‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ keeps the Marvel movie train rolling full steam ahead

Captain America Winter Soldier shield

Captain America is back, and he’s better than ever. In just a few short days, audiences have rewarded Marvel’s latest effort with cash — lots of it.

The Hollywood Reporter tallied the numbers:

Continuing Marvel and Disney’s enviable winning streak, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is making history at the global box office, debuting to a record-breaking $96.2 million in North America for an early worldwide total of $303.3 million.

Reviewing ‘Captain America: The Winter Solider’ is tough to do without adding spoilers. How do you critique an espionage tale without giving away the best parts? I’ll give it a shot.

Long story short: Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) find themselves in a situation where it’s essentially them against the world as they try and unravel the mystery behind an attack on Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. They handle the situation with wit, intelligence, strength, speed, and agility. The chemistry between each of them was great, and Marvel would be wise to continue keeping the three of them together moving forward.

At one point in the film, Cap manages to find a way to directly address agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He wants them to disobey a direct order — one that may end up costing them their lives — and in doing so he tells the audience what the film is essentially about.

Attention all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, this is Steve Rogers. You’ve heard a lot about me over the last few days. Some of you were even ordered to hunt me down. But I think it’s time you know the truth. S.H.I.E.L.D is not what we thought it was. … They almost have what they want: absolute control. … I know I’m asking a lot. The price of freedom is high. It always has been. That’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.

What is the price of freedom? If you’re a wise guy who enjoyed ‘Team America: World Police,’ you might say “freedom costs a buck-o-five.” If you’re a serious person, you might say that it’s a tough call because those in positions of power have to find a way to maximize both individual liberty and security.

Winter Soldier

How do you protect a nation when there are individuals and organizations tirelessly plotting ways to take down free societies? When you’re facing down enemies who see no difference between civilian and military targets — when you’re up against an opponent who has erased any notion of the traditional battlefield and replaced it with one where everything is fair game, how much power are you willing to grant your protectors? As Captain America says to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s agents: our leaders want “absolute control.” But then the question becomes: Who watches the watchmen? What happens when the ones who protect us lose their way?

Captain America

Director Joe Russo fills in the details during an interview with Mother Jones:

“[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller. […] So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience. … That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president’s kill list, preemptive technology. [etc.]”

While I’m actually rather shocked that a Hollywood director had the guts to say that concerns over President Obama’s “Terror Tuesday Kill List” helped inspire a top-notch Marvel movie, on some level it’s no surprise given that the industry’s old-reliable when it comes to political thrillers is to blame America.

As I said in October when the first trailer came out:

The trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier is finally here. The good news is that it looks like it has all the makings of solid espionage fare: Robert Redford? Check. Russian spies? Check. Shady spy agencies? Check.

The bad news? It has all the makings of a blame-America espionage flick. …

Mullah nuts in the Middle East who deny the Holocaust and call for pushing the Jews “into the sea”? Eh. Chinese Communist intelligence agencies who have never met a U.S. business or defense contractor they wouldn’t hack? Eh. Nebulous terrorist organizations that don’t fly under a flag, even as they plot and plan to kill military and civilian targets on a massive scale? Eh. CIA attempts to “connect the dots” and “neutralize” threats before thousands of Americans die on their way to work on a Tuesday morning? Now there’s a movie!

Is it annoying that Marvel went for the easy layup by once again putting America in the cross hairs? Yes, slightly. Was the movie entertaining? Of course. In fact, I highly recommend it. It’s just odd that critics of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ would have a point if they said it would have been better off going with ‘Captain America: Disillusioned with America.’ The movie has an assassin with a big red Soviet star on his metallic arm but no one talks about Communism, except for a passing reference? If the next installment doesn’t get into KGB agents and the world-wide espionage perpetrated by the Evil Empire, then Marvel should just openly admit that its favorite movie bad guys are aliens and Americans.

At the end of the day, there isn’t much to really complain about regarding Cap’s second solo outing. If Marvel continues churning out quality products like this, then Phase II, III, IV and V should roll along quite nicely. If you get a chance to see ‘Winter Soldier’ in theaters, check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Will ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ be the must-see blame America movie of the summer?

Captain America Winter Soldier

The trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier is finally here. The good news is that it looks like it has all the makings of solid espionage fare: Robert Redford? Check. Russian spies? Check. Shady spy agencies? Check.

The bad news? It has all the makings of a blame-America espionage flick.

Robert Redford? Check.

