Mar 14

This is no modern romance

Do You See18 comments • 4,211 views

This is a review (sort of) of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is VERY FULL OF SPOILERS almost as much as it is full of FEELINGS. And it won’t make any sense if you haven’t seen it yet.


It’s a redundant statement to say that Marvel/Disney are making great superhero films right now, it just doesn’t even need saying. Last year’s crop of the superlative trauma saga Iron Man 3 and the family space-science romp of Thor 2, both of whom had the hard bill of following up Avengers, was terrific enough. Lightning striking even twice to make really, really good, intelligent films about superheroes after the success of Avengers seemed implausible. And yet.

I went and saw The Winter Soldier last night- it’s an extraordinarily good film. I feel messed up by how good it was, how thrilling and current and brave it was, in a way it feels like superheroes are for. How sassy, how cynical it was, how it’s a film entirely about revolution. How extraordinarily well Anthony Mackie can act with subtle facial expressions and how incredibly much I want a Falcon suit. How extraordinarily, morbidly realistically the grim world it inhabited was, how amazingly great the portrayal of interpersonal relationships was in it.

The Winter Soldier is a huge, exploding-battleships-raining-from-the-sky, global-political-conspiracies, massive cast film that is entirely about intimacy. About trust and closeness. The central trio of Captain America, Black Widow and the Falcon have an extraordinary dynamic that is all about them growing closer, empowering each other, saving each other. For a solo film, it’s about a team- that’s right and good for a Captain America film, he’s a soldier and he needs a unit.

Superheroes, mostly male (onscreen- the gender balance improves in the comics) are often defined against their romantic paramours- what would Superman be without Lois? Spider-Man without Mary Jane or Gwen? Even the lonely, dark Batman of the Nolan films is torn up about love and it’s used as a motivator.

The Hulk films are about romance, about how you live with and as a monster. The Iron Man films are about how co-dependency not only might not kill you but might be the thing that saves you and Tony and Pepper and the thing between them that makes them both stronger. Around all the family tension, beautiful space god Thor has beautiful space scientist Jane Foster, both reminding the other that being brought down to earth doesn’t mean being brought low. (And Thor is a rubbish space boyfriend but aren’t they all) And even Avengers had the tender, intimate-without-being-obvious moments between Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Even Captain America, who’d barely stuttered through adolescence in his first film, got a romance with Agent Carter. A good woman to flirt him into his own, a powerful soldier to teach him tactics. And then he got fridged so that she could start SHIELD with Steve’s sacrifice to keep her grimly on an idealistic path.

This film had a kiss. A desperate act in a moment of tension and fear and co-dependence. Except it was just that- Natasha asks Steve to kiss her to escape the notice of Crossbones, citing that psychologically people look away from public displays of affection, so he won’t examine the hipster couple close enough to realise who they are. It’s kind of a hot kiss, for a tactically necessary one but I may be biased due to the way I find both characters repulsively attractive and it’s certainly couched as effective and practical, if perhaps not 100% as clinical as that sounds.

And Black Widow and Cap have a really intimate relationship in the film- they grab the front of each other’s shirts to snarl at each other, shield each other, care for and comfort each other, tend their wounds together. And it could have gone there, sure. But it didn’t.

There’s lots of mentions of romance- Black Widow even explicitly brings up the idea that Steve should ask out his neighbour, who turns out to be Agent 13, his long-term on/off girlfriend in the comics. But he doesn’t. They have an important moment but it’s as allies, as acknowledging each other as being on the right side in a secret war.

Steve builds relationships in the film- his hospital bedside mixtape creator is Sam Wilson, the person he apologetically turns up at the house of because everyone he and ‘Tasha know is trying to kill them. Sam is an instant friend to him, a shared understanding and a sense that they can make each other braver, comradeship and sass and comfort. He can trust Sam, Sam can trust him- it’s a different bond to the one that, say, Tony Stark and James Rhodes share because Steve has never fucked up Sam as much as Tony can fuck up Rhodey- it’s more like Thor’s relationship to the Warriors Three, they just know that they are better together and that that’s what they need. But it’s not romantic, Steve doesn’t seduce Sam, they just bond. They have an incredibly strong and near-instant trust but that also means that if Sam or Steve screwed up that trust, their bond would significantly alter.

Romantic relationships are the ones you do the irrational stuff for. They’re the ones you don’t just take bullets and chances for, they’re the ones that without, you don’t know how you’ll live. They’re often kind of fucked up, frankly, in the superhero community but that’s probably because being a superhero is quite a fucked up occupation. Being a superhero who slipped forward in a seventy-year sleep to find a world he’d saved needed saving again.

