Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Untangling Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I have so much to say about Captain America: Civil War, but I mentioned at Amarie's that while Civil War had attempted to do two movies at once the previous movie had attempted to do "like nine".

Not really nine, more like seven.  I've talked about it in passing multiple times, the ones I can link to offhand are a comment here and a comment at Amarie's.

Anyway, I've been thinking about doing post untangling the movie for a while, in the manner of of Disentangling Jurassic World where I separated out the various plots of Jurassic World and ended up with a seven movie sequence.

As with the Jurassic World post, this isn't me saying what the film makers should have done.  My opinion on that is simple: pick one movie that you want to make --one story you want to tell-- and put your effort into doing it right.

This is instead about the theoretical exercise of separating out the tangled ball of too-much-plot they tried to cram into a single movie and seeing what it would look like if each movie worth of plot were given an actual movie.

This is a table of contents, not what I'd actually call things:

* * *
1 Captain America: Agent of Shield [top]

When the movie starts we see Cap and Natasha go on a mission together where they already work as a great team in spite of being given different objectives and not being able to completely trust one another.

While the MCU might have problems with too much plot, or the wrong plot, or, "Oh my God, what the fuck is this?" it's actually very good at narrative parsimony.  Part of this is the quality of actors.  The the number emotions that Hiddleston is able to pack, with sincerity, into a couple of wordless seconds as Thor talks to him in Avengers was the subject to a youtube video that shows it in slow motion basically made the argument that every frame was packed with meaning.

While as far as I know no such videos have been made of Winter Soldier (though, in spite of knowing of no such thing, it would kind of surprise me if there aren't any) we get the same thing going on.

We also get it in choreography. Not on youtube but on tumblr, someone went frame by frame for a scene from the initial mission in Winter Soldier in which Steve, super soldier who can pick people up and run to safety with them no problem, bodily moves Natasha out of harm's way and, while they're in motion, Natasha shoots one of the bad guys.  First off, that's the sort of thing that only superheroes can pull off.  Second, that's the kind of thing that only superheroes who work really well together can pull off.

But the mission had cause for dissension and conflict and such, and we never really got to see Steve/Cap, the one who is new to being an agent of Shield, and Natasha/Black Widow, the one who's been doing this for a while, have a straight forward "fighting the good fight and stopping the bad guys" mission.

This movie would be just that.

Steve is settling into his role as someone working for Shield against threats the world doesn't know exist instead of working for the military against hyper-Nazis.

He's getting to know Sam Wilson (not Falcon, not in this movie) and Sharon Carter (but doesn't know she's an agent yet) while he and Natasha save the world from whatever.

That's enough for a movie.

* * *
2 Captain America: Project Insight [top]

This is basically what Captain America: The Winter Soldier was but they, for some reason, felt the need to shove in an attempted coup against Nick Fury, the computer-ghost of Zola, Hydra infiltration, Shield turning against itself, the Winter Soldier, every privacy concern about the internet given form and malevolence, the kitchen sink, and a few other things.

Take that extraneous shit out and just make the movie that it would have been without distractions.

Shield's Project Insight is designed to simultaneously destroy privacy and kill anyone who's a threat without any legal proceedings or hint of justice.

The other things can be dealt with elsewhere.  Shield (for whatever convoluted infiltrated by people that put their faith in a computer program designed by someone who was dead at the time reasons) has gone so far across the line that they can't even see the line anymore because it's over the horizon, and possibly possibly also across several major geological features like mountain ranges, oceans, and so forth.

Shield needs to be stopped before Insight goes live.  Steve, Natasha, and Sam (who is Falcon in this movie) face off against Shield.  This is basically the movie that we have once you cut out the distractions and focus on telling the one story and telling it right.

* * *
3 Shield: A question of Leadership [top]

The attempted coup against Nick Fury was an unnecessary distraction in the actual second Captain America movie, but it's a good plot to have in general.  It' action.  It's spy thriller.  It's fun and explosions with ... probably not Chiwetel Ejiofor, but nothing is perfect.

A rouge element within Shield is trying to take out Fury and this movie is about that.

At this point Steve and Natasha are probably jaded on Shield and Sam was never a part of it to begin with, but it shouldn't be that hard to recruit them.

Fury or Hill says this, pronouns as appropriate: They're not trying to kill me/him because I/he tried to launch Project Insight; they're trying to kill me/him because I/he failed.

We got a fair dose of this in the Winter Soldier, but it was mashed in with so much else that ... yeah.

A big question is whether Fury should fake his death here (and try to rule from the shadows) or whether it should be saved for later.

