Sam Wilson: To Be Rescued

This is my love letter to the MCU Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon:

One of my all-time favorite Sam Wilson moments is in The Winter Soldier, when Sam experiences the love of flying again, in his fight with the Helicarrier, and he lets out a huge war whoop:

Image result for sam wilson winter soldier gif

This makes what he said earlier to Steve, about being glad to be out of the military, a complete lie. He may be glad no one is giving him orders but he’s glad to be back in the air doing what he does best.

First introduced in Captain America: The  Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson has been in three MCU films (The Winter Soldier, Antman,  and Captain America: Civil War) and  he just doesn’t get enough love. He’s one of my favorite characters. He’s also the most underrated, and one of the most consistently written, characters across the MCU. I think that has more to do with Anthony Mackie’s portrayal than it does the writers. Its obvious that Mackie loves this character, and he has the freedom to make this character what he wants him to be, because unlike Evans, he doesn’t have the weight of the entire plot hanging on him.

The Falcon, as he’s called in the comic books , was the first African American superhero to debut in Marvel Comics (in 1969) so its entirely correct that he should appear in the MCU. Not just because of that, but also  because he’s one of the contenders for Captain America’s mantle, now that Chris Evans has dropped the shield. (In the books, Sam  has taken up the title of Captain America.) He has been changed from his original comic book character though. In the books, Sam had limited telepathic/empathic control over birds, and is accompanied by an actual falcon named Redwing. The only nod we get to this, in the movies, is Sam being teased about his “bird costume”, and his little personal drone, named Redwing, in Civil War.

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/inside-combat-rescue/

In the movies Sam is a former Pararescue officer, and like Tony Stark’s friend, Iron Patriot, (Rhodey), he’s a member of the US Air Force.

*Pararescuemen (also known as PJs) are United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and Air Combat Command (ACC) operators tasked with recovery and medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat environments.

– United States Air Force Pararescue – Wikipedia

We’re first introduced to Sam in The Winter Soldier, where he’s still rescuing his fellow soldiers, only instead of going into hostile environments, he’s rescuing them from their own inner demons, as a VA Counselor. At first he tries to do the same for Steve ,sensing that the Icon of American Patriotism may require some emotional assistance, after being displaced in time. In fact that’s Sam’s first question to Steve. Not can he have his autograph, or a  confirmation  of some rumor he read in a history book. Sam’s very first statement to Steve is an offer of assistance, if  Steve would like to talk, because that’s what he does, its what he is, and has spent his entire career doing.

Image result for sam wilson gifs

There is criticism of Sam online, about his role as Steve’s  Black sidekick, but I choose not to see it that way, because of  Sam’s character, and how its established and presented within the narrative, and because I myself choose to live a life of service to others and find  a degree of satisfaction in doing so. Sam isn’t presented as some sort of Angel who can do no wrong, though.  He’s snarky and doesn’t easily forgive transgressions against himself, or those he’s adopted as his friends. He’s competent, pragmatic, and probably not quite as idealistic as Steve, as he occasionally plays Devil’s Advocate to some of Steve’s decisions. He is nuanced enough within the story for me to identify with his motivations, so no I don’t consider Sam to be a stereotype, although as I said, I think much of his character comes from Mackie’s depiction, rather than the writers.

One of the reasons I don’t see Sam as being Steve’s flunky is he’s not the only Black man in the movie. The other Black man is Nick Fury, whose relationship to Steve is much grayer than Sam’s. Nick Fury, because of the nature of his position in Shield, cannot commit to being Steve’s friend, but Sam can, and Steve does need a friend. Sam also serves the purpose in the narrative of anchoring Steve in the modern world to which he must adapt.Sam is also more of a civilian than Natasha, who like Fury, is too much a part of the lifestyle of espionage, to be trusted in the same manner.

Also, it is Sam who makes the first overture of friendship to Steve, not the other way around. He makes the offer, and then leaves it up to Steve whether or not he will respond to the overture, leaving an open space for Steve to step into, and trust him. I think this tactic works because Steve really is looking for someone to talk to. He’s looking for something, or someone, to tie him to a world he barely recognizes. He’s looking for someone to trust, and Natasha is just not a good candidate at the time, no matter how well meaning she is. He chooses to take Sam up on his offer.

I believe that Steve and Sam  bond because Sam has a tragic backstory too, that closely mirrors Steve’s, in that he lost a  brother in a very similar manner to how Steve lost Bucky, helplessly watching his friend fall to his death, during combat. I think that’s something that resonates with Steve. Although we never see Sam and Steve discuss it, there’s an understanding between them of each other’s pain and grief, and within much the same time period. For Sam its only been a year since he lost Riley. For Steve it feels like only a couple of years.

Image result for sam wilson gifs

Since he lost Riley, Sam’s been out running in the early hours of the morning, like Steve, he’s probably trying to cope with sleeplessness. We don’t know much about his day to day life but we do know he lives alone. And although we’ve seen how easily he makes friends with Steve, we get the distinct impression, that just like Steve, he doesn’t have many close friends.

I like to think that Steve rescued Sam, too.

When the call to adventure comes, in the form of Steve and Natasha showing up on his doorstep because he’s the only person they’re willing to trust, he doesn’t hesitate to answer it. Despite his grief, he hasn’t lost some of his childlike playfulness. He knows that if Captain America comes calling, its going to be the adventure of a lifetime, and he’d be crazy to turn it down, despite his earlier statements that he was glad to be out of the military. Nowhere is this attitude more evident than when he’s flying against the Shield Helicarrier, in full battle gear.

