The Greatest Conservative Films: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
“The price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
I’ve been focusing on superhero films a lot, in this series—and will continue to, for the foreseeable future. With good reason, too: As I’ve said often, ever since Christopher Nolan gave us the Dark Knight Trilogy, the genre has been the central bastion of Conservatism in Hollywood filmmaking—just as the Western was, in days of old.
Three films in particular stand as the quintessential examples of this—films where the Conservatism shines through so much, a politically tuned-in viewer on our side can’t help but light up inside, and maybe shed a few tears of joy. In chronological order, the first is The Dark Knight Rises, the second is Man of Steel…and the third—of course—is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Even those that don’t seem to consciously take our side on specific issues are, at the very least, Conservative-friendly. And let’s be honest, folks: You all just know that’s why, in an era where theater attendance is steadily declining…these movies prove the exception, and constantly dominate the box office. Even those studios and production companies consciously churning out Lefty propaganda trash can only do so because of the record profits brought in by movies like this.
Story of America, right there. The Left has always mooched off the revenues and productivity brought about by the economic policies and worth ethic of the Right. JFK’s tax cuts funded LBJ’s Great Society, for example. Were the nation to ever abandon any Conservatism, and Capitalism, everything would fall apart…even if the true believers of the Left refuse to realize that.
Such is America. Such is New York, and California. And such is Hollywood.
(Before I go on, SPOILER ALERT. And these spoilers are a doozy, especially if you’ve faithfully followed the MCU films that took place before this one….)
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
When I first saw this film, and a vital sequence played on the silver screen, a thought filled my mind, and wouldn’t leave for the rest of the movie: “Boy, Glenn Beck’s gonna love this movie!”
“I loved it,” Glenn said. “This should teach Hollywood… Here’s a movie that not only is good but tells a pro-American story. This one even has a political point to it. Even the director[s, the Russo Brothers, are] coming out and saying, ‘Yeah, [we’re] trying to make a point here that killing people with drones, with some committee or the president saying yeah, we can just kill those people because they’re a problem, spying on them, collecting their data is wrong.’ That’s what Captain America is about.
“…I’m telling you, there’s something happening. And it is strange bedfellows. It is coming together with people you think you disagree with, but you really don’t,” Glenn concluded. “Thanks, Hollywood. You have made up for Noah.”
“Strange bedfellows” indeed—you have Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford, famously verbal Lefties (thought Jackson’s notably great on guns); Scarlett Johansson, who’s rather…back-and-forth on exactly where she aligns on the political spectrum*; and, alas, Chris Evans himself, who’s recently felt the need to “speak out” against Trump.
And yet…they all came together and gave their all for this one.
SHIELD’s Noble Purpose:
I’m not about to lay out the full name—suffice it to say, as someone notes in the first episode of Agents Of SHIELD, “It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out ‘SHIELD’.”
And it was truly needed–founded by Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and the Howling Commandoes, in the aftermath of Capt. Steve Rogers’s apparent death, to be the superhero-supporting and supervillain-fighting agency defending America—and the world—from “a much weirder world”. And under the guidance of Nick Fury and (for a time) Phil Coulson, it oversaw The Avengers Initiative—bringing the known superheroes together.
And in the meantime, Fury’s black ops operations seem to parallel the sort of stuff we knew, loved, and supported in the Bush era.
This raises some concerns from Cap, who doesn’t really care for all the secrecy—let alone the surveillance policies. And this leads to a telling exchange between the two:
As was the case in real life, both the freedom-minded Libertarians and the security-minded Neo-Conservative are right—and a balance is needed. In the absence of that…there’s an opportunity for an enemy to take advantage. One way or another.
Just as Fury soon realizes someone might be siezing control of Project Insight.
The Cancer Of HYDRA:
When that balance and understanding wasn’t reached in the Bush era, we sadly took for granted that the Left wouldn’t be able to corrupt the PATRIOT Act and everything with it. Alas, under Obama…it did: expanding the surveillance state to target not terrorists, but dissidents—bullying the Tea Party, the Friends of Abe, etc.; using the IRS as a political tool; targeting even American citizens with drones.
This all happened in part because of how thoroughly the cancer of “Progressivism” had already corrupted American society, via the “long march through the institutions” of the Frankfurt School—the Cultural Marxists, working to destroy the principles of America from the inside, so society would willingly accept the increases in government power.