I say there isn’t a romance in this film; that’s bollocks. As per the title of this; there’s no modern romance but my god there is quite a scene in the 1940s. And for all the central trio of the film being a unit on a solo billing, there is that one other character sharing the title. And if most of the film is about the closeness between comrades, there’s a big vein of it that’s about distance.

There’s a colossal romance at the heart of it that just doesn’t quite go explicit. The romance, the fridged girlfriend, the irrational motivator for Steve is Bucky. The person Steve would rather die than fight, the person Steve nearly sacrifices millions of lives because he can’t bring himself to fuck him up. The soft-focus flashback, the passionate pleas- I was genuinely surprised when they didn’t kiss, in the old Brooklyn scene. It just… seemed so obvious that they were going to, everything in the scene, in the way that cinema has made me understand these things, was clearly leading to Bucky tenderly kissing Steve against the door.

Now, I’ve read a lot of fanfiction. I describe myself as a ‘raging queermo’ so perhaps I am looking at things through the wrong eyes but I genuinely, honestly, heartfeltly thought not so much that they were going to go there but that they went all of the way there. Bucky is Steve’s shit faux-Soviet boyfriend. Their love is awful. I mean, Bucky is barely in this film- maybe a couple of seconds of recognition in a Hydra bunker but mostly what’s there is The Winter Soldier, who is not Steve’s anything. So maybe it isn’t a romance yet, too one-sided outside of memory. But it’s kind of extremely prominently there. Which is something that in a just and sane society wouldn’t be extraordinary but showing a homoromantic Captain America in 2014 is depressingly still quite a bold move.

And yes, I guess since they didn’t smush their tongues onto each other’s faces it could be left ambiguous. You could watch this film and just think ‘oh that’s interesting, they’ve set up Steve/Agent 13’ but… I don’t think that’s what they set up. I really, really don’t.

I don’t know, if they recover Bucky, what is going to happen. I don’t know if I want Marvel to do this but all the reasons I can come up with for them not doing it are based around fear of how it would be executed, when they’ve proved that with this run of films, they seriously have the goods. So maybe I just need to trust them and also ask them to, whatever they do, not let this bit of groundwork peter out.


  1. 1
    Tamaranth on 27 Mar 2014 #

    One of the things I most liked about this film was that none of the women were Lurve Objects. Instead, they were highly competent and integral to the plot. (That shouldn’t have to be an ‘instead’, but it so often is.) I loved that Natasha and Steve *didn’t* get together. (And I loved Natasha’s necklace. Please tell me I’m not the only one who noticed the necklace! … damn, can’t find a still that shows it.)

  2. 2
    Tamaranth on 27 Mar 2014 #

    NB In case there was any doubt, I am wholly in agreement re the Key Relationship of this film.

  3. 3
    Hazel on 27 Mar 2014 #

    The necklace was such a lovely touch! Really super subtle but there- and even the meaning of that is ambiguous in a way that pleases me and which in NO SORT OF WAY resembles Steve and Bucky’s epic lovelorn sadness.

    Black Widow was SO good in this. SO GOOD. She absolutely deserved it being Captain America and Black Widow: The Winter Soldier. And my god, what a find in Anthony Mackie.

  4. 4
    Tamaranth on 27 Mar 2014 #

    ❤❤❤ IT WASN’T JUST ME ❤❤❤
    also, I really want a screenshot of the targetting thingy, b/c I think someone’s moved back to New York.

  5. 5
    Hazel on 27 Mar 2014 #

    OHHHHHHHHHHHH oh my god.

    Also very urgent and necessary: a screenshot of Steve’s list.

  6. 7
    charlotte on 27 Mar 2014 #

    YES the whole film was like, steve being told not to trust anyone and having to work out precisely who he could trust, and with what, and they win because they worked it out and played the game.

    and then his final big fight scene with bucky where he just refuses to fight because… if he can’t trust and love this one person, what’s the rest of it for? what’s it worth if you constantly have to calculate, and allow the person you have known and loved longer than anyone to be turned against you, and you allow the same to be done to you? if you decide that he isn’t the kind of person you save.

    THAT was the big emotional bloody heart of the film – steve just letting bucky punch him because he’s either going to be able to trust him not to kill him, to love him enough despite everything, or what was it all for?


  7. 8
    Hazel on 27 Mar 2014 #

    YES YES YES this so much. Your second paragraph, one million times.

    And when he falls and it’s trust or despair or both. I cannot. I cannot.