Sam is our Everyman character. He’s the regular human being through whose eyes we’re meant to see the plot. This is important because normally this type of character is often played by a scruffy White dude, with whom the audience is supposed to identify, here played by a handsome Black man.Sam is a bit of a Captain America fanboy, and we’re meant to put ourselves in Sam’s shoes, and imagine ourselves racing Steve around the reflecting pond, or fixing breakfast, or going on a mission with him. He says the things we want to say and expresses the excitement we have at that moment. And he looks cool doing all of this.

Image result for sam wilson gifs

Another of my favorite moments in Winter Soldier is the lowkey way Sam goes about taking care of business during the bridge scene. He’s not as flashy as Steve and Natasha, but watching Sam quietly kick ass during the scene on the bridge is a quiet joy as we can imagine ourselves doing that. He walks into that situation armed with nothing but a K-Bar knife, and smoothly, competently, with very little effort,  walks out of it with a machine gun. Sam makes the movie fun, but he is not the comic relief. He takes what he does very seriously and brings all his skills to the game without the toxic masculinity we see in Rumlow, for example. It is a testament to the Russo Brothers directing skills, and Mackie’s acting, that we manage to maintain our  identification with him,  as Sam’s abilities are gradually depicted as more, and more superheroic, in  subsequent movies.

Sam is competitive, but in a good way. His ego doesn’t seem to hinge on being the better man, but on just  being the best Sam Wilson. He initially races Steve when they first meet, but he knows who he’s up against, and he’s not there to try to prove his manhood. He’ knows who he is, and what his talents are, and he’s not threatened by Steve, being sensitive enough to see that Steve is in pain, comfortable enough  with himself to acknowledge that they both are, and willing to share his confidences with him.

Sam is thoughtful to his friends and  I like the movie’s honest depiction of  male friendship, with Sam waiting for  Steve to wake up in the hospital, playing the Marvin Gaye they’d discussed earlier, because that’s what friends do, and Sam remembered that. I liked that Steve was just a tiny bit surprised to see Sam  there because I think Steve was expecting to be alone. In a nice callback to Steve’s past, it may have reminded him of how many times Bucky sat by his side, when he was sick as a child. And who knows, he’s 90 years old, but he still might have missed being cared for like that.

In Antman, Sam goes up against Scott, who manages to best him. While he’s initially frustrated (and mildly embarrassed) he doesn’t hold a grudge about it, and in Civil War,  he good-naturedly seeks out Scott’s help,  while genially reminding him, that it’ll never happen again.

The nature of his job as a Pararescue, and as a counselor, sort of preclude  him being overly aggressive, yet he’s not passive. Like any good soldier, he  knows when to take the initiative, whether on the bridge, or in his fight with Rumlow.  He also has no patience for grandstanding,  so when Rumlow wants to talk smack during their fight,  Sam  tells him to  shut the hell up. He’s got no time for nonsense.

And then there’s his relationship to Bucky, which is complicated.

This is perfect:

If you’ve ever see the movie The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg depicts the kind of  relationship in the movie between Celie and Shugg, (two women who are both sleeping with the same man, who are meant to be rivals, but eventually become lovers), that’s depicted between Sam and Bucky. When they first met ,Shugg referred to Celie as ugly, and when Celie asks why, she tells her, “Its just Salt n’ the Sugah”.

That’s basically Sam and Bucky.

Salt n’ the Sugah.

I don’t think Sam actually hates Bucky, but Bucky did try to kill him several times, after which the two of them were forced to work together because they’re both Steve’s friends. Sam doesn’t hate him, but he doesn’t like Bucky either, seeing Bucky as someone that Steve keeps getting into trouble for, like that ex-girlfriend who keeps calling your buddy up every time her car needs a jump. Yet, he’s willing to work with Bucky and save his life because he loves Steve, Steve loves Bucky, and Sam is loyal to his friends. Bucky for his part barely knows Sam. I think, for him, Sam is just some guy hanging out with Steve, but he’s willing to like him if Sam will let him. Sam is willing to put aside his grudges, but not let go of them altogether, because he likes Steve.

In Civil War, we get another glimpse of Sam’s trauma. Just as Steve gets to relive that moment of terror when he lost Bucky (in The Winter Soldier), Sam gets the unpleasant experience of watching another friend get shot out of the sky, while he helplessly watches (and the added indignation of Tony’s overreaction in shooting him.) Sam, who really does rise to sainthood after that, as far as I’m concerned, manages to refrain from force choking the shit out of Tony when he comes begging for help, later in the movie. In fact Sam’s first words to Tony are to ask after Rhodey’s health and (having probably worked through most of his issues about Riley, and put in place coping mechanisms) that’s the only indication we get of how shaken he must have been at reliving that trauma.

And finally , I just love this scene. You can see how Sam never had any doubt that Steve would come for him, just as Steve came for Bucky.

After all Steve is loyal to his friends, and in many ways just like Steve, just like Bucky, Sam needed saving, too.

