Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a superb action flick, but it also does a commendable job of serving up scenes for even the most die-hard fans. After the jump, Kevin Garcia dissects the film's various secrets and subtle references to the broader Marvel Universe in an exhaustive review. Warning: Here be spoilers GALORE.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in the nationwide wide and if your theater was anything mine, every fifth person or so in the row was a hardcore comic geek jumping for joy at certain scenes. If you've seen the movie, AND ONLY IF YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE, here's a lowdown on the film. THERE BE SPOILERS HERE.
I'm not kidding, do not read this post unless you have actually seen the movie. Even if you don't plan on watching this film, DO NOT READ THIS POST. Seriously, if you put the effort into clicking a post on this film, you have more than enough interest to watch the film. Trust me, it's worth it.
To repeat: There are spoilers here, not just for plot twists or conversations, but for (mostly surprise) references to comics or other Marvel things in the film. My similar post on Thor: The Dark World could be read largely spoiler free (until the bottom), that is not the case here. For insight on Falcon, Rumlow and Batroc, see the post about Captain America: The Winter Soldier's first 10 minutes. (UPDATE: The three characters are now included at the bottom of this post. UPDATE 2: more stuff! UPDATE 3: questions addressed!)
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
So, about the Winter Soldier.
If you don't already know, and this isn't really a secret, the Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes.
In the comics, Barnes was not Cap's bigger and stronger childhood friend, he was a child who befriended Cap. Bucky's father was a veteran and military instructor who died during a random accident, leaving Bucky (and his almost never mentioned sister) without any surviving parents. Bucky lied about his age to enter the army, and since most at Camp Lehigh knew who Bucky's father was, they overlooked his age and let him hang on as the unofficial "camp mascot."
But that was just the cover story. In reality, teenage Bucky was a highly trained government operative who would finish the jobs Captain America was too nice to do. If Cap would not kill someone who needed killed, Bucky would do it - allowing Cap to maintain his squeaky-clean image.
Cap and Bucky disappeared following a battle with Baron Zemo, and as you know, Cap was discovered alive in the ice (thanks to his Super Soldier Serum) years later. Bucky was discovered by Soviet soldiers and rebuilt as part of a secret communist plan. Over the years, Bucky was brainwashed into believing he was just the Winter Soldier, to assassinate targets, always putting him back in cryofreeze after the job.
When Cap found out, he used a Cosmic Cube to cure Bucky, and although he operated under someone else's control, Bucky has still felt the need to make of for his sins ever since (even when he was Captain America for a while).
That's not to say that all Winter Soldier did was kill - a man's gotta love.
As Winter Soldier, Bucky loved Black Widow the Soviet spy. Although born in 1984 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Natasha Romanov was born in the 1930s in the Marvel Universe, was trained by Wolverine and served as a spy for decades before defecting to join the Avengers. When Bucky regained his memories, he maintained his love for Natasha, and they've resumed their decades-long love affair. As for how she's maintained her youth all these years? Clean living. Or maybe a Russian super-soldier program. One or the other.
In the comics and films, Black Widow's bracelets include her Stinger weapons, and in this film, she learns how it feels to sting herself.
Back to Camp Lehigh. This was where Cap, as Pvt. Rogers, basically played Gomer Pyle (before there was a Gomer Pyle), pretending to be a lovable idiot and a constant thorn in the side of Sgt. Duffy. In the MCU, Camp Lehigh was where Steve trained to be Captain America.
At the Camp, Cap and Black Widow run into Arnim Zola, amazingly "alive" after all these years. Widow even mentions that he was brought in as part of Operation: Paperclip, which was a very real thing that involved getting Nazi scientists into American jobs, and helped create NASA. In the comics, Zola worked for the Nazi's in WWII, but after his already frail body was injured in battle, he transferred his mind to a robot body. In fact, he keeps doing that every time he "dies." Usually the robot bodies have a large screen in the torso for his "face" and a little camera on top where his head should be. It's amazing how well they approximated this on screen. Maybe they can bring him back for an Agents of SHIELD episode sometime. Aside from just looking weird, the comic version is famous for creating some of Cap's weirdest enemies.
Amazingly, this movie happens concurrently with the last episode of Agents of SHIELD and will continue on to the next episode of Agents of SHIELD. This has never really been done before - even when Deep Space Nine and the Next Generation movies were out, they didn't crossover on the same week as the movie's release.
In the episode, "End of the Beginning," Agent Sitwell leaves to go to a mission on the Lemurian Star, and we learn in the movie that he was sent as a Hydra agent to make sure the mission succeeded. This is particularly interesting, as Sitwell of the comics is about the most squeaky-clean an agent of SHIELD can be. An interesting twist in the story. There will be more on the SHIELD crossovers as they develop.
