Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield Cause and Effect, Part Two

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield
Cause and Effect, Part Two
            Agents of Shield has two more episodes to go before its season finale as of this blog post. The last few episodes have gained a lot of buzz among the nerdy types – more buzz than it had since before the first episode aired.
            All because of the events of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier that opened last month to good-to-great reviews.  Here is my blog about the movie:
            I was unaware of the events of the Captain America movie and was as stunned as the characters from Agents of Shield about its effect on the show. It was a complete game-changer. The show had to adjust accordingly and move into a completely different direction. I wonder when the producers were told. I wonder how the writers and other cast and staff reacted.
            I can’t recall any television program in which such a change to its very premise happened mid-season. A few Doctor Whos have changed Doctors mid-series, but the show was still about a time lord fighting bad guys. Characters move or change jobs at the beginning of a new season all the time; and Bob Hartley awoke in his apartment in Chicago after a long dream about running a New England motel; but that doesn’t count. What if Hawaii-Five-Oh decided to move the show to Seattle and they become private detectives? What if they followed George Clooney’s character when he left ER instead of staying with the … er … ER? What if the war REALLY ended in the middle of season one of Hogan’s Heroes (they had that hilarious show where they fooled the Nazis into thinking the war had ended, but you get my point)?
            Back to Agents of Shield; honestly, Hydra’s take-over was a good thing. Agents of Shield has finally achieved the glowing reviews most shows only dream of getting – including (except for the awe-inducing first episode) Agents of Shield. The reviews before that were fair at best; even from Marvel front-facers (that’s what we old folks used to call fanboys). Since Winter Soldier, the internet is lit up with gleeful fanboys, fangirls and professional gushing about the show. For example:
            The ratings are still in question – although it is #3 for the year with young adults and one of the top shows with men 18-49; overall it is not doing well – the last episode as of this writing came in fourth of six with its lowest ratings to date.
            Is all the hoopla too little, too late? One thinks if it were not for the Marvel connection the show would not have made it past Christmas. ABC has not (to date) announced the renewal of ANY of its shows.  Whether Agents of Shield will see a second season is up for grabs. And I can see arguments for both. Current events would make a canny place to finish the series. Then again, a group of loose-cannon-former-agents working outside of the law without a strong backing has worked in the past. As long as one of the Agents doesn’t grow a Mohawk and starts saying, “No way you getting’ me on no plane!” “Drink this, Fitz…”
            But I’m getting ahead of myself…
            When the new shows for the 2013 television season were announced – only two shows intrigued me. Among the shows glorifying gore-porn, bad singing and white trash were Sleepy Hollow and Agents of Shield. I thought I would enjoy Sleepy Hollow for the three weeks it would air before cancellation; but it ended up being a hit and was already renewed by October. I like it; didn’t love it. Its premise intrigued me but by the last show I was a bit lost in the huge back story it developed (I missed an episode, god help me).
            Agents of Shield started with a bang and lots of buzz in its first episode. Then the fans sat back down as their eyes started to glaze. The show was created as a spin-off of The Avengers movie. The shows main character is Phil Coulson – who Loki killed in the movie. Now he was feeling much better and assembled a team to help find and fight trouble through-out the world. Fans were ecstatic! Non-fans rolled their eyes.
            The producers made a wise choice – they DIDN’T appeal to the fans. Remember Enterprise? When it debuted the producers said if they came out as a straight Star Trek show only Star Trek fans would watch it. If they keep it quiet it will build up a larger base and by the time the non-fans realize their watching a Star Trek show it will be too late! Mwhah-hah-hah!  It worked, a little. It gained the fanboys as well as non-fans.
            Same with Agents of Shield. Didn’t work, though. Fanboys were alienated and non-fans still didn’t buy it. A cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and name-drops of our favorite Avengers didn’t help.
            But they weren’t BAD stories. I enjoyed Agents of Shield more than Sleep Hollow. I see the detractors point, though: by the Christmas break, the shows were suffering with a villain-of-the-week syndrome (being comic book-y that made sense to me…) OR we wallowed in a character’s dark, hidden past. Meh. The show tried to intrigue us with a secret organization determined to ferret out Shield’s secrets. It started as “The Centipede” but then we discover it was run by a mysterious super-villain called “The Clairvoyant”. I hate continued stories like that. I enjoy story progression; I’m old fashioned that way: give me a beginning, middle and an end, please. I usually don’t return to TV shows that provide no resolution. Soap operas are for afternoon TV viewers…
            The agents themselves were a pretty canny mix: Coulson – the fan favorite from Avengers, two typical brooding loners with deep, dark secrets, two young social-skill-less techies and a non-agent who starts out bad but we quickly find out has a heart of gold and joins the good guys.