* * *
- Marvel: Hackers [top]

On watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier . . . well, this was a while ago.  I think that Lonespark was the one who said that she wanted to see Robert Redford from Sneakers stop Robert Redford from The Winter Soldier and I was the one who agreed.

So much of what was put into the movie was the sort of thing that cried out for the team from Sneakers, for computer wizes, for hackers, for people who live online, dream in code, and know all the flaws in Hollywood portrayals of hacking, and have a first edition copy of Neuromancer they got by illicitly rerouting a shipment of old paperbacks via hacking into UPS's servers.

So I'm just throwing this in there: Maria Hill forms a team of computer people and such with the task of finding out what was really behind the attempt to unseat Fury and violently change the leadership of Shield because their regular investigations are all hitting dead ends well before the trail should end.

They've stopped the people who actually did things, but not the ones who gave the orders.

The only thing that they've found out is that the whole thing seems to be somehow tied up in a thing that doesn't officially exist called the "Zola Algorithm".

The TV series runs alongside the the remaining movies and involves simultaneously investigating and opposing this unknown threat that seems to be everywhere and know everything.

At times it feels like their opponent has access to every piece of information that was ever electronically recorded by anyone or anything.  While they find plots to stop they're generally not able to piece things together into any kind of coherent larger picture.

Other than being targets of the shadowy bad guys, what do a a TV anchor in Cairo, the Under Secretary of Defense, a high school valedictorian in Iowa City, a scientist named Bruce Banner, and a (former?) surgeon named Stephen Strange have in common?

Also, they totally get hired by Hank Pym to clandestinely remove some vital components from the files of his old Ultron Project because letting anyone revive it, as one Mister Stark has been considering, would be a really bad idea.

Yeah, blatant foreshadowing that has nothing to do with what's actually suggested by Winter Soldier but, but a) movie seven is entirely based on needing to shoehorn some awesome in to make Avengers: Age of Ultron make sense, and b) it doesn't make sense to have Ant Man without his connection to Ultron.

Artistic liberties.

* * *
4 Captain America: The Winter Soldier [top]

Bucky finally gets a movie where his name actually belongs in the title.  While Hill's team is investigating via electronic means, Steve and Natasha are experiencing a real problem trying to do an investigation of their own: every time they seem to have a lead, the lead ends up dead.

It doesn't take long to realize that someone is killing the people who might be able to give them the information they want.  It takes a bit longer to realize that that person is the Winter Soldier, and longer still to realize that the Winter Soldier is Bucky.

The whole movie is about trying to stop/recover Bucky so that they can a) not have a mind controlled assassin out there and b) get some damned answers.

* * *
5 Hydra: Electronic Echos [top]

The team from the TV show has worked out that the Zola Algorithim, whatever it was/is, was developed by/at ----- which heroes are sent to investigate.

What they uncover is a standard evil science thing:
"Sir, we could get results just as good, without compromizing our morals and violating every human rights thing ever, if we used this method that would only take six weeks longer."
"THAT'S SIX WHOLE WEEKS!  Science will not be delayed.  Now prove your loyalty by doing an experiment that involves doing unethical things to unwilling human subjects."
Part of the difficulty, though, is that while they can find labs and shut them down (with the requisite fight scenes and explosions) they're unable to find the person in charge.

Eventually they realize that this is because the person in charge is Zola, who had his consciousness transferred to computer when his body was dying.  There is no physical person in charge to find.

Movie about bringing down Zola's network.  It's not quite Hydra because he was always more in it for the science that ignored ethics than any direct loyalty to Hydra.

The movie does let them realize that Hydra still exists, and they finally learn that Zola's algorithm is a computer program he made for Hydra.

* * *
6 Shield: Internecine [top]

With the revelation that they've been infiltrated by Hydra, Shield should, honestly, have more internal conflict than one scene in a control room while everything else is shunted into the spinoff series in such a way as to have Agent Coulson sell someone to someone else, so the someone else can torture the sold person for shits and giggles, in order to gain a modicum of improvement in political standing.

Seriously, why in FUCK would anyone consider doing such a thing?

Shield needs to be at war with itself and it shouldn't be quite as simple as Good Guys vs. Hydra because, remember, Shield itself (Hydra and non-Hydra alike), in the form of their upper echelons and everyone working directly on the project, was in support of Project Insight.  Some non-Hydra people would be thinking more or less what Fury had been thinking: things are spinning out of control and we need to get our hands dirtier if we want to protect people.  They'd align with the Hydra side of things and might not seriously believe all of the Hydra talk.

A paramilitary pseudo-intelligence semi-clandestine agency goes to war with itself when they have technology on a level that includes aircraft carriers that can fly.