Speaking of SHIELD, there were a lot of terms thrown around in this movie that either debuted or were explained in episodes of Agents of SHIELD - a great reward for those who've been watching it. Nick Fury is a Level 10 agent, Cap is Level 8, and the SHIELD pilot established that these levels of clearance determine how much, and even what, you are allowed to know. At Level 8, Cap might be cleared to learn Agent Coulson is alive but only if he requests that information. At another point, Rumlow says they need "the Asset," and in the SHIELD episode of the same name, we learn that "assets" are what SHIELD refers to as useful individuals, particularly those with powers or a unique utility.
Cap visits Peggy Carter at the nursing home. Movie fans remember her as Cap's love interest in the first film, and Blu-Ray fans remember her as the eponymous star of the Marvel One-Shot "Agent Carter" that appeared on the Iron Man 3 disc. Rumor has it, she might even get her own TV series - possibly a Cold War series with SHIELD in the age of Mad Men.
In the comics, Peggy was only briefly Cap's love interest in World War II, but they reconnected when he deiced in the modern age. Eventually she succumbed to Alzheimer's, something alluded to in the new movie.
On that note, the enigmatic Agent 13, or neighbor "Nurse" Sharon in the movie, is Peggy's niece Sharon Carter (although she was originally introduced as Peggy's "sister" in the comics). Like her aunt, Sharon is a secret agent to the core, and she's been Cap's long time on-again, off-again, dead-again, alive-again girlfriend in the comics. He almost married her recently (until he was thought dead, then she was, seemingly, dead... again).
Late in the movie we see an old face mask being removed. This is a direct reference to Agent R, Captain America's first girlfriend in the comics, Betsy Ross (aunt of the Hulk's wife). That is to say, his girlfriend in the comics printed in the 1940s. Later on this was changed so she was just Steve Rogers's friend, although she did date and eventually marry the third Captain America, Jeff Mace. She actually appeared in the first Cap movie as the old lady who let Steve Rogers into the building where he would take the Super Soldier Serum.
Maria Hill appeared in the Avengers and the SHIELD show, and in the comics she's the tough-as-nails SHIELD director who tries to take down Captain America when he's declared an enemy of the state (interestingly, this was not because he was framed, but because he conscientiously broke the law).
In the comics, the original Nick Fury was born in the nearly 100 years ago and served in World War II, and his son, Nick Fury Jr., eventually took his place as an agent of SHIELD. This film seems to confirm that Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury was born around the time the actor was, so it's possible his father was a soldier in WWII. Regardless, both film Nick Fury and original comic Nick Fury are paranoid - and for good reason. SHIELD has been taken over from the inside out so many times that Fury regularly goes off-grid to one of his many safehouses, often letting a few select individuals in on some of his secrets (but never all of them). He has also faked his death on numerous occasions, but usually using Life Model Decoys - robots so realistic that even his best friends would believe they are him when found "dead." LMDs were mentioned in the Avengers movie, but have yet to make their official cinematic appearance.
In the comics, Alexander Pierce was a trusted agent of Nick Fury for many years. His role is veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery different in the movie.
Senator Stern is Iron Man's least favorite politician (and that's saying a lot), and in this film we finally learn why he's so slimy.
In my theater, all the comic geeks jumped in their seats when Sitwell namedropped "Stephen Strange" as a potential threat to Hydra. Doctor Strange is, of course, the Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Universe. He is one of Marvel's heaviest of heavy hitters, using his magical powers as a member of the Defenders (soon to be on Netlfix) and the Avengers, training members of the X-Men, and just being an all-around go-to guy when it comes to getting stuff done. Supposedly Johnny Depp wants to play him, but honestly, they just need a serious actor to make the weirdness of his life make sense.
In the film's stinger, we are introduced to Baron Strucker, who in the comics was Nick Fury's greatest enemy in World War II and continued to run Hydra until the modern era, using his "Satan Claw" power glove to strike terror in his foes.
Strucker has his claws on Loki's staff in the film, and the implication here, is that the gem in the end is one of the six Infinity Gems (I'm guessing Mind). This would mean that we can now account for three of the six - the Tesseract (Space - confirmed), the Aether (Reality?) and the staff (Mind?). Presumably the next gem will show up in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
Strucker also has control over Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, or "the Twins" as he calls them. Quicksilver is Marvel's premiere speedster, and the Scarlet Witch is one of the most powerful natural born sorceresses in the Marvel Universe (so much so, that she once turned 99 percent of Earth's mutants into humans), but the big concern a lot of fans have is - how to handle the Magneto situation. Fox owns the rights to Magneto, and thus can use his kids in their X-Men movie, but Marvel owns the rights to long-term Avengers members Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. To put it bluntly, they don't have to. For the first decade or so of their existence as comic book characters, their parentage was not even an issue. And when it did come up, it was originally stated that their parents were WWII superheroes, it wasn't until a few years later that they learned they were Magneto's kids.
Introducing them as villainous pawns makes sense, as just about every version of their story has begun with them on the wrong side of the law. Just don't mention the Ultimate Universe version, okay?
... Okay then.
I'm going by memory here, so anything I missed, or anything you'd like me to address?
Now including Falcon, Batroc and Rumlow!