 

Favorited:

Sam and Natasha – Each movie gives Sam and a Natasha a couple of moments to banter with each other which basically ends up fueling lots of shipping meta between these two. In The Winter Soldier, Sam’s slightly suggestive “How  you doin?”, just tickled the heck out of  me.

Sam’s signature move is what I like to call the Kick Out. He usually does this  mid-flight, where he likes to kick people and things into another time zone. He did it to Bucky in Winter Soldier, and a helicopter in Civil War.

Sam Wilson’s Greatest Hits:

 

 

Advertisements

On the Right: Captain America and Iron Man

Okay. I was really nervous about posting this, mainly because I’ve read a bunch of differing opinions and thought, “What if I’m horribly wrong about this?” But I’m gonna throw this out into the world and quit re-thinking it into a mess.

For the record, I’ve never read any of the individual comic books on Tony or Steve. This is entirely about what I’ve observed about the two of them throughout all of the MCU. In my mind, their general attitudes and motivations are entirely consistent, but I’ve seen arguments discussing their inconsistency. Also the movie isn’t on DVD yet, and my observations could just be mis-remembered stuff.

 

Morality: 

natural feeling that makes people know what is rightand wrong and how they should behave:

. Of or concerned with the judgment of right or wrong of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.
2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson.
3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.
4. Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong: a moral obligation.
5. Having psychological rather than physical or tangible effects: a moral victory; moral support.

 

Steve Rogers, and Tony Stark, are the two of the  more  consistently written characters in the MCU, (well, they are generally consistent, as regards their motivations), so lets talk about that. The last time  I spoke about how Natasha’s motivations were consistent across all her appearances in the MCU, and Steve Rogers’ grief for his lost life. I have yet to discussed Tony. This is strictly about the MCU versions of these characters.

Unlike Steve, Tony had access to both parents, and I say access, because although they were present, his relationship with his father was a contentious one, although his relationship with his mother seemed healthy enough. Even though both Steve, and Tony, seemed to get on well with their mothers, the presence of Tony’s father seemed to make all the difference, here.The presence of Tony’s father gifted him with a  poverty free lifestyle, but this was offset by his father’s disappointment,  coupled with wealth, intelligence, a wish to not be like his father, and a juvenile sense of rebellion, which wasn’t helped by his father comparing Tony’s  lack of a moral center, to Steve’s moral certitude.

Its not  that Tony doesn’t admire Steve. (Who doesn’t?) But Steve is the man to whom Tony kept being compared and found wanting.  Before he became Iron Man, usually the only person who paid for his mistakes was himself.  It’s not that Tony makes the same mistakes, over and over, so much as he makes brand new ones, because Tony’s moral compass  points to himself.

Tony is an inherently selfish person, whereas Steve tends to approach issues from a place of service to others. Its not that Steve can’t be selfish. Witness his overwhelming need to save Bucky, but that his actions often are of benefit to others, besides himself. Tony does work to try to overcome this selfishness over the course of several films, recognizing that it is wrong, (mostly due to the influence of Pepper and Rhodey,) but without the moral certitude of Steve Rogers, its extremely difficult. I’m going to argue that this is Tony’s only redeeming feature because Tony isn’t likable beyond his redemption arc.

Tony grew up with the idea, like a lot of very wealthy people,  that the world is theirs and they can do whatever  they want in it. He knew no real checks on his behavior, beyond what little conscience he possesses.He feels guilt, recognizes when he makes mistakes, wishes  to atone for those mistakes, and thinks he can save the world, and his friends.

Unfortunately, Tony’s idea of salvation  seems to involve taking away the freedom of others, when he’s the one who fucks up. In Iron Man 3, it is Tony who makes the mistake of impulsively challenging the Mandarin to a public duel, and then locking  himself, and Pepper, in his bungalow, without Pepper’s permission.. In his efforts to keep Pepper safe, he puts her life in danger.  In Iron Man 3, he mostly fails in his  efforts to save Pepper, who ultimately ends up saving herself, from the Mandarin.

In Ultron, his response to having created Ultron, and getting The Avengers asses kicked, is for the Avengers to hide themselves away on Hawkeye’s  farm. Luckily this doesn’t result in endangering Hawkeye’s family, but Steve himself tells Tony that the reason for all this is,  its impossible to fight a war before it happens, which is essentially what Tony tried to do when he created his global peacekeeper, which is a direct reaction to the events in The Avengers.

In Civil War, Tony’s response to the atrocity in Africa, committed by Wanda, is to lock her up for her safety, without informing her, and then rope the Avengers into legal shenanigans with General Ross and the UN. He is perfectly willing to violate the freedom of others, (mostly by locking them up), to save the world from his mistakes. Tony needs oversight but doesn’t want to sacrifice his freedom alone. He wants company.

download (39)

Tony understands the need for oversight, because he is ultimately the one who needs it. Due to his moral shakiness, he lacks the ability to police himself, resents being policed by others, yet seems to  crave the oversight, nevertheless.  Like Gilmore Hodge, (who doesn’t respect Peggy until she beats his ass, in Captain America:The First Avenger), Tony is Dr. Erskine’s bully, who has known power all his life, given even greater power, but lacks the moral compass to use it correctly. He doesn’t do this because he’s malicious, but because of his lack of moral center (and innate selfishness). He only sees the choices that are directly in front his eyes. He is astonishingly shortsighted. His disrespectful and offhand manner, with people he considers to be of no use to him, (and even those he does) is what ultimately led to the creation of the Mandarin, in the first place, and even his nemesis in Iron Man 2. Basically, Tony is a dick, who creates his own enemies, (something he learns to his detriment in Iron Man 3.)