That's enough to do an entire series of movies, TV shows, books, comics, video games, tie in merchandise, radio shows, plays, and so forth.  I'm suggesting that we cut it down to one movie containing the main action-movie-type points.

Though there's a political element too.  Covering that as well would probably be too much for one movie, though.

The movie ends with Shield, the whole thing, being shut down and the major players in the evil side (the ones who didn't go to ground) being arrested.  The good people find jobs elsewhere, Natasha testifies before congress.

This movie would heavily use Cap, Natasha, Sharon Carter, Sam, probably Clint (Hawkeye), definitely Maria Hill, Nick Fury who is operating from the shadows and pretending to be dead for all or most of this, and, um, people.  Evil Robert Redford would likely be involved.

This is the movie that ends with Steve and Sam going off to find Bucky.  They think the immediate problem has been dealt with, and they're ready to go off on that personal mission.

* * *
7 Maria Hill: Getting My Boat Back [top]

With Shield shut down at the end of the last movie the helicarrier is in limbo.

Meanwhile the people in the Marvel: Hackers TV show have found out that --since they proved what a threat they were by sending heroes after Zola which simultaneously let them learn what the fuck the Algorithm actually was and revealed that Hydra was still a thing thus instigating the collapse of Shield which had been the thing most able to conceal Hydra activities-- they can't operate anywhere for long without the algorithm locating their base and sending people after them.

Thus Hill decides that what they really need is a mobile base of operations that's invisible.

And so we have a heist movie about stealing the Shield helicarrier.

That's it.  Movies have been made about stealing things far less cool.

Yeah, this isn't really suggested by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it's kind of needed for the helicarrier showing up in Avengers: Age of Ultron to not be an asspull and it makes sense to fit in here since this is when it would be up for grabs and because it could serve as a base for Marvel: Hackers which was suggested, but lamentably not followed up on, by the movie.

Hill, the people from the TV show Marvel: Hackers and anyone else on a team Hill would hand pick, steal the coolest boat around which happens to be the only flying aircraft carrier on earth since the Project Insight ones were blown up in movie two.

* * *
8 Hydra: Open War [top]

Hydra returning could be a movie in itself separate and apart from Shield going to war with itself or any of the others and, in light of Age of Ultron, it kind of needs to be.

You see Age of Ultron begins with the Avengers already assembled and functioning as a well oiled machine.  This is a problem given the question posed at the end of the first Avengers movie:
Sir, how does it work now? They've gone their separate ways, some pretty extremely far. We get into a situation like this again, what happens then?
We need that answered.  They start Age of Ultron all back together and taking down the very last Hydra base.

So, given Age of Ultron it's vital that the "Hydra has returned, what do we do?" movie that was crammed into the actual Captain America: The Winter Soldier be done, and be done in a way that gives the answer: we assemble the Avengers.

It probably begins with Steve and Sam being called back by someone (Hill or Natasha) which annoys them because they were pretty sure they were getting pretty close to catching up with Bucky.  Then, as things go on, they end up calling on more and more of the Avengers.

Since they've likely noticed that Loki's scepter is one of the things that went missing from Sheild they'd call on Jane Foster and Erik Selvig for help which is how Thor would end up coming to earth for this mission.  That might also be what brings back Bruce and Tony since they set up a thing to find the scepter before.

Since Natasha and Clint would be involved almost by default, that could explain how everyone got together right there.

The movie can't end with them taking down the last Hydra base that contains the Scepter because that was in the beginning of Age of Ultron, but it could end with them completely breaking Hydra and someone commenting, "It's not quite over, we still don't have the scepter."

Maybe a line about how they're still having no luck on the electronic front because damn is the "Algorithm" powerful and capable of stopping their attempts to break Hydra's electronic network.  (This could even involve asides between Tony and Bruce about how if Zola could do it they ought to be able to do it thus continuing to foreshadow Ultron.)

* * *
9 Hackers: The Algorithm [top]

The team from the TV series have been making progress in the TV series and have been able to trace and isolate the key components of the Zola Algorithm which, honestly, isn't the best named thing.  Sure, algorithms exist to solve problems, but the problem of "Identifying, tracking, and eliminating threats to Hydra's interests" is such a complex and ill defined problem that what we're talking about is a really advanced AI and you don't use the term "algorithim" to describe that, but one could argue that it's a name and a person named "Melissa" probably isn't a honey bee and ... how did this sentence even begin?

Right.  Ok:

The team from the TV series have been making progress in the TV series and have been able to trace and isolate key components of the Zola Algorithm so that it can now be effectively stopped if we just have a big impressive movie.

