Minor scenes is just a series where I can write some shorter posts on small scenes from TV and film that I think are worth talking about, even if they don’t warrant a full essay.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a big step up for the MCU, which until that point had been putting out solid, entertaining movies confident enough in their balance of comedy and set pieces to not really change. 2014 was the year to shake things up, first with this spy thriller variation on the superhero sub-genre, then the irreverent space opera that was Guardians of the Galaxy capping the year off.
Bringing a character like Captain America to the big screen isn’t easy – and likely even harder than other straightforward and upstanding superheroes like Superman. America itself isn’t exactly the most popular country on the planet, so how do you sell a man who not only comes from an era where jingoism was the name of the game for comic books – but wears the stars and stripes as his uniform?
Well, the answer is that you focus on something else: Steve Rogers. A man blindly serving his country isn’t particularly compelling, but a man whose life offered him no respite from tragedy yet still puts himself on the line for the sake of doing what’s right? That is something that you can sell – and it worked.
The Winter Soldier saw his character confronted with the moral greys of government oversight and preemptive warfare, and so gives us a character whose arc is to not really change. Luckily, the people around him, and the situation itself, gives us plenty to work with, from secondary characters to people you would assume wouldn’t even get a name in the credits.
Setting the record straight for the third act’s explosive finale, the star-spangled man makes a speech to every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent about fighting for what’s right. It’s a completely serious, self-righteous, familiar kind of speech to hear a protagonist give, punctuated (as per usual) with a glib remark from another character.
“The price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.”
However, the interesting thing about the speech isn’t Steve or the words he is using, but their affect on others, including one desk-bound staff member willing to follow his example, without any unbreakable shield to defend himself with.
The nervous agent would relent out of cowardice in most other blockbusters, and in this situation we wouldn’t have begrudged him for it, really. But he doesn’t – all because of “Captain’s orders”.
It’s easy for an undefeatable protagonist to make a great big speech about how we all matter, only to hog the limelight as others fall around them. The Winter Soldier questioned whether average people could use their own limited abilities to do the right thing, and surprised by answering with the very next scene.
That sincerity is the secret to why this film, and a fair amount of the others in this cinematic universe, works.
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