            In an early episode, we call into question her (Skye’s) real loyalty (boy, would they come to visit THAT plotline again in the future); but she’s solidly in Shield’s corner.
            As were the others; although the two brooders (and Coulson) had pasts they didn’t discuss. Those were eventually revealed. Meh.
            Coulson’s secret was he was resurrected through alien technology.
            May’s secret was she suffers PTSD of a sort after killing an entire warehouse of bad guys (I think). She kept another secret revealed later.
            Ward’s deep, dark secret …
            And here where the fun begins.
            As discussed in my previous blog, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldierreveals that Hydra had infiltrated Shield since the beginning. The rot was so bad Shield was dissolved until Hydra could be put down once and for all.
            Who was good? Who was evil? A great scene in the movie shows agents of both stripes holding guns on one another in a control room. “You shoot him, I’ll shoot you.” “Oh yeah? I’m evil too! You shoot him and I’ll shoot YOU!”
            It reminded me of those great paranoia films from the 50s. Who is a body snatcher? Is your wife really your wife or a commie spy – er – alien?
            Bill Paxton had a recurring role as an agent on equal level to Coulson named John Garrett. He was once Ward’s commanding officer. Paxton played the role well – eschewing his usual method of acting-through-lethargy.  After Winter Soldier he reveals himself as Hydra. Ward and Coulson’s higher-up Agent Hand personally escort Garrett to lock-up.
            But wait! Ward kills Hand! He rescues his former boss and they join other Hydra minions to raid a Shield prison and weapons cache – releasing all the bad guys (including some villains from previous episodes). Hail Hydra!
            Ward returns to his buddies. Skye finds out about his Hydra-ness and tries to coax him back to the good guys based on their growing relationship.
            So all this time we are wondering – is Ward a triple agent? Is he really Shield pretending to be Hydra after being Hydra pretending to be Shield? He’s killed Shield agents, sure, but he’s also killed Hydra agents. He’s hurt his fellow co-stars but caused no real permanent damage. How will it go?
            Will his love for Skye change him back? “My mind says Hydra, but my heart and dick say Shield!”
            In the meantime, Coulson discovers May has been spying on him all along (her second deep dark secret much more interesting than her first deep dark secret) – to make sure his alien-aided resurrection had no quirky side-effects. She was working for Nick Fury. “Yeah right!” Coulson says. And for a time we weren’t sure where she stood. She may have even been Hydra; but that plot was laid to rest.
            It brings another interesting sub-plot in the show: knowledge of Fury being alive or dead. Agent Maria Hill from Winter Soldier appeared in this last episode. She tells Coulson that Fury is dead. Coulson was told Fury is alive. I watched Soldier to see if Maria Hill knew Fury was still alive and it was left unclear.
            The pause when Maria told Coulson Fury was dead was well done. Was he going to tell her? Did she know? Did she not know Coulson knew? We are still left wondering.
            We have two more episodes to go before the season (series?) finale. We will probably get plenty more surprises.
            The back and forth of who is Hydra and who is Shield may still surprise me. But there are times – especially trying to guess the outcome of Ward’s alliances – which I feel like Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bride. Which glass has the poison – yours or mine?
            We have two possibilities regardless – what will the show do if it continues to a second season and what if it ends next week?
            I vote for letting the show end this spring. Kill off Ward and Garrett and let the troupe go their separate ways. Everyone is happy where they end up except Coulson – doing security for Stark Industries or some such. Perhaps at the end Samuel L. Jackson will approach Coulson in the same way he did at the end of the various Marvel superhero movies over the past several years. “We’re getting the band back together…” A cliffhanger worthy of the Marvel movies.
            If it continues we are faced with, as I said, an A-Team-like show of people not-necessarily on the run but still fighting bad guys –whether or not that includes Garrett and Ward. I have a feeling that, even if done well, since Agents started off on the wrong foot in the ratings at inception, it will not carry over into a full second season. But then I thought Sleepy Hollowwould flop. And if Ward ends up being a bad guy after all, or even killed at the season finale – we have a dandy replacement in Agent Sitwell, Wade’s equal and another Garrett protégé.
