Captain America Versus the Intelligence-Industrial Complex

Steve Rogers fights the system 

A member of the greatest generation, a former Russian spy and a veteran of the War on Terror all decide to take down America’s corrupt intelligence apparatus.

That’s the plot of Captain America: Winter Soldier. It’s fantastic.

Warning—minor spoilers ahead.

Capt. Steve Rogers—played by Chris Evans—begins the movie as a weary soldier. The movie opens with a SHIELD black-op in the Indian ocean that pits Cap against an Algerian terrorist long-time Marvel comics fans will recognize.

Returning from the mission, Cap questions his work. He’s a soldier. He follows orders. But lately he feels like he’s just cleaning up after SHIELD, the shadowy and powerful pseudo-governmental organization at the center of the Marvel universe.

Cap’s questions lead him to a vast conspiracy within SHIELD itself. With a little help from Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Cap’ must sort the good guys from the bad guys. And kick the bad guys’ asses.

Winter Soldier has everything you want in a big-budget superhero movie. Nazi scientists. An epic conspiracy. Incredible action. Captain America hurls his shield, cracks skulls, flip-kicks terrorists.

Even better, Winter Soldier drops the morally forthright walking anachronism that is Steve Rogers into a very modern, ethically compromised world. America’s best intentions meet America’s darkest impulses in a kick-ass action flick.

Movies are society’s dreams and nightmares. At their best, they reflect our culture and offer us a little release from our anxieties.

Winter Soldier’s plot revolves around a bloated, corrupt intelligence operation, its goal to monitor the whole world with all-seeing gunships. The ships run an algorithm that sifts through the meta-data of everyone on the planet … then decides who lives and dies.

In the real world, drones deal death from above and security agencies spy on us via our video game consoles. Marvel’s fantasy isn’t far from reality.

Likewise, Captain America represents the best of us. He always does the right thing. He has the moral clarity to know who the enemies really are—and the strength to combat them. He chooses freedom over security.

Shadowy forces want to control us. In Captain America: Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers fights them and, because this is a movie, we know he’ll win.

It’s a nice fantasy.

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