    (Of course the other spurting arteries of the film are Natasha/SHIELD which is a whole other billion words of meta)

  8. 9
    charlotte on 27 Mar 2014 #

    i just. i wasn’t expecting this. i mean i love bucky and i love the whole winter soldier idea and i was looking foward to whatever they deigned to give us… but. it’s a love story. and i’m really moved by it and upset by it and so glad that we got it. aagghh!!

    the scene where he falls and just… gives in. doesn’t fight anymore. that was it, that was his fight. oh my god.

  9. 10
    Tamaranth on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I am now intrigued as to how AoS is going to handle the fallout. And how Coulson is going to handle what Fury has done. (Or, y’know, not done.)

  10. 11
    Abigail Brady on 27 Mar 2014 #

    As I was saying last night, suddenly my “Agents of Shit” sobriquet becomes a bit more than a joke.

    I wonder if we’ll get H.A.M.M.E.R.

  11. 12
    Rachel on 27 Mar 2014 #

    ACTUALLY that list linked in the comments isn’t the list that’s in the UK version of the film. That list is the USA list. The UK list has the 1966 World Cup in it. I think like… everywhere got their own list. Which is kind of adorable.

  12. 13
    charlotte on 27 Mar 2014 #

    that’s… kind of amazing. but also quite weird.

  13. 14
    Liz on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Yeah, there was a Radio Times online poll to vote for something to be on Steve’s catch-up list in the UK (I know this because I voted for Father Ted A LOT, but sadly no luck).

    Anyway, YES drawing big hearts around this. I’ve seen some insta-reactions that Falcon is the love interest here, and if I squint I can see that, it’s a great and almost instant bond between them – but it’s not the big epic soul-destroying romance. It’s a film about team and we see Bucky has been Team Steve right from the start and their mission is each other, and he’d let him kill him rather than leave him on the helicarrier (just like Bucky would rather die in a burning building than leave Steve in the first film). I don’t think it’s just your slash goggles talking, although I’ll be interested what the less hardcore fans I know think about it, but there’s so much more pointing in the relationship direction for this relationship than for any of the other Marvel universe relationships that fanfic picks out. Science bros wish for this kind of canon.

    Do I think they’re gonna go there in Cap 3? No. I think we got the setup for Crossbones and Agent 13 to set themselves up for the Death of Captain America arc, and I hope hope hope we get more Bucky in Cap 3 – but I don’t think they’re ever going to make it explicit romance.

  14. 15
    Manuela on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Oh, thank you, I thought it was just me.
    I saw the italian dubbed version, so I don’t know if they took some liberties with the dialogue, but at some point, I think it was in the car scene with Natasha, they had Steve say something along the lines of “it’s difficult to find a woman with the same life experiences”. I died a little bit.

  15. 16
    Hazel on 28 Mar 2014 #

    God, I’d forgotten that line. This really was so explicitly set up, if one of them was a woman but absolutely nothing else changed, I don’t think anyone would come out thinking that wasn’t the love interest. To be honest, I’m hard-pressed to see how anyone could with them as they are.

    (Which brings up the awesome AUs people were doing where Peggy becomes the Winter Soldier instead of Bucky)

    Despite what I said in the piece, I don’t think I’ve got my slash goggles on about this- partly cus I don’t have very much interest in m/m slash in general and partly because when I am looking for the hot boning fanfic about this film it would always be Steve/Natasha.

    (I’ve always been a Sam/Steve shipper, anyway, inasmuch as I’ve thought about it at all – Steve/Bucky is much less of a thing in the comics, they have more of Sam and Steve’s comfortable bond from the film)

  16. 17

    […] there isn’t a romance in this film; that’s bollocks. As per the title of this; there’s no modern romance but my god there is quite a scene in the 1940s. And for all the central trio of the film being a unit on a solo billing, there is that one Read full article […]

  17. 18
    Tony Keen on 29 Mar 2014 #

    I think this is a movie that is explicitly not about romance, or at least, not about romance as Hollywood usually presents it. It is a movie that says that the male lead and female lead can be good friends, can trust each other with their lives, but have no desire to be lovers, even when one of them looks like Chris Evans and the other looks like Scarlett Johansson. It’s a movie where two men can be close friends, can trust each other with their lives, but no-one calls it a ‘bromance’. It’s a movie where two men can once have been incredibly close, but it’s still not a bromance. For Hollywood of 2014, that’s refreshing.

    Of course, that’s not what others are seeing in the relationships, and that’s fine. The text is what it is, and what you take from the text is your own. This is just what I take.

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