Captain America: The Winter Soldier is reviewed by John Podhoretz in the Weekly Standard:
Captain America, newly freed from the block of ice in which he has been frozen since the end of the war, must now deal with his failure to rid the world of the Nazi threat. As one character asks him, “How does it feel to know you died for nothing?”
That’s quite an interesting message for a superhero movie. Since coming into existence as a genre of its own with Superman in 1978, the comic-book movie has served as the successor to the classic Western—a moral pageant in which a classic white-hatted hero faces off against a black-hatted villain who has upset the moral order. The white hat sets things right and then rides off to do more good deeds.
In the late 1940s, after a generation in which more westerns were made than any other kind of movie in Hollywood by a factor of two, directors and writers began to tire of the formula and looked to broaden it. They made villains out of characters who would have once been heroes, like Henry Fonda’s martinet officer in Fort Apache (1948). And they made heroes out of former villains, like the Indian warrior Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950).
The superhero movie is Hollywood’s dominant fare. And now its makers—in this case, the gentlemen behind Marvel Studios, the Disney-owned behemoth—have had enough, in the same way that John Ford and Howard Hawks and other western-makers had had enough by the late 1940s. Those men incorporated liberal themes like tolerance and a more complex view of the uses of violence. In keeping with the more radical tenor of our times, Marvel Studios has bypassed that kind of mushy liberalism and gone straight to far-left radicalism.
Meanwhile at National Review, Armond White notes that the film’s title isn’t likely a coincidence, given that “in today’s Hollywood the idea of an honest, uncomplicated fighting soldier is more foreign than a Prius:”
This fact makes the latest installment of Marvel’s Captain America franchise oddly insincere and unconvincing. It vitiates that sometimes disingenuous phrase “I support the troops.” Instead, the film’s subtitle recalls the 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, in which Vietnam veterans repented their battlefield violence. Such disillusionment now infects even a comic-book franchise, so that the Captain America idea stops short of nationalist fervor. As Rogers takes his daily superhuman run around the basin of Washington, D.C., he introduces himself to another morning runner (and us) with the repeated look-out phrase “On your left . . .” Not a coincidence.
Through modish reinvention, Captain America — a dated, sanctimonious brawler-innocent — represents the undeniable fantasy of a particular political perspective. Leaning to the left, he prevails over internal threats to U.S. security (in the form of a neo-Nazi underground called Hydra, whose members include a senator and a State Department honcho played by Robert Redford). Yet the motivation for his intrepidness isn’t deep; it lacks a certain conviction. The fanboy audience (including adults), which has more dedication to the comic-book genre than to the Selective Service, may cheer him on with hollow enthusiasm while falling for Hollywood’s imaginary patriotism. Ignoring the complexities of realpolitik, moviegoers respond to formulaic CGI action scenes as if saluting the flag.
Whenever I hear the words “Winter Soldier,” I immediately think of the 2004-era Website that illustrated the radical timeline of John Kerry in the 1970s; and to add to the ’70s paranoia atmosphere of the film, Robert Redford, matinee idol turned star of such paranoid ’70s potboilers such as Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men has a supporting role.
Which also reflects Podhoretz’s take that the superhero movie has become “Hollywood’s dominant fare” in much the same way that westerns were in the 1940s and ’50s. Marvel gets a name that adds cache on the film poster; Redford gets a pop culture boost in the wintery twilight of his own career. It’s a well-timed one to boot, after The Company You Keep, his disastrous brush with radical chic last year, which in the same sort of macabre synchronicity that Bill Ayers could appreciate, promoted the Pentagon-bombing Weathermen just in time to coincide with the Boston Marathon bombing Tsarnaev brothers.
By the way, the question asked of the Captain regarding his service in World War II, “How does it feel to know you died for nothing?” also seems like yet another attempt by Hollywood to reduce World War II down to meaningless nihilism.
Which seems a particularly odd and depressing turn for the Hollywood superhero genre.