Tony fails when  he tries to be moral, and doesn’t seem to learn from that failure. It is Tony who needs to be reigned in, and held in check because he’s never developed a strong enough moral center to do it himself. Tony seeks morality outside himself.

download (36)

Contrast that with Steve, who is Tony’s   opposite, in this regard. Steve grew up sickly, and  in poverty. He’s always had to be determined, stubborn, and self sufficient, especially if he was to survive the streets of 1920’s Brooklyn. Rather than a critical father, Steve had Bucky, who was an unfailing example of loyalty and friendship. Bucky shows Steve how to be a man through example, not by preaching or critiquing, and Steve looks up to him as someone to be admired. He learns how to approach the world through Bucky’s example of a firm moral center, and possibly his mother’s example of service to others, as she was a nurse. That there is something in Steve that is innately selfless, helps this process.

Steve continues to serve others by joining the military, (although one could argue that its for selfish reasons, its a selfish reason that benefits others, too) where he learns discipline, and respect for authority, but also learns to question that authority. Steve is very individualistic, unlike Tony, who only appears to be, with his glib and offhand manner. Steve is willing to break rules and commands. His upbringing taught him a certain amount of self-discipline, honed and sharpened by military service,   but  it is his moral compass that guides his actions. Steve generally doesn’t looks outside himself to be told the correct thing to do. He is centered, and righteous, and because of this is capable of making peace with his mistakes, without compounding them or acting entirely impulsively during their fallout.

download (38)

Steve has learned to discipline himself. As Captain America, this is second nature to him and he feels no need to seek outside controls on his behavior. This is the reason Steve is  against the  Accords. Steve believes that only  oneself is responsible for the decisions one makes, and will rely on no outside authority to tell him what’s right or wrong.

In The First Avenger, Steve’s sense of loyalty drives him to go against orders to save Bucky. He could have stood down and accepted his orders, but his sense of morality wouldn’t allow him to simply leave Bucky and his unit to their fate.Once again, it can be argued that this decision is a selfish one, but its a decision that ends up ultimately benefiting Bucky and his entire unit.

 

Steve quietly states to Natasha, during Civil War, not just that the Accords could decide to NOT send them into situations he knows The Avengers could fix, but, “What if they send us someplace we don’t want to go?” For Steve ,the Accords simply allows someone else to make his moral choices for him, and he finds that  idea repugnant. Steve has a level of moral certainty in his actions and decisions, that Tony  lacks, and is very used to governing himself. It’s not that Steve doesn’t respect authority. He does. He just doesn’t believe that Authority is  infallible, and he will not worship at its foot. He will accept any, and all, of the consequences of his decisions, which is why he’s  careful when he makes them. This is what his speech to Wanda was about. (She made choices. She must accept that with the ability to make choices she must accept the fallout of those  choices. Doesn’t this sound like responsibility?)

Steve also seems to have an unfailing ability to understand his future actions in a way that Tony does not. He is capable of seeing beyond his immediate choices to act, to what the repercussions of those choices might be, up to a point. We witness this when he decides to go after Bucky in Civil War, understanding that if Bucky is still the Winter Soldier, a lot of people are going to die. Steve is willing to shoulder these burdens himself, while Tony, as was argued in The Avengers, likes to make choices that result in no sacrifice for himself.

Steve understands that any decisions he makes could have negative consequences, and understands this with a depth that Tony doesn’t. Steve is fatalistic in this regard. He believes in the adage that in trying to save everyone, you end up saving no one. He understands that people may get hurt or die, and is willing to make that sacrifice himself. Tony’s experience in The Avengers movie was very possibly his first real  brush with self-sacrifice. Yes, it profoundly affected him, but once again, because he lacks moral certitude, he doesn’t actually learn from this, and it is the fallout from what happened to him in The Avengers, his selfish attempt to prevent that from happening to him again, that results in the creation of Ultron, (and eventually The Vision.)

Steve, unlike Tony, is never  disrespectful to people just because he can see no use for them, or because he can get away with it. Suffice to say, under Steve’s aegis, the Mandarin would never have been created. Even when seeking other’s help, Tony operates from a place of insecure superiority. He basically bribes and insults Spider-Man into joining his cause, while requiring his help. Steve would’ve just asked. (Actually, Steve wouldn’t have asked because he would’ve seen Peter as a child first, and not got him involved in his fight. He also did his best not to harm Peter, once he assessed who and what he was dealing with. It was Tony who put Peter in danger, by bringing him into a fight in which Peter had no stakes.)

Tony, when governing himself, makes horrible mistakes, because although his intentions may be good,  his moral center is simply not there. In attempting to follow one goal, he tramples over the rights of others, and seems only capable of seeing one goal at a time. He is  impulsive, with a tendency to go with whatever choice immediately presents itself to him and then scrambling to keep up with the aftermath, as in Avengers Ultron. And witness his behavior in Civil War, when Rhodey is accidentally injured in a fight Tony started.

Tony could’ve stood down and let Steve explain things and  be on his way, but his ego wouldn’t allow it. In trying to save everyone, (or so he says) Tony becomes little more than the government’s lapdog and the very thing Steve warned him would happen under the Accords.