Lo and behold, in this film what do we have but HYDRA, reborn and reimagined as a massive global conspiracy? “Cut off one head” indeed. With Red Skull gone, Zola discarded the more overt “world conquest through force” plan—much as the Cultural Marxists discarded the “world revolution” method after the industrialized West rejected it en masse. Rather, he and his followers exchanged it for evolution—a “long march” through the institutions of the world.
And this is where Glenn Beck comes in: The Cloward-Piven model he educated us on, back in his days at Fox, the “Progressive” scheme to collapse the system from within, by seeding in fear and destabilization of society. “Top-down, bottom-up…inside-out.”
Appropriate that it’s the villain of the piece who notes to Cap, “Sometimes, to build a better world means tearing the old one down.”
The “New Patriotism”:
In his Farewell Address, Ronald Reagan noted that the restoration of American pride and optimism—of patriotism—under his watch “is good…but it won’t count for much, and it won’t last—unless it is grounded in thoughtfulness and reality.”
Cap comes to understand this—as he makes clear that everything has to start fresh. The infrastructure of SHIELD has to be taken down—all of it—to purge HYDRA, and strip the conspiracy of its power. Maybe SHIELD can be brought back, and “begin again”—but the old SHIELD has to die, to defeat HYDRA.
But of course, Cap and his team can’t do it alone. They need the help of all in SHIELD who still walk the straight and narrow. And so, he appeals to them all:
One can just see the Gipper smiling at Cap, saying, “All in all, not bad. Not bad at all.”
Meaningfully…Cap starts out the film in a dark suit—which he discards once he’s on the run. And when he suits up for the finale, it’s the old red, white, and blue from the first film—courtesy of the Smithsonian.
Sometimes, good old-fashioned Americana works best.
For Bonus Points:
Early on, Nick Fury talks about his grandfather needing to carry a gun—absolutely necessary, particularly in the segregation-era South. (Worth noting: Samuel L. Jackson himself has a very similar story about his own father—explaining his pro-gun stance. One wonders if Jackson contributed Fury’s speech, himself….)
Winter Soldier’s Red Star on his armor—and his fluency in Russian—serve as a stark reminder of his past as a KGB operative, simultaneously under the supervision of HYDRA.
That’s worth pointing out in itself: HYDRA—the stand-in for the Far Left, the Culture Marxists, the cancer of “Progressivism”—and the Soviet, Socialist, Communist KGB. Sharing a common goal, along with resources. Let that sink in….
Oh, and, um…there’s always this.
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
Let’s be perfectly honest, folks, and remember: Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was off to a rough start. The first two post-Avengers films, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, are counted among the weakest of the franchise—for different reasons. Iron Man 3 is pretty darn good and emotionally powerful…until a series of unfortunate “twists” and revelations about the villain that the MCU’s struggled desperately to “repair” ever since. As for Thor 2—well, it’s got a lot of great moments, and I seem to be one of the few who actually kinda likes Thor’s relationship with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. But as a film, it’s pretty forgettable.
Leave it to Captain America to put things back on track—and in a way that really changed the landscape of the MCU, setting the stage for quite a few plot threads, on both the big and the small screen.
In the meantime, what we have here is a pulse-pounding political thriller, filled with twists and turns…and revelations that change everything. And just like Cap, we’re unsure of just who we can trust.
Thrills And Chills:
As perfectly befits a conspiracy thriller, the moment in an elevator, as Cap wordlessly pieces together the situation of more and more agents surrounding him, is a delight in suspense—culminating in Steve’s perfect remark:
“Before we get started…does anyone want to get out?”
There’s also the attack on Fury in the streets of D.C. by a swarm of fake cops, leading to a car chase in traffic much more claustrophobic than we tend to see. The scene’s all the better for it.
Paranoia fills us over quick little moments—like a flash drive isn’t where it should be. And that paranoia leads to dread as Zola returns from the grave, to explain how things are far worse than we could have ever imagined.
This film is the darkest and most dramatic the MCU has ever been—ironically released just before “more fun” seemingly took hold as the Marvel mandate.
Chris Evans as Capt. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America:
All Steve Rogers’s idealism was preserved in that ice along with him—and despite his admitted struggles about the modern world, it remains intact throughout The Avengers.
Here, it’s put through the wringer, as he’s forced to accept just how shady and ambiguous things have become. Does he give in to the “shades of grey”, or does he preserve his sense of righteous moral clarity?
Chris Evans once again brings that naiveté-with-a-backbone, that “boy scout” nature reminding one of a certain Clark Kent—and with it, the sadness over an America that may have “moved beyond” those ideals. That’s all underlined by the fact that he’s now on the run—by the very people he was so sure he could trust.