Alexander Pierce: To build a better world sometimes means turning the old one down. And that makes enemies. … Are you ready for the world to see you as you really are? Look out the window — you know how the game works. Disorder. War. All it takes is one step.

Shady American-led spy agencies? Check. Captain America whining about America? Check.

Nick Fury: We’re going to neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.

Captain America: I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.

Nick Fury: Shield takes the world as it is — not as we’d like it to be.

Captain America: This isn’t freedom. This is fear.

Didn’t we just have a super-hero movie that was the anti-American conspiracy theorist must-see film of the summer? I believe it was called Iron Man 3.

Captain America Winter Soldier Trailer

The problem with most Hollywood espionage movies is that the creative teams tend to come at them from the “if only the CIA didn’t exist the world would be a better place” perspective. Writers start their script by operating from a place where America is to blame for the vast majority of “disorder” and “war” in the world.

Mullah nuts in the Middle East who deny the Holocaust and call for pushing the Jews “into the sea”? Eh. Chinese Communist intelligence agencies who have never met a U.S. business or defense contractor they wouldn’t hack? Eh. Nebulous terrorist organizations that don’t fly under the flag, even as they plot and plan to kill military and civilian targets on a massive scale? Eh. CIA attempts to “connect the dots” and “neutralize” threats before thousands of Americans die on their way to work on a Tuesday morning? Now there’s a movie!

Do I want to see a S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier crash into the ocean? Sure. Do I want to see Captain America take down a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier after whining about his own country for two hours? Not really.

Alexander Pierce says to Steve Rogers in the trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier: “You work has been a gift to mankind. You’ve shaped the century. I need you to do it one more time.” Sounds logical. It would be nice if a character named Captain America ensured that the next century was an American Century. Unfortunately, there’s a high probability that The First Avenger will only do so after a magnificent monologue of American self-flagellation and all other options have been exhausted. I hope I’m wrong. Regardless, I’ll see you there opening night.

Related: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ keeps the Marvel movie train rolling full steam ahead

Related: Check out Carl from Carl’s Comics take.

Chris Evans: Ben Shapiro is like a mirror that reminds me I’m not a real hero, so I dislike him

Piers Morgan has a weird thing going, where he engages Ben Shapiro in debate, Ben makes a fool out him, and then like a gambler who convinces himself that it’s only a matter of time before he comes out on top, he goes back for more. Chris Evans (aka: Captain America) has decided he doesn’t like Shapiro’s no-nonsense approach, and took to Twitter to say “I genuinely dislike @benshapiro.”

Chris Evans Twitter Ben Shapiro

It’s an interesting tweet, and more so since Mr. Evans decided to opt for radio silence instead of explaining himself. We’ll just have to assume it has something to do with Shapiro’s appearance on Piers Morgan last night, in which he reminded the world just how loosely we use the word “hero” these days.

MORGAN: Let’s turn to Jason Collins, this is the sports star that came out. You tweeted this: “So Jason Collins is a hero because he’s gay? Our standard of heroism has dropped quite a bit since Normandy.” Why such a cheap shot against a guy who did a pretty great thing?

SHAPIRO: I don’t think it’s a cheap shot. Heroism is defined by willingness to sacrifice — and willingness to take a real personal risk in favor of a noble, larger goal. This may be a noble, larger goal but I’m not sure it’s a great personal risk. …

MORGAN: I think you may be homophobic simply because you said, “Why is Jason Collins a hero simply because he’s gay?” Why sneer at a guy for coming out when he’s being courageous?

SHAPRIO: I’m not sneering at him for coming out, I’m just —

MORGAN: Aren’t you the one being homophobic?

SHAPIRO: I don’t think it’s homophobic to simply say that we’re apathetic about people’s personal lives. …

MORGAN: You think this guy isn’t brave because he came out. …

SHAPIRO: I understand, I wear a yarmulke on TV, right? There’s a lot of anti-Semitism, there are people who are killed and anti-Semitic attacks. You know, per capita, as many hate crimes against Jews as as against gays in this country. America is not an anti-Semitic country and I’m not a hero for wearing a yarmulke. Being who you are in 2013 America is what America is about. It is not heroic to be who you are publicly. I’m glad for Jason Collins if it makes him feel like he’s going to have a happier life now. But, it does not make him a hero to be who you are because America is not a homophobic country.

MORGAN: You know what, Ben? Come off it.