Tony also impulsively attacks Sam, who was not the cause of Rhodey’s injury. This comes back to haunt him later when he needs to get information from Sam.

His shortsighted rudeness is what created the Mandarin and created the enemies who come for him in Iron Man 2. This shortsightedness is a pattern he follows throughout Iron Man 3, Avengers Ultron, and Civil War, while he frantically runs around trying to clean up the aftermath of  his initial decisions. In the first two movies he rebounds, but it’s the rebounding that seems to negate whatever lessons he’s supposed to learn, and by the time of Civil War, he’s  lost Pepper, nearly loses his best friend, Rhodey, and loses The Avengers, entirely.

Zemo’s plan to tear apart the Avengers was a success because Tony lacks the ability to discipline himself. Contrast Tony’s response at finding out about his mother’s death, with Black Panther’s decision to stop seeking vengeance for his father’s death. Not only does T’Challa stop himself, he learns to do so from observing Tony. He acknowledges the mistake he made in trying to kill Bucky, and  atones for that mistake by offering Bucky respite. Tony’s mother’s death happened decades ago, and the person he believes did it was ultimately not even responsible for that death, (that would be Hydra) but because Tony has never dealt with his feelings regarding her death, and  lacks self discipline, he attempts to displace his sense of guilt onto The Ex-Winter Soldier.

Tony isn’t evil, though. He does understand when to approach certain situations with humility, and he certainly means to do the right thing, but has no idea how to go about it, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

It is often loss that spurs Tony to make  impulsive decisions too, and this is something that he does throughout all his films. In the first Iron Man movie, after Yinsen’s death, he destroys the Ten Rings’ weapons, after which he decides we will no longer make weapons of any kind. His righteous indignation to Coulson’s death pushes  him to challenge Loki and fully commit to the Avengers, and his challenge to The Mandarin is spurred by Happy’s near death, in Iron Man 3. When Tony is confronted with the death of Miriam’s son, in Civil War, it is that which informs some of his decision to sign the Accords, and put Wanda in lockdown without informing her. When Tony loses his shit, he makes impulsive choices that are based on the emotion of the moment.

 

Contrast that with Steve, who, when he loses Bucky, and everything he’s ever known, settles into a profound depression, but doubles down on the physical discipline. When things go wrong, when someone makes a mistake, when people get hurt, Steve’s response is to deal thoughtfully with the aftermath, counsel people, (as he does Wanda in Civil War), to do better. Not violate their rights. As in Winter Soldier, when he talks Bucky down from killing him, Steve persuades. Unlike Tony, he doesn’t bribe, coerce or challenge.

I suppose, given who we’re  discussing, that there are all kinds of interpretations of these two characters. In some corners, Tony is seen as either a lovable scamp, or an abusive, manipulative, dick. Steve could be considered a fine upstanding example of moral fortitude, or a joyless dolt, with a stick up his butt.(Yes, I’m well aware that Steve is kind of a dick to a few people, in The Winter Soldier, so there is that.)

This is not to say I’m a huge fan of Steve.  I just like observing the character motivations I see in these movies. Am I only seeing what I’m looking for. Possibly. But I think my argument holds up well to scrutiny. We’ll see how I feel about all this when I re-watch Civil War on DVD.

Black Widow : Lying Liar Who Lies

Black Widow is, in her own words, a liar, and a manipulator. The kind of person who will be whatever you want her to be. She said as much in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But before we get into that, lets talk about her first experience with Bruce Banner and The Hulk, in the first Avengers film.

When we first meet Natasha she is tied to a chair and snarking off to some Russian gangsters. She appears helpless, yet fearless and  in control, despite her circumstances. And yes, she is totally in control of that situation and, of the several people present, is the only person to walk out of it. The next time we see her she’s trying to procure Bruce Banner for Fury’s Avengers Initiative.

I’m going to make a number of assertions about events that happened offscreen, but when you consider Natasha’s occupation and her employer, I think we can agree my guesses are, at least, educated. Her orders are to persuade Bruce to join the Initiative. To do that, she would have read informational and psychological briefs about him, just as she did when she was sent  to determine Tony Stark’s membership to the Initiative. She most certainly, at some point, would have seen footage of The Hulk in action, (most probably footage from when he broke Harlem),which accounts for her initial reluctance to meet with Bruce, an opinion she expresses to Coulson. This also explains her lack of attitude, when talking with Bruce.

image

During her  scene with Bruce, her body language and speech are carefully crafted to appear as non-threatening as possible. She doesn’t want to provoke him. And when he tests her resolve, by pretending to get angry, she is very obviously rattled. You can see the fear in her eyes. She’s off her game. She has no idea how to handle him. She’s read about him, but doesn’t know what to say to him, if she makes him angry. Her first impulse, to pull her gun on him, is absolutely wrong, as he informs her. She  knows its the wrong move but its all she’s got. This is a situation she doesn’t know how to control.

Natasha has been trained to believe  that if she doesn’t control the situation, she won’t survive it.

At the midpoint of the film, her worst nightmare comes to pass. Bruce is changing into the Hulk right in front of her. She has to try to stop it, derail it…something. She’s got nothing. She knows if he becomes the Hulk he’ll kill anyone in his orbit.

