, he’s also a super assassin who can destroy a nation in one night.
Then, we have Zemo, a villain whose superpower is to dictate the plot. Admit it boy, Zemo’s stupid masterplan only works because the Avengers have to fight each other at some point and Tony, Cap and Bucky have to have a three-way suck-dick butt-fuck fisticuffs by the end of the movie.
Nice glorified cameos from everyone else by the way, specially Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Aunt May!
And you know what really sucks about this Iron Man and Captain America movie? The plot’s one big excuse to break them apart as it forgoes the most sensible thing friends do to settle dispute: Talk.