I watch a lot of movies. I love all kinds of movies, and I don’t discriminate based on genre. One of the genres that is oft maligned is Romantic Comedy. This is generally because it’s been reduced down to a formula of laziness and contempt. This is true of just about every single genre out there, of course, but there is a problem in this case. The problem is that when this particular genre is reduced, it becomes insulting in a hurry. Other genres become stupid, jokes, and otherwise terrible, but few get that insulting in that short of a time.
Of course, if there weren’t high points, then no one would like the genre. Gross Pointe Blank and Shaun of the Dead are two of my favorite movies of all time. As flawed as it is, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a good example of how to do the genre correctly. The common thread in each case is that the film spends time establishing not only the relationships in the film, but the characters themselves. It’s never a reduction for the sake of ease and simplicity.
It’s not like it’s a surprise or anything. The key to any film is investment, and the primary way to get investment is by establishing characters and relationships that matter to the viewer. It’s an obvious thing, but it’s so often misunderstood. Instead, movies attempt to shortcut the process with stereotypes, verbal or visual cues, and meta knowledge of the genre. This usually results in a shitty movie. Not always, but usually. This brings me to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
I want to talk for a bit about Black Widow, Cap, and Falcon. First, I feel like Markus and McFeely should tell the internet, “You’re welcome.” Seriously, that slash fic writes itself. Setting that aside for the moment, nay, forever, let’s examine why the three characters in this film are a big deal. Pro-tip, it has nothing to do with the fact that one is female and one is black. No, it’s because the character interactions are not what you normally see in a film of this genre. Instead, it has more in common with a spy or conspiracy film.
Luckily, this isn’t at odds with anything, because it’s not like comics only come in one flavor. The Dark Knight was a crime film with Batman. Thor: The Dark World is a buddy cop film. Iron Man Three is a film about trauma and coping. Each of these films is that type of film, but with a super hero. A spy film relies heavily on the relationships between characters and investment in their development. A betrayal can’t have impact if you don’t care about the people involved. You don’t feel catharsis when a character resolves a situation because it doesn’t matter to you.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier does this extremely well. It does the romantic comedy staple of the meet cute better than the majority of romantic comedies. The way in which Cap and Falcon meet each other is classic stuff. Both are engaged in an activity they enjoy, one out does the other, they banter, and then meet up a few times throughout the film. Sure, it’s not played for romance here, but there is a reason why the convention is so heavily used. When it works, it works like gangbusters. Here? Here it works. This is built upon by a very strong scene at the VA which solidifies a shared background and understanding, despite clearly coming from different times. When Cap calls upon him later in the movie, it’s a move that makes sense within the context of the film, both in story and in character arc. Who would Cap go to for help? Why, a soldier, of course.
I mentioned on another post that I felt this was the first movie in which someone understood how to use Black Widow. She’s not played bad ass chick or as femme fatale here. No, she’s an actual well-rounded character. She has a strong character arc that starts in a place of confidence and ends in a place of growth and uncertainty. Importantly, she’s not played as second fiddle to anyone. Yeah, Cap is still the star, but her wits, skills, and capabilities are on display several times, and she doesn’t hesitate to go after the villain. When she does so, it isn’t the decimation that so often occurs in other superhero stories. Yes, the Winter Soldier gets the better of her, but she gets her licks in, and she is somewhat crucial in the efforts of Cap in resolving that sequence.
As a brief aside, one of the reasons I like this movie so much is that it understand that action scenes are used to move the story forward. It’s something that is done so little in most American films right now. You see the pride and honor in the Batroc the Leaper fight. You see the full weight of the betrayal as Cap tries and escapes SHIELD HQ. You see the loyalty building. You see a lot, and each action scene is used to further the character arcs and stories. It’s something other Marvel films just haven’t done well. The banter and the characters are great, but action has often been for the sake of action. Worse, there are no stakes. Here, no matter the outcome, something is changing.
Back to the discussion of Black Widow. From the opening scenes of the movie, she banters with Cap. She is interested in his personal life, and trying to set him up with a date. Throughout the entire opening sequence, they discuss this back and forth while simultaneously stopping a terrorist plot. In fact, throughout the entire rest of the film, there is an ongoing dialogue about their personal lives, and we get to witness the two of them growing very close. In fact, it has all of the earmarks of a classic eventual hook up in a film. They start off as co-workers at odds, they have to do something physical in order to achieve something, and then have a scene in which the reveal their feelings to each other. The bathroom scene at Falcon’s is pretty classic. We also have the constant “you should go out with this other person” thing going on. However, this is all purely subtext without any overt addressing of the fact.
I’m sort of torn about this. First, I recognize just how good the writing and characterizations are here. I also recognize that strong platonic male-female relationships in media are rare. In fact, that is what annoyed me about the Harry Potter-Hermione retcon nonsense. Second, the whole Agent 13/Sharon Carter thing just really bothers me. It’s super damn creepy to me. The relative of the woman you were in love with? Yikes. I don’t know, it bothers me. She’s also played by Emily VanCamp, who has a nasty case of RBF, Resting Bitch Face. Third, I’m a sucker for happy ending and seeing the resolution of strong chemistry. In fact, I’m pretty sure why that whole Harry-Hermione thing came up. In the films, the chemistry between the two was much stronger than between Hermione-Ron.
It’s a rare thing when I am this invested in something like that in a film. Normally I don’t care, but this film managed to strike me in just the right way. Well played, Marvel.