‘Winter Soldier’ captains the fight against drones

Elizabeth Klingen/Staff

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Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is not a fan of drones.

Rarely is an action-movie sequel better than its predecessor, but “Winter Soldier” is definitively superior to its period-piece sister.

Whereas “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) dithered with Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) origin story, replete with World War II-era sets and costumes and a laughable villain, “Winter Soldier” plays to much more contemporary and relevant themes. The first installment of the “Captain America” franchise ends with a dazed and confused Steve Rogers waking up from a 66-year-long technology-induced frozen sleep to a modern world filled with trains, planes and Marvin Gaye. The sequel picks up with a conflicted Rogers questioning his role as a soldier in a modern military state.

The superhero genre is often reflective of the nation’s anxieties and sentiments over the prevailing concerns of the day, and “Winter Soldier” is no exception. The U.S. conversation questioning drones and the justifications for utilizing them in the past few years is brought front and center in this film.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division (SHIELD) introduces Rogers to “Project Insight,” a massive construction of three helicarriers that would allow the organization to eliminate targets silently and efficiently anywhere in the world. The project would anticipate potential threats or terrorists and dispose of them before they could cause harm. Rogers is immediately dubious. “Isn’t the crime supposed to come before the punishment?” he asks Fury.

Fury reels off a list of reasons the audience is all too familiar with — we are living in a more complicated world, security comes at a price and if you want freedom, you need to make compromises, etc. The most hardcore proponent of the project is Alexander Pierce, played by a dull and unengaging Robert Redford, who serves in the highest rungs of SHIELD’s leadership as a double agent for Hydra, the evil organization that intends to use drones for world domination. He turns out to be the true villain of the film, and hires the titular character, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), to assassinate Rogers and his comrades Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

If Project Insight is supposed to be drones on steroids, the filmmakers take a clear stance against them. What happens when this type of weaponry is drawn out to its logical ends is, according to the film’s storyline, genocide. Polling data from 2013 shows that a 65 percent of the U.S. public is supportive of the continued use of drone strikes. Meanwhile, the international community, most recently the United Nations, has strongly denounced the U.S. for its drone policy.

“Winter Soldier” presents only the U.S. perspective but sides with the international community’s sentiments. Captain America will do anything to defend freedom. In this case, it involves destroying Hydra and its drones. The conflict over the drones isn’t a nuanced one. As is the case with superhero films, there’s a clear line between good and evil, and Captain America is all that is good while drones and Hydra will result in the world’s demise. If anything, the film serves as a condemnation of the extreme development of drone technology.

In the meantime, the usual combination of witty banter and general ass-kicking from supporting characters prevails. The Black Widow, who typically only has a few scenes that involve looking sexy and then punching someone, is given a much larger role in this film. Johansson’s character shines and, in many instances, is far more entertaining than the serious and focused Rogers. The big takeaway from “Winter Soldier,” aside from the disapproval of the drones, is that the Black Widow deserves her own movie.

Somehow, Marvel’s greatest accomplishment with this film is capturing a major controversy in the U.S. political sphere. For freedom to stand, the U.S. military doesn’t need dubious drone technology — we just need Captain America and crew.

Contact Lynn Yu at [email protected].