The first guy Cap talks to in the film is Sam Wilson, the Falcon. He's got a really convoluted origin in the comics, but suffice to say, Sam Wilson is a community activist who moonlights as a superhero. He started off as an experienced fighter with a mental connection to his pet bird Redwing, but he soon gained a flying harness (currently using hard-sound wings) and the ability to communicate with all birds (which means every pigeon in New York City can be his eyes and ears). Oh, and he's not a mutant. Redwing doesn't make it into the film, but he is a member of his own team, the Pet Avengers.
Cap's first mission in the flick is to take out a pirate operation by the mercenary Batroc. In the comics, Batroc the Leaper (or "Batroc ze Leapair" if you prefer) is contradictorily both the biggest joke among Cap's rogues gallery and one of the most skilled fighters Cap has ever fought.
For those wondering who Brock Rumlow is and why the filmmakers made a point of showing his scarred (but living) self being pulled out of the wreckage, he eventually becomes Crossbones. He's basically the Bane to Captain America's Batman (although technically Bane is Batman's Crossbones, since Crossbones appeared first). He even took credit (albeit briefly) for the assassination of Captain America (although the "killing" shot secretly came from someone else, and Cap did get better).
Forgot to mention, when Zola is bragging about Hydra's accomplishments, he shows a newspaper clipping of Howard Stark's death. In the comics, Howard and Maria Stark officially died in a car crash orchestrated by a subsidiary of Roxxon Oil (a company that has shown up in "A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Thor's Hammer," Iron Man 3, and Agents of SHIELD), but I guess Hydra claims responsibility in the movies. Of course, it's also been heavily implied that Howard Stark may have faked his death. Whatever the case, the car crash was seen as the impetus that caused Tony Stark to stop being such a playboy and start being an inventor, because he was told the accident had been caused by an engineering problem, and he worked to fix it, so no one else would have to die.
Crissmaster pointed us toward some screenshots of Hydra's targets, with interesting names like Maria Hill, Anthony Stark, President Mathew Ellis (the same one quoted as saying "Welcome back Cap" at the Smithsonian EDIT: and appeared in Iron Man 3), Lt. Marcus Bledsoe and Michael Lindon. The latter two names don't ring any immediate bells, but if anyone knows anything, chime in!
Winter Soldier co-creator Ed Brubaker (upon whose comics much of this film is based), appears as one of the Hydra agents messing with Winter Soldier's head!
My personal theory is that Tony Stark suggested he cross out Star Wars and watch Star Trek instead - Iron Man hates fantasy stories. Me? I like both Star universes.
Black Widow wears an arrow necklace throughout this movie. This may be (and probably is) a reference to Hawkeye. In the comics, Black Widow and Hawkeye have dated, but it doesn't usually last. (He's also dated Spider-Woman and Mockingbird, and all three women are good friends, and yes, they do gossip about him.)
Several people pointed out something I didn't notice: Redford's fridge includes a bottle of Newman's Own, a reference to his late, long-time acting partner.
Sitwell mentioned some valedictorian from Iowa, and there really isn't enough information yet to go on. This could be a random throw away line, a reference to an up-coming plot point in Agents of SHIELD or even hint at a future superhero for the MCU. True, a former partner of Captain America named Jack Monroe was born in Iowa, but with the Winter Soldier filling the same role he would, that seems unlikely. The next major candidate is Smasher, a new member of the Avengers in the comics. She is the granddaughter of golden age hero Captain Terror, although she was briefly hinted to be the granddaughter of British space captain Dan Dare (and she is from the home of another famous space captain).
People have asked who Peggy Carter's husband is. The movie did not say, and if you look carefully, you'll notice her family pictures are conspicuously missing a husband. As mentioned above, there's talk of an Agent Carter TV series, and it's likely the producers don't want to give away who her love interest will be. If I had to guess, I would think they would pair her up with Jeff Mace, the third Captain America (there have been many). He was Cap for the late 40s and married the female secret agent from Cap's origin.
The Infinity Gems began with just "the Emerald" which became the Soul-Jewel and then the Soul Gem and then one of six Soul Gems and then later they were given distinctly different purposes and all that jazz. I detailed a lot of this in my article on the topic, but you can also learn about it over at Comic Book Resources. Despite their colors being clearly stated in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, comics often show their colors getting palate-swapped.
The Power Gem has historically been used to grant great power, usually physical, often taking people from normal strength to beyond Hulk level strength.
While it's possible this could be what Malekith used when trying to change the fabric of the universe so that no light could exist, but it seems to me that changing the very laws of physics is more in the purview of the Reality Gem. True, Malekith did become stronger while using it, but Jane Foster did not. Instead she sent distortions of space around her for protection. Similarly, when it was first reaching out to Earth, the Aether caused the laws of physics to no longer be applicable.
How could the staff have the Mind Gem? For one, it was used by Loki to control the minds of others. For another, Strucker seems to imply it helped him with "the twins" (who might be his own) in some way, and looking at them, both seem extremely mentally unstable. Maybe he used the mind gem to unhinge their minds, giving them unfettered access to their powers (which they might normally have been scared of) and making them more malleable as weapons.