            Unless he is a Hydra double-agent as well. Vizinni’s voice is in my head again: If he IS I fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”.  And even less well-known: “Never second guess the producers of a low-rated show when a billion dollar franchise is involved”.
            Hail Hydra.
Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});


Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield Cause and Effect, Part One

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Agents of Shield
Cause and Effect, Part One
            This little review contains lots of SPOILERS – not just for the movie but for the ABC television program Agents of Shield, which, since the release of Cap 2, has continued the story.
            But the movie has been out now for several weeks, and its events have rippled – more like ripped – through Agents of Shieldever since. So I’m not revealing anything you could not find out elsewhere. If you REALLY want to wait to know what is going to happen until you see the movie and TV show during your own time … frankly I think it is past your being able to do that by now. But go back to your sensory deprivation tank and you can come back and read this afterward.
            I enjoyed the first Captain Americamovie. I saw it when it came out on DVD and thought it similar to The Rocketeer – another World War II-based superhero movie. I mentioned that to my friend and fellow comic-book enthusiast Clyde and he told me they were both directed by the same man. This would explain why they both had the same hue. They would make a fun double-bill on a cold Saturday night with friends.
            The story is well-known in comicdom: weakling Steve Rogers wanted to fight for his country during WWII-the-Big-One, but was labeled forever 4F. He volunteered to take an injection of an experimental super-soldier formula. It worked: he grew ten inches and gained a hundred pounds of pure muscle. He also developed beyond-Olympic level strength, endurance and athletic (fighting) ability as well as supreme mental/tactical abilities. The inventor of the formula was killed by Nazi spies and the secret died with him.
            Captain Americaand his best friend Bucky (and an elite troop called the Howling Commandoes) fought the Axis Powers. Bucky died in a fall and Cap crashed in an experimental Nazi bomber in the Arctic.
            The bomber was found 70 years later. Cap’s super-soldier-infused metabolism left him alive but frozen. He was thawed and found himself in modern Manhattan. That’s where the first movie ended. A deleted scene from The Avengers shows Cap wanting to call his still-alive girlfriend Peggy Carter, but that was the only non-action character-development he had in that tremendous film. His character development in that movie was showing the audience his leadership and tactical abilities were enough to impress a Norse god and a narcissistic genius).
            Captain America 2 opens with Steve Rogers meeting Sam Wilson as they jog. Sam recommends a great Marvin Gaye song to help Rogerslearn about modern times. Steve adds it to his list – a very brief shot of the list reveals, for example, “Star Trek/Wars”. I only caught a few more: Steve Jobs/Apple, Thai food, disco, etc. This was the movies only nod to the “man out of time” aspect of Steve’s character. It had bigger plots to move …
            True to the Mighty Marvel Way there are co-stars from the Marvel Universe: Black Widow and Nick Fury are given more than cameos but less than equal roles to Cap – it’s his movie after all. Name drops abound: Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, even Stephen Strange – the yet-to-be-seen Dr. Strange!
            Cap, Black Widow and an elite Shield troop fly to a research ship hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean. The pirates are led by Batroc – one of Cap’s earlier and sillier villains. In the movie he was a terrorist and expert martial artist; enough to take on Cap one-on-one for several minutes. As with the recent spate of Marvel movies – Batroc was taken seriously – hee wuss meeseeing hees seelee cahstoom, narrow moostash-eh and out-ray-jee-uhs aksent!  
            During the battle, Black Widow was downloading files onto a flash drive. In a confrontation with her and later Nick Fury, Cap expresses his outrage at someone under his command having alternate orders of which he knew nothing. Nick explains compartmentalization – a concept alien to Cap. No one under his command should have alternative agendas other than the task at hand. That’s the (Captain) American way!
            And it was … in the 1940s. Times change.
            Nick Fury learns of something incoherent going on in the Shield hierarchy. So much so he sees his superior – played by Robert Redford – and asks him and the international Shield council to delay deployment of three helicarriers armed with the latest weaponry and technology. “You don’t want those things in the air if this is as bad as I think it is.”
            It is. Nick Fury is attacked by an unknown organized group of terrorists. He escapes to tell Cap what he knows (well, he gives Cap the flashdrive and warns him to trust no one) and is shot by the Winter Soldier. Cap gives chase but fails to catch him. Black Widow recognized the Soldier’s m.o. and tells us and Cap what she knows about this 70-year-old-Soviet assassin.
            Nick Fury dies of his wounds on the operating table while Cap, Black Widow and Maria Hill watch. We later learn he faked his death to allow him to ferret out who is infiltrating Shield.
