CA Winter Soldier

We break down what the references packed into Captain America 2 might mean for the future. It goes without saying that there are MAJOR SPOILERS galore.

Again, SPOILER WARNING: I am not kidding around here. This article is going to give away very big plot details that are best experienced first while you watch the film. If you haven’t seen the movie, turn away now. Seriously, this is your last chance. The HMS Spoiler is launching now.

Let’s talk about Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The film’s events are earth-shattering for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In it, we learn that HYDRA, thought destroyed along with the Red Skull at the end of World War II, had actually infiltrated SHIELD from its very inception, growing in strength over seven decades until it came to control the organization, its elite fighting units, and even elected officials. Over the decades spent gathering its power, HYDRA managed to engineer much of the MCU’s post-WWII era’s conflicts, often with the help of a shadowy assassin known as The Winter Soldier. (Who turns out to be Steve Rogers’ childhood friend Bucky Barnes, saved thanks to experiments performed on him while in captivity during the events of Captain America: The First Avenger.) Brainwashed and kept in cryostasis for years at a time until he’s needed, Bucky is a cybernetic killing machine with little to no recollection of his former life.

HYDRA/SHIELD’s ultimate goal is to create so much chaos and uncertainty that a terrified global populace will willingly accept iron-fisted dictatorial rule in exchange for safety. In implementing this plan, HYDRA/SHIELD attempts to murder Nick Fury, Black Widow and Captain America, leading the three to uncover the conspiracy and ultimately shut it down. SHIELD is subsequently disbanded and all of its secrets released on the Internet. As the film ends, Nick Fury, still officially dead, has gone underground to fight the remnants of HYDRA in Europe, Black Widow is laying low with a new (unspecified) identity, and Steve Rogers, with new BFF Falcon in tow, leave on their own to try and find The Winter Soldier and, if possible, save him from himself.

So, yeah, crazy stuff.

Officially, that’s all we know, at least until The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out next year. Fortunately, in addition to being a really good movie, The Winter Soldier comes with a surprising number of Easter eggs, and they do more than simply deliver sugary bits of shout-outs to longtime fans. They also offer fairly strong clues about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Here’s everything we noticed, and why (we think) they might be significant.

General shout-outs

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We’ll begin with the random gags thrown into the film to make people snicker, and there’s no better starting point than Steve Rogers’ to-do list, seen early in the film, which Marvel tailored to local audiences worldwide (like the version seen here, shown to UK moviegoers). The list has a nice call-back later in the film, when Black Widow, attempting to hack into a truly ancient computer, quips “would you like to play a game?”. She starts to explain the joke to Captain America, but he stops her with “I’ve seen it.”

The film’s main villain, Alexander Pierce, is a truly monstrous person, but in keeping with his apparent friendly fascist views, he also seems to care about at least looking like he gives a damn about charity. Thus he has a bottle of Newman’s Own dressing in his fridge. Obviously, Robert Redford, who plays Pierce, was a lifelong friend of actor Paul Newman. Which makes this both hilarious and also kind of sad, since we now have to remember that Newman died several years ago.

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Finally, in what is one of the oddest and definitely the most hilarious Easter eggs, near the end of The Winter Soldier, we finally see Nick Fury’s (fake) gravestone. The camera lingers just long enough to show off that it bears the inscription “The path of the righteous man – Ezekial 25:17”. Apparently, Nick Fury has seen Pulp Fiction and noticed how much Samuel L. Jackson looks just like him.

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Shout outs to the larger MCU

One of the great pleasures of seeing the Marvel Cinematic Universe build over the last six years is the way Marvel has bucked conventional wisdom by aggressively tying each film together. Each movie stands on its own (with the exception of The Avengers, of course), but they all rely fairly heavily on shared mythology. It’s an ambitious project, and The Winter Soldier has perhaps the most links back to previous films.

After spending most of the film presumed-dead, we learn that Nick Fury faked his own death using an experimental serum that slows his heart down to one beat per minute. The serum, Fury reveals, was developed by Bruce Banner to help him with his hulking out problem. It didn’t work on Banner, but The Avengers shows that Banner had finally managed to gain a measure of control over his hulking out, so NBD, right?

For obvious reasons*, Tony Stark gets a ton of references. The fleet of helicarriers SHIELD (HYDRA) intends to roll out as part of its global security system have replaced the giant turbines seen in The Avengers with Stark Industries-built “repulsor” technology. Later, Alexander Pierce asks Nick to arrange an appearance by Iron Man at his granddaughter’s birthday party. And in the end, once SHIELD has been disbanded, Agent Maria Hill even goes to work for Stark Industries. More on that in a moment.

It also turns out that some of the events that have defined the Iron Man series were actually connected to the conspiracy behind the events of The Winter Soldier. Midway through we find out that Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), last seen in Captain America: The First Avenger being blackmailed by Tommy Lee Jones into betraying Red Skull, is still alive as a digital construct. When his body died in the early 70s, he transferred his consciousness into a computer system housed in a secret HYDRA/SHIELD warehouse.

Brought back to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip, he became instrumental not only in the founding of SHIELD, but in reconstituting HYDRA as a third column within it. As a living computer program, he has devoted his energies to creating an algorithm that can detect threats before they can occur, which in this case means “anyone who can harm HYDRA”. And, as it turns out, the random car accident that killed Tony’s father and mother was actually an assassination.

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The most satisfying callback comes courtesy of Gary Shandling’s Senator Stern, last seen in Iron Man 2 demanding that Tony Stark turn over the Iron Man technology to the government. In The Winter Soldier, it’s revealed that he’s actually a HYDRA mole. (He’s arrested at the end of the movie.) This not only makes for some nice continuity between the films (not to mention gives us more Gary Shandling), it also takes some of the sting out of Tony Stark’s dickish behavior in Iron Man 2.