Meanwhile, he also has to deal with an opponent who can go toe-to-toe with him. And as if that weren’t enough…
Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier, aka…:
In the comics, after Cap gets thawed out of the ice, The Winter Soldier became the big “soldier villain” for him, to borrow a phrase from Unbreakable—his “evil” counterpart, a super-soldier commissioned by the KGB. His mask ensured a constant aura of mystery about him…
Until that powerful, definitive moment in the comics—transcribed word-for-word for this film—when in a fight with Cap, the mask finally comes off:
“Who the h—l is ‘Bucky’?”
It’s Sgt. Bucky Barns, Steve’s best friend from World War II—back from the dead. And he’s completely brainwashed. He doesn’t remember a thing.
Or…does he? Is Steve’s old friend still in there, somewhere? And is there, possibly, any way to reach him?
As Steve processes this, it leads to a powerful climax. As everything explodes around them, Cap gives his all to reach Bucky—once more. With this, something snaps in the Winter Soldier—and it’s all he can do to run off, to get a handle on all this confusion. And it’s all Cap can do, when everything’s settled down, to set off to find him.
The second post-credits scene sees a plain-clothed Bucky visiting the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian—specifically, his own plaque.
To be continued.
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov, aka Black Widow:
Romanov was former KGB herself—trained to be a killing machine until Hawkeye and Fury (as established in The Avengers) helped her break through that programming, and redeem herself. The comics note she and Winter Soldier had been lovers. Here, she gives another story—not that it necessarily rules it out, thought it might be difficult considering the “suspended animation” thing with Bucky.
Anyway, as it turns out, she’s one of the precious few Steve actually can trust—“grey” as her methods may be. This turns out to be perfect balance—as Rogers can leave the “dirty work” to Romanov, including a darkly humorous interrogation scene.
Meanwhile, she keeps up a constant witty banter with Rogers that may or may not be flirtatious. Although she’s clearly nudging him towards asking out a certain pretty blond SHIELD agent named Sharon. And what we see of Sharon, she’s clearly open to the idea, herself….
Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon:
Cap’s other sidekick on this mission, fellow soldier Sam Wilson meets Steve on a morning jog through D.C.—and again, at a V.A. hospital where Wilson works. They share war stories, and compare how weird it feels, coping with peacetime. And they share a simple patriotism—a devotion to the ideals that make America, well, America.
Ladies and gentlemen, the next Avenger.
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury:
Fury’s cynicism and world-weariness comes through in that classic dry wit Sam Jackson excels at when he isn’t deliciously hamming it up. He does both well, of course—and it’s unfortunate the “ham” mode is everyone’s go-to image of him. Jackson does subtlety much better than people give him credit for—and his performance in this film proves it. There’s even a moment where he’s near tears, when Fury fears that Natasha is actually dead.
Here, Fury’s a man who’s seen it all—and if anyone could anticipate that something’s not right about the situation, it’s him. And that leads to fail-safes and backups that turn out to be absolutely vital in taking down the conspiracy. Even if it means taking down the SHIELD infrastructure with it.
“You need to keep both eyes open.”
Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce:
Ironic, isn’t it, how the star of Three Days Of The Condor (1975)—in which he was on the run from a conspiracy within the CIA—now plays an effective head of the big conspiracy within SHIELD, overseeing the efforts to find and take down Captain America.
There’s something crusty, grandfatherly, strong, and even noble about Pierce, which preserves the effectiveness of the surprise when his villainy is revealed. And nothing changes about his personality, there…which makes it all the more chilling.
Alas, it’s not as though Pierce is much more than the personification of the faceless villain of HYDRA. But he’s an effective one, nonetheless. Though he doesn’t command the screen, here, in the way Loki and Red Skull did (as he’s arguably not supposed to), Pierce serves his purpose.
Again, the “villain” here is more of a “what” than a “who”. As such, in this case, the MCU’s handling of villains serves a dramatic purpose.
Star-Crossed Lovers, Part Two:
It’s a wonderfully poignant scene, between Steve and his old love, Peggy Carter…now dying of old age. As they discuss how things have changed since they’d last seen each other, she notes how they can’t go back…and maybe it’s best to “start over”—inadvertently inspiring Steve’s ultimate solution to HYDRA’s infestation of SHIELD. And as she sheds happy tears over how Steve’s alive, after all…Steve can only say, “Well, I couldn’t leave my best girl behind. Not when she owes me a dance….”
