Captain American: The Winter Soldier – A Portrait of Modern Life

A text I wish to analyse is the 2014 film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. I wish to examine how the film paints a portrait of 21st century life. It centres around a conspiracy involving the Nazi organisation HYDRA and the mythical Winter Soldier. In the words of Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first superhero since the terrorist-inflicted The Dark Knight

that plugs you right into whats happening now”.

I believe that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” mirrors modern life on numerous fronts. It show’s the main anxieties people have in this age, and the challenge’s they face involving the unknown and their supposed ‘freedom’. I will start by examining three central characters and what they represent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and how they relate to the general public.

Peggy Carter an-ex British soldier, and later on co-leader of the foundation S.H.I.E.L.D,  is confined to an old age home and is suffering from alzheimer’s and dementia. Carter along with S.H.I.E.L.D shaped and the built the pre-World War II world and political landscape. Her character echoes the “Greatest Generation” and the “Baby Boomers” who rebuilt and shaped the modern world after two world wars and countless threats. Both the above generations and Carter have regrets on how they shaped the world, as Peggy remarks to the Captain – “You saved the world. We rather mucked it up.”

The head of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury is the opposite of Carter. He represent modern governmental institutes and regimes. The publics anxieties of their governments is represented in this character. As the Captain remarks, Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D are holding a gun to the publics head and calling it freedom. Fury like modern regimes is critical of the actions taken in the past in response to threats. Like today’s government’s Fury can see the world as it really is. This is shown when he retaliates against the Captain and states “S.H.I.E.L.D takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.”

Steve Rodgers also know as the titular Captain represents the majority of the public. Lost in the modern world and holding on to what he knows, after being frozen in ice for almost 70 years. A polar opposite of Fury, Rodgers is the character most like the audience. He see’s good in the world and will do what it takes for the public to be free. Rodger’s is a pinup of what the public should inspire to be like. He hold’s the ‘ideals’ of America such as helping others and protecting the weak. Lost in translation with the modern world Rodgers want’s to do good but is unsure how a person does good anymore. In his own words “ For as long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. I guess I’m quite sure what that is anymore.”

As we can see the three principal characters represent the many faces of modern life. All three characters have different ideologies and react differently when faced with a threat. The said threat in this film is the Nazi organisation HYDRA. The re-emergence of this group in the MCU echoes the emergence of extremist groups in the 21st century.

HYDRA’s main philosophy as said by their head Alexander Pierce is that to build better world one has “to tear the old one down.” This is similar to modern extremist groups such as ISIS who wish to create a world based on one political / religious philosophy through the destruction of the old one. Within the film’s universe HYDRA infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D from it’s very beginning. This acts as an opposite of our political system where far right groups are now gaining votes in elections all across the world. Modern ‘extreme’ groups, such as England’s UKIP, who are using the political system in order gain power is directly similar to HYDRA using S.H.I.E.L.D a government institute in order to gain control.

The ways in which HYDRA aims to achieve it’s goal’s is through mass surveillance. Everything from internet history, bank transactions, tweets, and exam results are examined by a complex algorithm used to determine the future habits of the public and to exterminate the threat before it can happen.

With the recent news of Facebook using users information in order to manipulate their news feed and the news from whistleblower Edward Snowden that the NSA were keeping telecommunication records on citizens, the methods used by HYDRA seem to familiar be to the general public. In a world where everything about an individual can be easily accessed online HYDRA acts as an efficient metaphor for these organisations that invade the public privacy in order to examine threats.

Finally within the final third of the film the workers of S.H.I.E.L.D are faced with the revelation that they people they have been working for have been infiltrated by the enemy. The way in which the characters know little of the institute in which they are working for acts as a window into states which are generally seen as closed of to the west such as North Korea.

When faced with this revelation a number of the workers stand up for their beliefs and a face-off ensure’s between the two conflicting side. Sharon Carter a minor character working for S.H.I.E.L.D was one of the first ground workers to stand up the the HYDRA agents. When faced with the belief that she picked the wrong side,  “Depends on where you’re standing.” This clearly resembles the ordinary people in corrupt states, who when faced with the knowledge of corruption stand up for what is right and risking everything in the process.

In conclusion Captain America: The Winter Soldier clearly paints a portrait of life in the 21st century. The characters and plot lines within the film and the MCU as a whole act as a metaphor for ordinary people in the world and the larger problems they face when they see the world as it is. I’ll finish with a quote uttered by Peggy Carter in which I think sum’s up the films resemblance to modern life –

“ The world has changed and none of us can go back.

All we can do is our best,

and sometimes the best we can do is to start over.”