            It is Hydra! Hydra was an eeeee-vil organization formed by the Red Skull in the first movie.  But it eeled it’s way into Shield and penetrated into it’s every level. Who is a good guy? Who is a bad guy? Cap and Black Widow high-tail it out of HQ with the bad guys armed to the teeth with Shield goodies!
            Through information on the flash-drive, they discover a hidden Shield/Hydra base in which hides Arnim Zola!
            Zola (who was also featured in the first movie) is one of comic-book-Captain-America’s stranger villains. His rendering in the comics is quintessential Jack Kirby – looking something like a malignant Teletubbie.  
            But in this movie Zola moved his mental essence into a bank of computers. He explains Hydra’s motives and how they manipulated their way into Shield. Anyone who could have (or did) discover their presence was eliminated – it is implied that Tony Stark’s father was killed for that reason.
            Anrim Zola created an algorithmic program that found the perfect recruits – family history, emotional and genetic outlook and attitudes are evaluated. To paraphrase a line in the movie: it uses your past to accurately predict your future. They pick recruits who will NOT say no to joining them.
            Hydra spent the next 70 years creating terror. I expected to see the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files in the montage. And now finally, America, nay, the world, is ready to embrace Hydra – happily giving up their freedom in exchange for safety. If you think the anal-cavity searches of the TSA in airports is bad … mwhah-hah-hah!!!
            Hydra will launch the three helicarriers, but will use Zola’s algorithmic program to find not bad guys, but good guys.  People genetically inclined to fight them. The helicarriers will take them out. Thousands at a time. Hydra will kill millions to “save” billions.
            Cap, Widow and Fury have a plan: switch around the hard drives of the carriers and their plan is forever foiled!
            Boy, is that a simplistic way of putting it!
            Cap and Widow are aided by their only friend – the only one they can trust: Sam Wilson (from the jogging scene, remember?). Sam digs out his old uniform – by the way, he wasn’t just a soldier, he had a flying suit! Enter the Falcon – who was Cap’s partner in the 1970s comic.
            This is all done better than it sounds, by the way.
            Meantime, the chief bad-guy is revealed (this isn’t ALL spoilers, you know) and the Winter Soldier attacks! Cap discovers the Soldier is … Bucky? How is that possible? How can Bucky still be Cap’s age unless … Zola!!!
            This leads to the climactic fight in Shield HQ and a helicarrier.
            The movie was comic-book fun with the action and effects on par with previous Disney/Marvel productions. If you liked the previous Thor, Iron Man and Avengers movies, you’ll like this one, too. The special effect and CGIare top-of-the-line.
            Characterization is lacking – except for Captain America’s outrage as to the assault on his black-and-white sense of good and justice in a grey world. But you take his side and in the end believe him – right is right, wrong is wrong.
            Still, the movie poses some interesting questions: if a terrorist is going to kidnap your family tomorrow and you could stop him today, would you? If you could stop him before he even formulates his plan? It goes back to the old question of would you kill Hitler’s parents?
            The small attempts of characterization are brief but well done. Widow niggles Cap about asking staff-members of Shield out on dates (the nurse-neighbor Widow frequently mentions ends up being Sharon Carter – Caps’ girlfriend in the comics … and when I say comics I mean the 1960s and 1970s, god knows what Sharon Carter is now; if she’s even in the current canon).
            Steve Rogers finally meeting up with Peggy Carter after 70 years was moving and sad.  I would have liked more of this, but in a movie of this type I knew it wasn’t possible. Ordinary People this isn’t, Redford’s presence aside…
            I came away from the movie enjoying it. If you are a huge fan of the Marvel movie/TV franchise, go see it (if you are huge fan you already have). Wait to see it on DVD otherwise, it’s a great popcorn movie.
            I may be alone in this criticism – and it’s not really a criticism – but I had one nagging problem with the movie.
            Calling Captain America 2’s subtitle “The Winter Soldier” was, to me, akin to subtitling Lord of the Rings with “A Trip to the Prancing Pony”. The titular villain of the movie was an incidental character. They played on his Bucky-ness: provided an origin, showed a bit of his mental anguish and sowed the seeds of his reformation – particularly at the end saving Cap and the now-mandatory after-credit tease.
            But for me the fall of Shield and the rise of Hydra were the focus of my attention; particularly because of the effect of this story-line on Agents of Shield.  I will discuss that in my next blog …
            To be continued!
Original Material Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});