He’ll kill her.

image

When he becomes the Hulk, she is so completely, thoroughly helpless.  She can’t reason with him. She can’t talk him down. She can’t tell the Hulk what he wants to hear. When he comes after her all she can do is run in terror, and the only thing that saves her, is Thor’s intervention.

This, from the woman who is used to being in situations, where the only person who can save her, is herself. This, from the woman who played The Trickster God, so masterfully, that she had him eating out of the palm of her hand.

This woman is a trained and professional liar. She said as much to Steve in Captain America The Winter Soldier. She told him that lying was a good way not to die and then offered to be whatever he wanted her to be. After all, that’s the purpose for which she was created.

Black Widow believes in maximizing her survivability.

All she had in her arsenal against The Hulk was running and even that was not enough to save her. You could see it in her face. She would’ve died if it hadn’t been for Thor.

I think she made a vow to never let that  situation happen again. I think you know where I’m going, with this line of reasoning.

A lot of words have been written about her role in the second Avengers movie and how the things she said were offensive to her, to women without children, women with children, whoever. How she is out of character and that its a degradation of her character to be angsty about mommy-hood. There were people who didn’t buy her relationship with Bruce because it came out of nowhere, they had bad chemistry, she betrayed him when she pushed him into being The Hulk later in the movie.

I disagree. I think her relationship with Bruce and the Hulk is entirely consistent with the character that’s been painted of her through every film she’s appeared in.

Natasha is a lying, manipulative liar. Its the first thing we know about her in Iron Man and it  is not a facet of her character that changes throughout  the subsequent films. The truest thing she ever uttered in any of the MU films is her conversation with Steve, in Captain America.

She needed to find a way to control the Hulk. She needed to never be in that situation of helplessness against that creature again. She figured out that Bruce and the Hulk are the same. They share the same emotions. If she can get Banner to love her, if she can get the Hulk to trust her, she need never be that powerless again. She can be whoever Bruce wants her to be. She can tell Banner whatever he wants to hear. I think she gambled that if she can control Banner she can control the Hulk. and she did. After she got Banner in her palm, she created her  Lullaby to control  the Hulk.

She played Banner almost as well as she played Loki.

Concerned about having kids. So am I. Concerned about being a monster. Well, what a coincidence. So am I. Think you’re not sexually desirable. I’d love to have sex with you!

image

She didn’t betray him, any more than she already was, when she kicked him down that hole. She was already betraying him, in every conversation she ever had with him, with every soft glance, smile, and offer of sex, she was getting what she wanted.

I was one of the few people that didn’t get worked up too much about that conversation. Especially after everyone kept mentioning how this personal history lesson and concern with family seemed to come from no and where, because I know Natasha is not a reliable narrator. For all we know, she was never sterilized. We only have her say so that it was forcibly done. Why is everyone so quick to believe Natasha’s version of events, when we’ve seen Natasha apply her skills of lying and deception in every film sh’es been in.

Did she love Bruce? I don’t know but in her conversation with Loki, she states that “love is for children”. According to Natasha she was never a child. Was she lying when she said that?

Natasha is a professional liar.

That’s just a good way not to die.

On The Left: Captain America and The Winter Soldier

In honor of the release of Age of Ultron, I wanted to discuss my impression of the Captain America films. I adore these films. There are so many layers, that they can be analyzed from almost any framework, but the point of view I’d like to discuss is a deeply emotional one.

The movies are about loss.  Most specifically the loss of those things that ground and anchor a person, in the world.

This movie could’ve just been called Captain America: The Lost and the Lonely

The Lonely

image

Steve Rogers, is a profoundly tragic and lonely character. It’s not like he can  just make friends with a person.  Are they friends him because of his famous name? How does he  relate to people when he’s  almost a hundred years culturally out of date? The only reason he becomes friends with Sam Wilson is because of Sam’s approach to him,( which is a masterclass in how to approach the wary and awkward nerd.) Because Steve is still very much that shy, awkward art student that Peggy, rather uncharitably, accused of not knowing how to talk to women.

Sam is a counselor at the VA, and has probably been through more than a little counseling himself. He knows that the only reason that someone is out jogging that early in the morning, every morning,  is not necessarily because they love exercise. Its  because that person has trouble sleeping. He knows this because it’s what he does, when he can’t sleep. But  he can’t just  ask Steve, directly. What he does, is hint, “I know you’re having trouble sleeping, but not because you’re under stress. Its because your bed is too soft. I can sympathize. I have that same problem.” He doesn’t approach Steve as a soldier. He approaches him as just another guy, which is important.

image

As a Super Soldier, Steve has got to be used to a certain amount of hero worship and/or challenging behavior from other men. There are always going to be guys who want to test their manhood against The Ultimate Soldier, so it must be exceptionally difficult to make friends. Spending all of one’s time around admirers or people who consider you a challenge, has got to be exhausting .(It also doesn’t help that he’s completely out of touch with modern Pop Culture, although he’s catching up. He’s got a list.)

Sam is also a caregiver. Its the reason he was in the military in the first place. He was a Para-Rescue, so he has that military background but without all the macho oneupmanship that can be prevalent in such environments. This is a man who knows and is comfortable with his worth and feels no need to challenge Steve to prove that worth.

