My second instalment in a series of reviews of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Don’t despair, more will come…eventually.
For a look at my reaction to the introduction of The Falcon, click HERE!
For a look at my reaction to the development of Captain America, click HERE!
Goodness, Sebastian Stan can pack his acting punches! Having read at least some comics, I am vaguely familiar with the Winter Soldier storyline, and definitely knew that he’d been mind-wiped multiple times and had his personality basically erased (probably through fanfic, if I’m being honest). So I am really curious what someone who didn’t know about Bucky being the Winter Soldier, or even didn’t know that he was being mind-wiped by HYDRA, got out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, especially given that he didn’t actually have a lot of screen time for the titular character. In fact, what I really want to know was if someone who didn’t know the history of the Winter Soldier, picked up that Bucky was being continuously mind-wiped between missions in that short scene with Pierce and Bucky after he encounters and fails to kill Steve. Because to me, even though no one said it, it seemed so clear. And that was due to Stan’s acting.
I love Bucky’s characterisation so far; I, for one, am so glad that he’s not 12 years old. Or Steve’s sidekick. Although the newer strands of comics, which I’m a tad more familiar with, do portray him more like the MCU version. The power and emotions behind Steve and Bucky’s story comes across much better with Bucky and Steve as best friends since childhood, instead of a leader/follower dynamic; it puts them on the same level and gives more depth to their relationship. The fact that Bucky was once bigger and stronger than Steve, the person who always cared about and took care of Steve even after Steve’s transformation into Captain America and was saving everybody else. This is really important, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows how much Steve needs that – a friend who will back him up and offer the support that he requires; to believe in him, so that he believes that what he’s doing is the right thing. It also, I think, lends more credit to Steve’s reaction at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as Steve, knowing that he has been taken care of for years, wants to do the same for Bucky now, partly to repay him, and partly because of the deep and abiding loyalty and love that he has for him. It wouldn’t have worked if Bucky was just Captain America’s 12-year-old sidekick.
Something that I really love about Marvel is their character continuity, wherein they cast an actor in a role, and, for the majority of the time, that actor will stay in their role (a few exceptions are Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and Don Cheadle as James Rhodes, who were recast, but both were markedly well-suited for the job, more than the original choices, in my opinion) for their entire duration in the MCU. I mean, can you imagine a different Tony Stark for each film? In this way, the actors in some ways canonicalise their characters through their stylised performance, as well as depict the development of their characters in a much clearer arc. This is really evident in The Winter Soldier, because we have the strong foundation of Bucky in Captain America: The First Avenger as Steve’s oldest and dearest friend; someone whom Steve loves deeply and looks up to in some ways, as well as a stubborn, charismatic soldier whose abilities are superb and who attracts the dames with his cocky smirk. This makes the change from Bucky Barnes into the Winter Soldier even more dramatic, because the audience recognises Bucky’s face and some of his movements in the Winter Soldier, but his entire attitude to life, the core of his being, has been erased, resulting in a vastly different depiction of character. But, and I stress this point, because that is what makes it such a breathtaking portrayal, there isn’t a ‘new’ character to take Bucky’s place. It is still recognisably Bucky underneath all the brainwashes and torture and experimentation that he has undergone, and it’s all conveyed without words, just the emotion that Stan carries in his eyes. Marvel made the marvellous (:P) decision to make the Winter Soldier powerful, strong, yes, but not in control (a bit like Clint Barton under Loki’s power), and in some respects, not aware of the destruction he has wrought because that is a consequence of his mind-wipes; that he is not aware of what he has done and who he has been. The Winter Soldier is a puppet; a broken toy to be used and abused as HYDRA and Pierce wished. This quality was so clear in Bucky’s plaintive, childlike protestation of “but I know him …” and pout, the resignation in his eyes as he prepared to be wiped again, accepting the mouth guard, knowing the pain was coming, but knowing he had no choice. Bucky wasn’t making choices for himself any more; wasn’t his own person, and that was what made Stan’s performance so heartbreakingly devastating.
…. yeah, Sebastian Stan made me feel like Bucky needed a hug.
The Winter Soldier’s costume design was another point in Marvel’s favour. I really loved the way that the cybernetic arm was so smoothly crafted, a fine networking of interlocking parts that could lock together and provide him with a superhuman grip, as well as the way it just fitted onto him – not clunky, but a dangerous weapon that was intricately bound to Bucky and was now an integral physical part of him. Additionally, I always appreciate a comic shout-out, even if I’m not particularly knowledgeable, just because it’s nice to see where concepts are coming from. So while I don’t think that long hair on anybody involved in combat is a very practical idea, it did echo the Winter Soldier’s look, as did the black costume and assortment of weapons. One thing I will ask is: what is up with the smudged eyes? Because in comic-verse, this is one of those flimsy skin-tight masks that totally means that they can’t be identified (cue the suspension of belief), but in the film, it looked like smudged raccoon eyes? I’m not sure if it’s a side-effect because of his goggles or what; I’d really like to know.
However, in saying all of that. I am really disappointed in the lack of back-story of Bucky meeting with Natasha in the Red Room; that has always been a vital part of their story (and relationship, because the Black Widow and the Winter Solider are an item for quite a long time in most versions), and I was really interested in seeing that modernised and negotiated by Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov. I knew it wouldn’t be explored in depth in this film, but I did want at least a hint that Marvel was going to use it, because 1) it’s in practically every version of Marvel as far as I know, 2) it provides a great link between Natasha and Steve, as it gives them a shared motivation: wanting to snap Bucky out of it (otherwise, as we saw, Natasha would think that Steve is just wasting his time, because she knows intimately that second chances are a risky business) and 3) it was a genuinely interesting back-story that could have led to an origins-type film with Natasha and Bucky negotiating the Red Room, and how Natasha got out of that environment alive. Instead, it wasn’t mentioned at all. In fact, they made up a new story and acted like it didn’t happen – here, Bucky was simply another antagonist that Natasha had faced, albeit one that was more skilled than anyone she’d encountered before. There is a theory going round which tries to assert that as Natasha is an unreliable narrator, she’s covering up her emotional past with this story of being shot and not telling Steve the whole story, which is possible, but a bit unlikely in my opinion, simply because I don’t think that Marvel would want to confuse viewers that much.
One last quibble about the Winter Soldier himself; throughout the film he is described as a ghost, someone who slips past systems and kills and then disappears completely. Well, we don’t really see much of that at all, do we? Instead, we see daylight confrontations, gunfights and dozens of civilian witnesses! I know that this is because such things create more oomph and impact as action sequences, but it would have been nice to see the spectre-like qualities of the sniper in the Winter Soldier – his primary role in comic-verse – to shine through, Maybe it will be covered in the next film in which Bucky is part of? As Sebastian Stan told several interviewers, including here (which offers a very comprehensive look at Stan’s views on the film and his character and the future of Bucky), he didn’t find out that he would be the Winter Soldier until a year ago, and didn’t even know the title of Captain America: The Winter Soldier until it was announced at Comic Con by Marvel; so it stands to reason that Marvel is just keeping as much under wraps as possible.
Sebastian Stan’s acting is incredible 😀 I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. In the seven films that he is still contracted to make with Marvel. I was completely taken aback by that; that Stan had agreed to a nine film contract with Marvel. That’s going to keep him busy for, what, the next decade at least? I hope Marvel makes it interesting, both for his sake and ours.