Finally, and I only mention it because I’ll be excoriated if I don’t, Black Widow wears an arrow pendant on her necklace. I don’t know if this is supposed to indicate a relationship between her and Hawkeye – it could just be a cool look – but given the implied connection between Black Widow and Hawkeye, it is at least a significant character establishing detail.

*Namely that Iron Man launched the MCU and also, it never hurts to say “Hey, remember Robert Downey, Jr.?”

Click on and see how The Winter Soldier’s Easter eggs might give us clues about what to expect in future MCU films…

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The future of the Marvel Cinematic universe.

So, what can we expect to see in Captain America 3, and the MCU as a whole? A lot, judging from the Easter eggs that speak to the future.

First, the film takes great pains to prominently feature Agent 13. First introduced in disguise as a young nurse living in Steve Rogers’ apartment building, she turns out to have been assigned by Nick Fury to act as protection for Steve when he’s at home. Later, she’s seen taking part in the SHIELD uprising against HYDRA, and by film’s end has joined the CIA after SHIELD’s dismantlement. She only appears in three scenes and has very little dialogue, and yet she even got her own one-sheet. That’s a lot of hype for such a small character.

Agent 13’s name is Sharon Carter, and in the comics she’s the niece of Peggy Carter, Cap’s WWII love interest. She eventually becomes Cap’s on again/off again girlfriend (and is tragically connected to his death – more shortly). Yes, Cap dated a younger relative of his first girlfriend. But we won’t judge. We will, however, feel pretty confident that she’ll be back for Captain America 3.

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When Brock Rumlow was revealed as a character in The Winter soldier, the fact that in the comics he’s the longstanding villain Crossbones gave away that he’d have a villainous role here, too. Given the more grounded tone that TWS has (for the most part), it was easy to assume that, similar to the presentation of Batroc the Leaper during the film’s first action sequence, he’d simply be a more real-feeling take on the character. However, the SHIELD agent and HYDRA mole is shown to survive the film with heavy burn scars, which means we might be seeing him make an appearance as Crossbones next time out.

The significance of this is that Crossbones is the man who killed Steve Rogers during the 2008 “Death of Captain America” comic book story arc. After his death (don’t worry, he gets better thanks to some space/time weirdness), Cap was replaced by, wait for it, Bucky Barnes. Chris Evans has already said he plans to largely retire from acting once his Marvel contract is up (assuming Marvel doesn’t lock him down for more films.) Ending Captain America 3 with the death of Steve Rogers, and his now-reformed friend Bucky picking up his mantle, would be a nice conclusion to his story.

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It’s revealed mid-way through The Winter Soldier (by Agent Sitwell, who also turns out to be a HYDRA mole), that among the people HYDRA considers threats to its interests is Steven Strange, AKA Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme and candidate for weirdest mainstream Marvel character. We already know Marvel is planning a Dr. Strange movie, and now we have an idea of how they’ll tie him into the larger MCU. I won’t be shocked if we see NIck Fury track him down as part of his investigation into the remnants of HYDRA. (And yes, I now fully expect Strange to show up in the stinger for Avengers 2.)

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This is a small thing, but cool nonetheless. In a blink and you’ll miss it moment late in the film, when HYDRA helicarriers are targeting millions of potential enemies for extermination, we see Stark Tower has clearly been renamed Avengers Tower. Assume then that with SHIELD out of the picture, the Avengers will, at least, continue without having to hide. Since the group’s public face is one of the world’s richest military contractors, that makes sense, of course.

But speaking of that scene, it’s packed with references, most of them happening so fast we’ll need to pause when TWS is released to home video. But we clearly see the Baxter Building (home of the Fantastic Four) listed as a target of HYDRA’s weaponry. Obviously, so long as Marvel/Disney do not have the rights to the Fantastic Four, they’ll never appear in the MCU, but we do know that there were plans to throw Oscorp Tower, from The Amazing Spider-Man, into the New York skyline of The Avengers. It would seem that we might be able to expect such shout outs to actually happen next time out.

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Finally, like almost all Marvel films this one has two stingers, one that that sets things up for a future movie, and another that caps the emotional tone of the film. The latter has Bucky sneaking into the Smithsonian Museum to check out the Captain America exhibit, presumably as part of his quest to find out who he used to be. One more hint that his ultimate fate will be redemption rather than death.

The former gives us our first look at Baron von Strucker, the secondary villain we’ll see causing trouble at the beginning of Avengers 2. Here, he is revealed as yet another HYDRA man hiding within SHIELD, though clearly uninterested in pretending he isn’t an evil genius. His plan is to split off entirely and hide out, feeding information about other HYDRA cells (it’s implied there are a lot of them) to “Captain America and his colorful friends” in order to keep the heat off of whatever his evil plans are. He’s also in possession of three very important weapons: Loki’s magical mind control scepter, and the twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.

What’s interesting about this scene is his comment that “It’s not a world of spies anymore. It’s not even a world of heroes. This is the age of miracles, doctor. There’s nothing more horrifying than a miracle.”. It’s widely speculated that he’s using Loki’s scepter to control the twins, but whatever his reasons for having it, he seems to indicate a shift in direction for the MCU. With the exception of Thor, who is still largely treated as a Clarke’s Third Law-compliant alien, the heroes and villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are largely the products of science fiction science. In the comics, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are mutants, and while Marvel is contractually unable to use the term mutant, thanks to not having the rights to the X-Men, there’s nothing stopping them from introducing characters who have powers by birth. Considering we’re also getting into outright magic with Dr. Strange, it looks like we can expect far weirder things to come.

Hooray for that.

See anything we missed? Sound off in comments.

Related content:

MovieBob’s review of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier (Spoiler: He liked it.)

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