Let’s start with a big spoiler alert for readers. Major plot revelations from the new “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” flick are about to come whizzing your way like movie machine gun fire. If you proceed, don’t complain if you get winged.
In the widely-released trailer for the latest release from Marvel Studios, we see Captain America and his new buddy Falcon (played by Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie, respectively) about to rush into battle at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. In all the confusion, the new guy asks Cap about the rules of engagement:
Falcon: How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?
Captain America: If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad.
It’s not just a laugh line. The central question of the movie is: In this world full of secretive spies and shifty politicians and advanced technology/weaponry, how do you tell the good guys from the bad guys?
Making that distinction is not always an easy thing to do, as Captain America, Nick Fury and Black Widow (Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson) discover. They learn the hard way that measures taken to fight evil can be co-opted by evil actors to disastrous results.
The exchange also reminds us just how anti-authoritarian, bordering on libertarian, this movie actually is. It pits Captain America, an old fashioned guy who stands for American ideals of liberty, against the modern national security state.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has built three massive helocarriers that are set to orbit the Earth continuously with weapons and targeting systems that can eliminate what Fury estimates to be “1,000 hostiles per minute.”
This initiative seems ripped from current headlines. It would take America’s NSA snooping and its fleet of death dealing drones from above, combine them, and turn the dial all the way up to 11. Once launched, the floating battle ships can use complicated algorithms to anticipate crises before they happen and respond with an overwhelming show of force.
Fury shows the carriers and the plan to Cap. The old soldier objects. He says that would amount to trading freedom for security. Cap is willing to die for freedom, as he has already proven, but he doesn’t want to make that sort of devil’s bargain.
Cap’s words give Fury pause. The S.H.I.E.L.D. chief delays the launch of the carriers to think things over. His delay triggers several attempts on his life, including one that seems to be successful, because IT’S A CONSPIRACY led by Robert Redford (playing S.H.I.E.L.D. big and ex diplomat Alexander Pierce).
It turns out Hydra, that Nazi-allied group of baddies that Cap beat in the last movie, has secretly infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. over the years. Hydra intends to use the launch of the floating ships to take out millions of undesirables.
In a wildly implausible but fun twist, Cap, Black Widow and Falcon sneak back into S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Cap tells everyone over the PA system they’ve been infiltrated by Hydra. He pleads for their help in taking the bad guys down.
Against all odds and at considerable loss of life, they pull it off. These heroes, costumed and otherwise, strike a blow against the bad guys. The do so by sending the growing security state back to the drawing board.