What he does, is offer sympathy, compassion and empathy. “Hey, I know what it’s  like, because I’ve been there.” And since he knows something about Steve’s history, he asks how it must feel to be walking around, after what he’s been through, giving Steve an opportunity to open up to him, which Steve unhesitatingly does, (but not completely, because …men). I think Sam’s manner catches him off guard, after which he clams up, until the second time they meet, when Sam gets a glimpse into just how ungrounded Steve is.

Because Steve is a profoundly lonely and depressed man. Everyone he knew is dead. Everyone who knew him before he became a hero, is dead or incapacitated. The places he’d lived and things he’d done for fun, either don’t exist anymore or are just dusty relics in museums. No one alive knows who Steve Rogers is. No one, now alive, ever knew that person. The modern world only knows The (living, breathing, walking around) “Legend”. He is a man who is not grounded. He is just drifting.

Unanchored.

image

Steve Rogers doesn’t know who Steve Rogers is.

He floats  around the city during his off hours or  whenever he gets tired of exercising alone in the gym, which he has to because , who is he going to spar with? He goes to  the Smithsonian because it’s the only place he can see the face of his best friend or hear the voice of his first love. He tries to fill up all the empty hours, until his next assignment from Shield.He visits the VA, to chat with the only person he’s met and spoken to, outside of his job. He still doesn’t know how to talk to women. He has no memories leading up to now, no mementos or keepsakes from places he visited or people he knew. He has amassed none of the accumulated flotsam that takes up so much space in our lives and homes, like birthday gifts, cheap souvenirs from expensive trips and all of the many odds and ends that drift into various kitchen drawers, from a life he built. He went to sleep and when he woke up, everything was gone.

He’s almost as self-less as Bucky. The two of them are horribly diminished without each other.

image

One could argue, from watching the first movie, that he never had a chance to build a self, either.  That explains his answer to Sam, when he asks him what makes him happy. What does he want to do with his life? I don’t think Steve has ever thought about it, or ever developed Steve Rogers, beyond being honorable. Honor is all Steve seems to possess.

And who is going to be friends with someone so honorable that he can shame even the strongest personalities? He gets Fury to explain his motives just by being outraged. He  can shame Natasha with just three words, and get an entire fleet of heavily vetted, military personnel to mutiny, based solely on his say-so, (including that little Jewish IT guy who refused to follow Rumlow’s order to launch. I’m willing to bet that guy has never committed a more radical act in his entire life. But he’ll do it for The Captain.)

This is a man who can derail the the entire Winter Soldier program with one word.

“Bucky?”

The Lost

James Buchanan Barnes is a lost man and Steve is the one who lost him.

Bucky is the man on the left.

image

One of the nicest touches in this film, is the Russo Brothers attention to detail and not the just the details of their own film but the previous Captain America film,as well. In the first film, if you pay close attention, you will notice that Bucky Barnes is almost always framed as standing or seated to Steve’s left. From the first time we see the two of them together, to the last time we see Bucky alive, and Steve reaches for him with his left hand, Bucky’s always “on the left”.

image

This is also the first line of the second film and a recurring theme throughout. Every time Steve says it, it is to remind the viewer of what was lost.

I’m going to proffer a theory. I don’t believe it’s a radical concept, because it makes perfect sense to me, (but some people may have trouble wrapping their head around the idea), that Bucky became the Winter Soldier, the moment Zola began his experiments on him. The next 70 years was simply a continuation of what began in the first film. In the first film there’s a marked difference in body language, demeanor and attitude from the Bucky who is beating up loudmouths in an alley, to the Bucky that Steve rescues from Zolas lab. The Winter Soldier was always an element of Bucky’s personality, but since that element was used as a force for good, (protecting Steve), fans of the movie’s may not recognize it as such.

image

Did he know what had happened to him? Did he sense something different about himself other than the trauma of being tortured? It’s subtle, and most of it happens in the background, but if you watch carefully, there is a very real difference in his character, for the rest of the film. He’s quieter, colder, darker. That steely, focused, glint has already appeared, in his eyes. He starts the movie as an angel of light – halo and all. He’s Steve’s savior! At the beginning of the movie, we’re seeing him through Steve’s eyes, and we spend the rest of the movie watching the slow fall of this character, into the man we see in The Winter Soldier film

image

Bucky fell long before he fell.

Much has been written about the tragedy of this character and his infantilization in the second film, so I won’t go into that but  I do see someone who is being kept in a permanently lost and confused state, except when he is given a purpose, by his handlers.

Bucky is not a psychopath. He doesn’t have a split personality. I don’t even think he’s suffering from PTSD, at least not in the manner that much of the Internet seems to think he is. What’s been happening to him is memory suppression, not mind-wiping, as it becomes obvious, during the film, that none of his memories are gone. Since one’s memories make up such a huge part of a person’s identity, and his have been suppressed for so long, he has even less of a sense of self than Steve Rogers.

What I see, is the erasure of Steve Rogers from Bucky’s personality. In order to get Bucky to be their puppet, Hydra suppresses his memories of Steve and slots their organization into that place in his personality, where his memories of Steve  rightfully belong. They erase Steve and take his place and they have to keep doing this because Steve keeps pushing them out of that space.  They have to keep doing this, all the time, because those memories want to be free. Which is why, once he encounters Steve, in the flesh, up close and personal, Bucky is so easily derailed by the utterance of his own name.

image

Like Sam, Steve says all the correct things, at just the right times. He TELLS Bucky what his name is. He doesn’t say to Bucky, “I know you.” He says Bucky knows him. He tells him what he knows Bucky knows. He tells him what Bucky should know, and he keeps hammering that knowledge home, at every opportunity:

“YOU know me. YOU’RE my friend. YOUR name is James Buchanan Barnes.”

