As a lifelong comics fan, I do highly recommend that just about any fan of thoughtful actions movies (a rarity to be sure) should get up right now and go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
But also there is a second reason to see it.
This film, to it's credit, begins with the premise that is essentially - "What if we Build the Perfect National Security Beast, and the first thing it does is Turn On Us?"
Far from being an idle or even fanciful question, this may indeed be one of the defining questions of modern times, as we look out behind us at the moral desolation left behind by the previous administrations abuse of the privilege and responsibility of "National Security" to implement Illegal Surveillance, Rendition/Kidnapping, Detention, Torture and ultimately Murder. Even with the promise by the current Administration that we had turned to page on all of these moral catastrophes, it appears - from the Snowden Leaks to the ongoing Secret Drone War of Signature Strikes against unnamed and unknown targets - that that we have not.
Warning: Yonder be Spoilers.
This is not a review. Plenty of people have offered reviews, but I want to discuss what the flim means - or perhaps what it <>should mean when viewed through the proper contemporary political lens as inspired by real events, and real debates that have been going on for the last decade or more.
America has long had a Love Affair with Ass-Kickertm Movies. We do love it when the rough, tough good guy out fights and outwits the shady, swarthy, somewhat foreign-ish, not-exactly-savory, clearly-not-bright bad guy. It's built into the American Zeitgeist, be it the image of the Cowboy taming the West against the "Savage Injin", or of "Our Boys" in WWII kicking both Hitler and Tojo's Ass at the same time.
In many movies during the first half of the last century that type of person has been played by the same actor. John Wayne.
John (or Marion if you prefer is actual name) is now long gone now due to cancer, but in his place has risen Eastwood (Pale Rider, Dirty Harry), Schwarzenegger (Terminator, Predator), Willis (Die Hard), Norris (Walker: Texas Ranger), Seagal (Above the Law) and Stallone (Rocky, Rambo).
Not so coincidentally, all of those actors are Republicans. And I can't help but wonder, if they weren't already technically aged-out of the role of Captain America - who at this point is still only in his late 20's, early 30's physically after joining WWII then being frozen for 70 years - would they ideologically agree to portray a role where the U.S.'s own security forces - Our Boys - are, in truth, the Bad Guys?
I shudder to think that this movie could have even been Made during the Bush Era without Marvel and Disney being accused of Treason or Emboldening the Enemy for daring to criticize and demonize the "War on Terror".
Just think of how Bill O'Reilly reacted to Mark Cuban financed film 'Redacted"
O'Reilly: Why is the Far Left putting Military and all Americans in Danger? When President Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000, Some Americans Thought Bush Stole the Election, and the Hatred Set in. Then 9-11 happened and most Americans supported the President when he aggressively went after Al Qaeda and their enablers. Then came Iraq, again most Americans supported the action but the Far Left Did Not. Subsequently the Iraq War become extremely difficult and the far left became increasingly strident, and bitter towards Mr. Bush.I admit I haven't seen Redacted and it might seem bizarre for O'Reilly to get so worked up about a simple film dramatization, but the fact is that what that film, which was directed by Brian DePalma dramatized a very real set of events include the massacre and rape that occurred at Mahmoudiyah during the Iraq War.
So now we have a situation where some Americans are putting all of in danger because They Hate Mr. Bush So Much. Texas Billionaire Mark Cuban who owns the Dallas Mavericks has financed a movie that portrays American Soldiers in Iraq as Murderers and Rapists. There is no question that this movie Will Incite Anti-American Hatred Around the World but Cuban doesn't seem to care.
The Mahmudiyah killings were the gang-rape and killing of 14-year-old Iraqi girl Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi by United States Army soldiers on March 12, 2006, and the murder of her family, in a house to the southwest of Yusufiyah, a village to the west of the town of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq. Charged with the crimes were five U.S. Army soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment consisting of (I) SGT Paul E. Cortez, (II) SPC James P. Barker, (III) PFC Jesse V. Spielman, (IV) PFC Brian L. Howard, and (V) PFC Steven D. Green, whom the U.S. Army discharged before the crime's discovery.O'Reilly wasn't objecting to the quality fo the film. He wasn't critiquing the writing, the direction, the acting or the set designs - he was Objecting to the SUBJECT while Our Boys are still in the midst of a War, simply because it gave credibility and legitimacy to the idea that sometimes American Forces Could be the Bad Guys - and in this case: They Certainly Were.
Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi was raped and murdered after her family consisting of her 34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 45-year-old father Qasim Hamza Raheem, and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza were killed. Spielman and Green have been convicted and three others have pleaded guilty.
Although not as graphic, in Captain America: the Winter Soldier that's the POINT. It doesn't take long before the butt-kicking, take-no-prisoners action we see in the opening scene of the film begins to metastasize into a something far more sinister when applied on a larger scale with ever bigger, better and badder guns. And ultimately it's Our Boy's who are the Bad Guys that Cap, with considerable help from Natasha ("Black Widow") Romanov and Sam ("Falcon") Wilson, has to take on. The primary plot point hinges on the launch of the Insight project, which is a brand new set of Stealth S.H.I.E.L.D Hellicarriers with special anti-personnel targeting guns linked to satellite control and DNA-level tracking. Think of it as the equivalent of multiplying a Drone times the U.S.S. Nimitz - and then again times THREE (since they come as a trio). It's portrayed as the ultimate in pre-emptive Anti-Terrorism Weaponry.
Quite literally It's Death From the Sky the Quantum Version. It's an even more deadly version than the "Crossbow" concept of an orbital laser platform that was the primary McGuffin from the riotous 1985 Val Kilmer College Smarty-Pants Comedy "Real Genius". (Which I just re-watched last night and also highly recommend)
During to course of the film, Robert Redford playing the U.S. rep to the World Security Council which provides oversight for S.H.E.I.L.D. repeatedly puts forth the "Greater Good" argument.
"If you could identify a child who would eventually become a threat to peace and you had opportunity to eliminate that threat before it becomes active - wouldn't you be wrong not to take that person out when you could to save future lives? If you could save billions by simply removing a mere 20 Million People, wouldn't you HAVE to do it?"
As the Senate considers declassifying it's report on Bush's Torture program, have we not heard exactly that same argument just this week from the likes of Lynn Cheney, who today said that Nancy Pelosi's "Spine isn't connected to her Brain" - if she's Not Proud of Torture. Yes, really.
“Mrs. Pelosi is somebody who was briefed on the program. She forgot she was briefed on the program, later to admit it,” Liz Cheney remarked. ““When I heard those comments yesterday, I was reminded of something that Margaret Thatcher once said about one of her political opponents.”It really doesn't matter to Cheney, or her father (who still says he would "Do it all again") or former CIA Director Hayden (Who thinks Sen. Feinstien - former witness to the Murder of Harvey Milk and SF Mayor Moscone - is "Too Emotional"), or former Clandestine Services Director Rodriguez (Who literally covered up and destroyed the evidence) that all the truly useful, pertinent and accurate information that was gained from the likes of Zubaydah and KSM was obtained by FBI Interrogators like Ali Soufan without resorting to torture. We wouldn't have even known that KSM was the "9-11 Mastermind" is Soufan and his partner hadn't discovered it when Zubaydah revealed it inadvertently.
“You know, Mrs. Pelosi’s problem is that her spine doesn’t seem to reach her brain.
“The decision was made, it was absolutely the right decision, and certainly I hope that future presidents would make the decision again that you’ve got to waterboard somebody,” Liz Cheney said. “Because it means that you’re going to get information to save lives and prevent attacks.”
She insisted that Democrats were willing to “let Americans die” instead of waterboarding terrorists to stop attacks.
Last week Soufan, 37, now a security consultant who spends most of his time in the Middle East, decided to tell the story of his involvement in the Abu Zubaydah interrogations publicly for the first time. In an op-ed in The New York Times and in a series of exclusive interviews with NEWSWEEK, Soufan described how he, together with FBI colleague Steve Gaudin, began the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. They nursed his wounds, gained his confidence and got the terror suspect talking. They extracted crucial intelligence—including the identity of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the architect of 9/11 and the dirty-bomb plot of Jose Padilla—before CIA contractors even began their aggressive tactics.The CIA's own Inspector General found that these tactics were illegal and ineffective.
The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.And that FBI Director Mueller has categorically stated No Attacks Were Thwarted using information gained via Torture.
This is in line with comments from former FBI Director Robert Mueller, a Bush appointee, who was asked late last year whether the Bush administration's "enhanced" interrogation techniques had actually thwarted any terrorist plots. Mueller replied, "I don't believe that has been the case."So then as now we see that undermining the rule of law even "For the Greater Good" frequently leads to a dead-end. Or worse. When asked about the Courier who eventually led us to Bin Laden, even after being water-boarded over 100 times, KSM Lied to Us and said he was of "No Importance".