With an unspoken acknowledgment that it isn’t to be, Steve finds he has to learn to do just that—start over. Not that finding a new best girl will be easy, right now….
Amid all the intensity, there are in fact moments of humor—just the right amount, at just the right moments.
Most prominently, there are some nice historical pop-cultural references that would please Quentin Tarantino—and I’m not just talking about that priceless inscription on Fury’s false gravestone. There’s Sam recommending Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack—which Steve promptly adds to his list of “quintessential” stuff to check out.
Incidentally, that quick shot of Steve’s list actually changes depending on what region of the world your DVD’s from.
There’s also Natasha’s Wargames joke, which Steve understands. For some reason, when I saw Winter Soldier in theaters, the audience recognized that reference more than they did the Pulp Fiction one. Figures….
To Be Continued:
At the end, Fury notes to Cap that “some rats didn’t go down with the ship”. The fight against HYDRA would become a major plot point for Agents Of SHIELD—along with Coulson and Co. rebuilding SHIELD from the ground up. This storyline serves as a backdoor lead-in to the opening of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, where our heroes launch an assault on Baron Von Strucker’s base of operations (introduced during the credits of Winter Soldier), dealing a crippling blow to HYDRA.
Another HYDRA leader serves as a major villain of Ant-Man. By the time of Civil War, the organization seems in shambles.
By The Way…
Batroc—the French mercenary Cap takes on in the beginning—is a famously bottom-tier villain in the comics. He’s actually awesome here—putting up a good fight against Cap.
And of course, SHIELD/HYDRA agent Rumlow is none other than recurring comic villain Crossbones. By the end, we see hints of his classic “look”.
It’s sad that Agent Stillwell—Coulson’s apparent sidekick in the Phase One short films—turns out to be HYDRA. But I suppose it’s necessary, to help convey exactly how pervasive the conspiracy is.
Speaking of Stillwell, when he rattles off a list of targets of HYDRA’s algorithm, one is Dr. Steven Strange. Some of you may know better than I who the others are.
The voice on speakers at the Captain America exhibit is Gary Sinise—Lt. Dan himself, and founding member of the Friends of Abe. And the night watchman, of course, is Stan Lee.
*(It’s pretty interesting, if you track ScarJo’s political involvement through the years. Rumors exist that she quietly supported W back in the day. In the 2012 DNC, she looked visibly…stiff, giving a quick speech, telling the youth of America, “I don’t care who you vote for, just vote!” Weird thing to say at a party convention…. Around the same time, she stood up for an Israeli company against the BDS movement. Later on, though, she started speaking favorably of Planned Parenthood—though, to be fair, so did Trump, last year. Of course, she’s “played” Ivanka Trump in SNL’s “Complicit” sketch. However…also on SNL, she starred in that priceless sketch where her talking dog sticks up for Trump and exposes the Lefties around him as the hypocrites they are—including on “my own body”! Confused? Something tells me ScarJo wants it that way.)
WHAT’S NOT ON THE LIST:
The Avengers (2012)—although, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give it a BIG shout-out as a quintessential example of how the superhero genre is beautifully and wonderfully Conservative-friendly.
For it’s a powerfully pro-Liberty film. Loki, Thor’s villainous brother, show up to announce that he intends to set humanity free…from Freedom. And in a powerful sequence when Loki, in Germany, proclaims how humanity is wired to be ruled…an old German—clearly old enough to remember a certain other tyrant in that country—stands up to him:
And of course, there’s that golden moment where Captain America notes to Black Widow, when the latter notes how Loki and Thor are “basically gods”:
“There’s only one God, ma’am. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”
Still, what keeps The Avengers from having its own entry on this list is, well…it’s pro-Liberty, but that’s about it. Loki’s a generic tyrant—an authoritarian—without any further ideology than that. So, I suppose the moments above are a good starting point for good political conversations with comic-book-film fans—as in, “Who today is saying that people just want the government to run their lives for them…?”—but alas, it’s just a tease. To call it a full-blown Conservative film would be a stretch.
Full disclosure: I actually named my Conservative talk show at USF, Avengers Of America, in honor of this film. For if our side ultimately can’t protect America from the destruction of the Far Left…you can be darn well sure we’ll avenge it.
Buy Captain America: The Winter Soldier here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
THE SERIES SO FAR:
Rio Bravo (1959)
Man of Steel (2013)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fight Club (1999)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Magnum Force (1973)
The Enforcer (1976)
Bridge Of Spies (2015)
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know!
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
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