Who is more of a jerk: Piers Morgan, who calls you “homophobic” if you’re apathetic about the sexuality of the guy next to you, or Ben Shapiro, who reserves the word ‘hero’ for men and women who remind him of those who would willingly storm the beaches of Normandy?

A basketball player who was never that big of a deal comes out as gay at the end of his career (interesting timing), the media goes nuts over the guy, and because Ben Shapiro says there’s really nothing special about it, he’s a jerk to Chris Evans. At no point in the conversation does Mr. Shapiro indicate that he holds any ill will towards the gay community, but because he doesn’t believe that America is a homophobic country Piers Morgan thinks he’s homophobic. Classic!

Perhaps Chris Evans doesn’t like Mr. Shapiro because his definition of ‘hero’ excludes Hollywood celebrities who sometimes believe they are heroes just because they’re wearing the right uniform.

Here’s what Captain America costume designer Anna Sheppard said of Chris Evans while filming the first movie:

“You can’t really take him seriously in his flag pajamas,” director Joe Johnston told EW in last year’s exclusive first look cover story on the film. So instead, the hero’s main uniform was designed to resemble a tricked-out airman’s jumpsuit, the “A” on the helmet and star on the chest modest in size, the colors muted. It took Evans about 25 minutes to suit up. “He likes to do it all by himself,” explained costume designer Anna Sheppard. “I think it helps him feel like a super hero.”

I hate to play armchair psychologist, but it must really sting for Chris Evans to listen to Ben Shapiro talk about men who mistakenly elevate themselves to “hero” status in their own mind, when deep down he knows he’s guilty as charged.

Poor Chris Evans. He spends so much time playing Captain America that sometimes he feels as though he's really a hero. And then when someone like Ben Shapiro has a serious conversation about what the definition of 'hero' is it reminds him of the truth. And so, he must send out angry tweets that tell us much more about what's going on in "Captain America's" head than the guest of a low rated cable news show.
Poor Chris Evans. He spends so much time playing Captain America that sometimes he feels as though he’s really a hero.

Here’s what Chris Evans and the ideological allies of Piers Morgan don’t like: serious conversations about words and their meanings.

When someone wants to agree on a definition of “rich” and “poor” before the debate begins, they are a jerk. When someone wants to agree on a definition of “marriage” before discussion starts, they are “homophobic.” When someone wants to define what we mean when we talk about “rights,” that person is considered mean. When someone defines an immigrant who is in the country illegally as an “illegal immigrant” that person is being insensitive. When someone wants to talk about the definition of “fair share,” that person is “greedy.”

The truth is often uncomfortable, and it’s easy to avoid it if you and the person you’re arguing with are having two totally different conversations — primarily because neither one of you defines a whole slew of words the same way.

Ben Shapiro is not a likable guy because he demands precision. He does not allow for wiggle room. He forces men like Piers Morgan to be intellectually honest. And that is why guys like Chris Evans “genuinely dislike” conservatives of the Shapiro mold:

In another explosive debate with Piers Morgan on Thursday night, Breitbart News editor-at-large Ben Shapiro accused Morgan of responsibility for Americans’ growing sense of threat from the federal government. …

When Morgan responded that he didn’t want to take away people’s handguns, Shapiro pressed him – and finally, Morgan admitted he’d like to try a United Kingdom-style total gun ban in the United States.

SHAPIRO: I still don’t understand your opinion on this. You say that you’re against military style assault weapons, but you’re OK with handguns. Handguns kill 6,000 people a year, assault weapons kill 300.

MORGAN: Well, they’re both a big problem: handguns in Chicago, and assault weapons with mass shootings.

SHAPIRO: You’re from the UK, why don’t we just go with a full gun ban?

MORGAN: Well, we’ve discussed this, the UK has 40-50 gun murders a year, the U.S. has 12,000. Why don’t we try it our way?

SHAPIRO: I’m glad you finally let your agenda out there.

MORGAN: I don’t have an agenda, I just want to make America safe and save lives. That’s my agenda.

Everyone has an agenda. Some of us are just honest about it. I’m a conservative. So is Ben Shapiro. And Chris Evans? It’s becoming rather clear, but for whatever reason he has opted to try and hide behind a wall of silence. It’s an odd choice, given that the decision offers neither cover nor concealment. Captain America a Piers Morgan liberal? Depressing, but at this point to be expected.

See you when Captain America: Winter Soldier comes out.

Related: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ keeps the Marvel movie train rolling full steam ahead