Redford's rhetoric in Winter Soldier is similarly devoid of moral legitimacy, and it's almost a shame that the films Mass Murder vs Insight plan is laid off as the work of Cap's long time enemy H.Y.D.R.A. which has managed to infiltrated it's way into S.H.I.E.L.D. and subvert it's purpose to their own ends. Which of course, is World Domination - but not by taking the power away from America, rather by enhancing and Super-Sizing America's power, influence and might. We are the World Dominators, all they have to do is give us a excuse to unleash the pain of the rest of the world.
It's almost like taking the easy way out, but then even if Winter Soldier does base itself on real life abuses of power (albiet amped up beyond digital tracking of SIM Cards to DNA Tracking, and moving from individual aeriel drones to massive flying carriers) it only half addresses the issue that perhaps "Evil" may be in the eye of the beholder. Many of those within S.H.I.E.L.D., or within the U.S. Senate, who are secretly working for H.Y.D.R.A. may not be simplistic mass murderers, but rather like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Hayden and others - have embraced the "Ends Justify All" strategy that obliterates both logic and law to excuse and rationalize crimes that which should never be considered or attempted.
Perhaps the Right-Wing has so far failed to rise up in opposition to the "Anti-American" messages of Winter Soldier because they fail to recognize their own ideology being reflected back at them through the words of Redford's character. Even Nick Fury, at the outset, gives Cap a hard time for his reticent to Insight.
Cap: This isn't Freedom, this is Fear.Perhaps, rather than an indictment of Bush's ex-judicial anti-terrorism efforts, they instead see this as an critique of President Obama (the "Jack-Booting Dictator in Weak Mom-Jeans") reliance on Drone Strikes and Surveillance in battling Al Qeada rather than Bush's "Boots on the ground". How many of the Bushies now see a Million Iraqi Lives as too high a price to pay for the removal Saddam, even without confirmation of any links of his to Al Qaeda or a shred of WMD?
Nick: It's about time you got with the program.
My own nephew-in-law who tends toward the right-ward spectrum in the family recently posted on his facebook a link proclaiming that ObamaCare was requiring the Implantation of RFID chips - which is not that far an idea from Satellite DNA tracking.
Just today, the Navy has announced they have working Electromagnetic Rail-Gun Technology, which is not that different from the guns arming the Insite HeliCarriers. We already have VTOL Fighters like the F-35, and Video Stealth Reflector Pads (as shown in the Bond Movie "Die Another Day"), or the type of sophistical search algorithm H.Y.D.R.A. uses to select it's targets are not that far-fetched, all we would need are Repulser Tech to put the Carriers in the Air.
But even that may be a moot point as we are just a few years from the full deployment of the X-47B UCAV (Automated Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) which could, in theory, be sent after and destroy a software algorithm selected target without Any Human Intervention At All. Stick a Mini-Rail Gun on that Puppy and point me to the Triskellian, because that will be Point-And-Click
Totalitarianism -uh- Terror Fighting.
The question we need to start getting a serious answer to now is, What Will be the Rules for Deploying these Automated Death Machines and Who will hold the Digital Keys?.
When a President, or a Nation, begins to hold this much power under it's fingertips - and we see the integrity of our decades long Cold-War Missile Silo's being tarnished by cheating - how exactly do we ensure that the ultimate enemy, doesn't become ourselves?
Do we have to - as the Winter Solder posits in it's finale - resort to DESTROYING THE BEAST before it can be unleashed, rather than continue to try and train and cage it to be a "Good and Loyal" Dog-Monster, only to be used on those who are "Most Evil" and "Most Deserving of it's Power"?
Are these technologies ultimately, too dangerous a power to be allowed to exist?
I'm not sure I can answer that question, my own tendency is to move toward better and stronger protections and safeguards for such systems, including the NSA and UCAVs like the X-47B, but even as i general support the advancement of technology, sometimes for it's own sake, I also have to admit - even the best built systems, be they of mice or of men - often have a fatal bug lurking in the depths of the code.
What Captain America: The Winter Soldier ultimately posits is that perhaps, some risks are just too great to take, some prices far too high to pay, and some tactics and weapons systems too dangerous to deploy even for the sake of "Freedom". Maybe a few of us will, beyond the Kick-Assery at the heart of the Hero and Super-Hero ethos of the film, take that lesson to heart. Or not.