Note that in the actual Captain America: The Winter Soldier the algorithm was never dealt with and thus it's presumably being used to hire hit people to kill of present and future heroes because doing things one at a time might be slower than Project Insight but it's better (for a Hydra version of "better") than nothing.

What's it been doing?
Jasper Sitwell:  Zola'a algorithm is a program for choosing Insight's targets.
Steve Rogers:   What targets?
Jasper Sitwell:  You! A TV anchor in Cairo, the Under Secretary of Defense, a high school valedictorian in Iowa City, Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, anyone who's a threat to HYDRA. Now, or in the future.
Steve Rogers:   In the future? How could it know?
Jasper Sitwell:  How could it not? The 21st century is a digital book. Zola told HYDRA how to read it. Your bank records, medical histories, voting patterns, emails, phone calls, your damn SAT scores! Zola's algorithm evaluates people's past to predict their future.
Steve Rogers:   And what then?
Jasper Sitwell:  Oh, my God. Pierce is gonna kill me.
Steve Rogers:   What then?
Jasper Sitwell:  Then the Insight helicarriers scratch people off the list. A few million at a time.
Anyway, it was set up in the actual movie, it's basically Sneakers with a more sinister bad guy than Ben Kingsley, and we should have gotten that movie.

The Algorithm is basically Ultron with clear goals, a lack of neuroses, no fixation on having a physical body, and no idiot ball.  A formidable foe indeed, especially since it would be able to come up with a plan better than, "I'll create a massive robot army all linked to my hive mind," since that's just begging to to lose.  The Algorithm, recall, was never detected, it was fallible humans who let the secret slip.  Unleashing robot hordes upon Sokovia is unsubtle, easy to detect, and the sort of thing that gets you destroyed in a way that involves explosions and Avengers.

This movie is about beating it.

This movie also sets up the battle shown in Avengers: Age of Ultron because without the Algorithm providing cover they can finally locate the last remaining Hydra stronghold.

* * *

With that we're finally done with the many and various movies that Captain America: The Winter Soldier tried to be.

The problem with the actual movie should be kind of clear: you can't do all of that in a single move and have it come out well.

The Shield Civil War was reduced to, basically, one scene.  Pre-Civil-War coup against Fury got, I think, three.  Zola's electronic ghost?  One scene.  The Algorithm?  It was mentioned in a small part of one scene and received all of three lines, you can see them above, I even included an extra fourth line because the conversation isn't done without it looping back around to Project Insight.  Working for Sheild?  One quick mission at the start as set up and it sours Steve on Shield in general.  The Winter Soldier of the title?  He didn't even need to be in the movie.  Take him out and replace him with generic assassin and the movie is almost entirely unchanged.  Dealing with the still extant Hydra?  Doesn't really come up except for a scene at the end where they're arrested without incident because it would totally be that easy (sarcasm, if you didn't catch it).  The fact that the movie cried out for a Sneakers-esque computer team?  Not even touched.

Looting the cool tech? Nowhere in there even though there ought to have been people diving into the Potomac to steal bits of the Insight helicarriers to begin their careers as heroes, villains, or just people who make impossible technology in their garage.


  1. I love this so much! Especially the Sneakers stuff, because Sneakers!

  2. There's a lot of shades of Person of Interest in here, but without the ugly shades of "It's only a problem if the people running it aren't the protagonists"

  3. "The attempted coup against Nick Fury was an unnecessary distraction in the actual second Captain America movie"

    I suspect that, from Marvel's point of view, it was a necessary distraction. If someone isn't usurping Fury's authority, then the responsibility for Project Insight rests entirely on its legitimate leadership and there's no way to elegantly avoid the conversation about whether SHIELD are actually a force for good that Marvel's been dodging almost the entire time the MCU has been up and running.

  4. ... probably not Chiwetel Ejiofor

    ...ok, but how incredibly freaking awesome could that be. It could be like all the amazing awesome black actors who ever want to be in Marvel but aren't involved in Black Panther. IDK exactly what role Ejiofor should have, but something like The Operative, a True Believer Gone Too Far or Gone Bad or Betrayed or whatever should work in this context, but in a Marvelicious way. He could have history with peopel like Coulson and Hill. He could be on any or many sides of the coup plot, etc...

    (Doctor Strange could and should have been Fun and Explosions with Chiwetel Ejiofor and I DO NOT FORGIVE IT that failure.)

  5. Also movie 9 is kinda...Facebook Got Some Guns. I mean usually I heard people joking about Google being Skynet, but Facebook reeaally wants to track us in real life and control what we can say and to whom...