Not : “I know you. I’m your friend. My name is….”

Notice the difference?

The only use of “I” in their final conversation, is Steve telling Bucky what he’s going to do, which is NOT fight him. After his objective is reached, Steve stands down. In the flashback, we see Steve and Bucky in the same positions as their last position in their fight. Steve is below Bucky’s eyeline and Bucky’s arm is reaching out to him in  nearly the same position, when Steve says that important phrase.

And this fight is also notable because Steve was famous for never backing down from anybody, and regularly got his ass handed to him, when he was Pre -Captain Steve. I’d argue that he’d never raised a hand to Bucky in his life.

Imagine how stunned and horrified he must feel, to see that the man he’s been trying to kill and tried to kill him, is his brother. They’ve known each other since they were children. Bucky is his family in ways he can’t even express.

“Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky.”

I’ll argue that Bucky, pre-war could never have become the man he was without his love for Steve and it informed everything he became after he left Zolas lab. If it weren’t for his love for Steve, Hydra would have had a lot harder time bending him to their will. The leverage just wouldn’t have been there. Dr. Erskine        told Steve that his formula made a man more of what he already was. We learn what kind of man Steve was before Dr. Erskine, but what was Bucky before he met Zola?

At the start of this movie, Steve and Bucky have a huge hollow space, where the other should be and while Hydra tried and failed to fill that space in Bucky,

Steve’s is still on the left.

image

Things that make me smile:

Steve, picking up a garbage can lid, like a shield, in the first movie.

The opening scene of The Winter Soldier. Steve picking on Sam.

Sam saying “Hiya doin?'”  to Natasha. Natasha flirting back.

Steve calling Natasha “Nat”.

Steve jumping without a parachute. A callback to one of the Ultimate Avengers books.

Natasha saving both Steve’s and Sam’s lives in the car. She looks as if she’s just jumping into Steves lap but she simultaneously pulls Steve’s head out of the path of a shot and kicks Sam to the side, to avoid another. If you blink, you will miss it, as it all happens in about three seconds.

Bucky using his metal arm to memorable effect in the highway fight scenes.

The Winter Soldier’s uniform is a replica of one of the uniforms Bucky wore, in the first film.

Sam, quietly, with no fanfare, taking care of business on the bridge. The assassins seem to have forgotten all about him and he takes full advantage of that, taking out several of them. He walks into that fight with a knife and walks out of it with a gun.

image

The contrast between Natasha’s approach to combat and Steve’s approach, in the mall.  Natasha, suiting her position as a spy, relies primarily on stealth to get through confrontations. Steve’s more forward and direct approach is entirely in keeping with being a soldier.

Steve jumping out of the elevator and landing on his shield.

Steves frosty response of “Neighbor.”, to Sharon at Shield Headquarters.

It turns out that Steve’s neighbor is actually named Sharon Carter and she is the grandniece of Peggy Carter, Steves first love.

Steve managing somehow, to hunker his entire, 6 foot something body, behind that little shield.

Sam telling Rumlow to shut up.

Seeing Jenny Agutter again, throwing down and kicking ass in Shield headquarters, only to find out it’s actually Black Widow.

Sam’s sheer joy and skill at flying. He is awesome!

Fury’s pimp- strut,  back into the Shield offices, from his chopper. Fury thinks like a grand champion chess player, he’s got plans, within plans, within his contingency plans.

That little tech guy, who defied Rumlow’s order to launch, is one of the bravest men in the entire movie.

The phrase on Fury’s tombstone is that famous line from Pulp Fiction. “The path of the righteous man…” Ezekial  25:17

The use of Marvin Gay’s Trouble Man,  in the soundtrack. That song belongs to Nick Fury.

Here, enjoy this while you contemplate the end credits of this post!

This movie has two, (count ’em, TWO!) Black male heroes, in one movie. Those are so few and far between, that’ it’s notable when that happens.

ETA: Things that make me cry:

Steve joking about his loneliness, to Natasha, in the helicopter.

Bucky’s lost expression in the vault when he says he knows “that man on the bridge”. How he looks Pierce in the eye  and the look of defiance, on his face, as he complies with his “treatment”.

Bucky’s theme on the soundtrack, which consists of nothing more than a long, electric scream. It appears whenever he’s on screen. That is the primal scream of a mind that’s been impriosned for decades.

Steve’s stunned and vacant expression when he realizes who the Winter Soldier actually is. He is so shocked that he allows himself to be taken prisoner, by Hydra,  without a fight.

Steve has probably never hit Bucky in his life, and in their first fight he doesn’t know that’s him. But in their second fight, Steve has a mission to perform and warns Bucky he won’t let him stop him. And he doesn’t. He intentionally hurts Bucky, for what is probably the first time in his life, to save other lives. That had to hurt Steve, too.

Natasha’s  broken expression when she realizes Fury is dead. That is reciprocated later when we see Fury’s reaction, to Natasha being unconscious, after she electrocutes herself. The two of them have a profound bond of some kind.

Steve not having any answers to Sam’s questions when he visits him at the VA.