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Superheroes Round 11: The Winter Soldier

Captain America is back!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a sucker for superheroes — especially the ones who are trying their best to be good people, as happens in the good portrayals of Superman.  This means that I also like new version of Captain America, since it’s dropped (and lampshaded) the anvilicious patriotism and swapped in some actual moral considerations.

Regardless, big spoilers follow.  Given the nice meshing of stories within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I may also drop spoilers for Agents of SHIELD as well.  You have been warned.

Yup, that's the Captain And no, he doesn't have a parachute.

Yup, that’s the Captain.
And no, he doesn’t have a parachute.

The Little Details

One thing that I really liked is that they didn’t overplay the “Steve Rogers is now living in the future” angle.  But they do have it, just enough to make it fun.  He’s got a list of culture things he wants to catch up with — including Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars.  Wait, that last one was crossed off.  Why did you watch Star Wars first?  WHY????

Ahem.  Meanwhile, he also comments cheerfully that a lot of things are better in the future — little things like the Internet and the near-eradicatio of polio.  He gives an “I get it, I saw the movie” when one of the other characters is about to explain a joke she made.

There’s also some lovely foreshadowing when Steve meets a now-elderly friend who helped found SHIELD.  Something to the effect of, “sometimes you have to tear something down and start over.”  Dramatic, yes?  There are a lot of dramatic lines that get dropped.  Part of that is because Steve Rogers is having second thoughts about the spy business.  He doesn’t like secrets and lies.

Dropping The Anvils

Speaking of dropping things, there’s a scene near the beginning of the film (and in the trailer) where Captain America jumps out of an airplane, into water, sans parachute.  He also twice jumps from a significant height onto concrete, with no more apparent ill effects that a statement of “ow.”

On the other hand, later in the film, we see that he is most definitely injured by bullets and knives.

I swear, it’s like he’s a D&D character with 20 damage reduction that’s bypassed by piercing or slashing.  Or which is only effective against blunt weapons and falling damage.  Or something.

Anyway, let’s do a little computation, for fun.  Let’s say that, when the Captain escapes from that big elevator, and then crashes through the skylight, that he fell for about four seconds.  I think it may have been longer, but let’s go with that.  In Earth’s gravity, neglecting air resistance and the skylight, that’s a distance of about 80 meters.  He would be moving at about 40 m/s, or about 90 miles/hour.

Ouch.  And that’s probably still less than terminal velocity.  If Rogers weighs about 80 kg, that’s about 64 kJ of energy he needs to sink. He lands on his shield, which is (say) one meter in diameter.  (That’s too large, but it makes the math easier.)  He busts up the concrete, so let’s say it takes him (generously) 10 cm to come to a stop.  That means he’s experiencing an acceleration of roughly 8000 m/s^2 (around 800 g’s), with a total pressure of about 8 atmospheres across that area.  That… should really break something.  Even if he uses the motion of going into a crouch to extend to about a 1 m stopping distance, that’s still 80 g’s of deceleration.  If you have a shield, even if an impact doesn’t shatter it, the momentum and energy from all of that will push you backward and can still shatter the bones in your arm.  For a very rough comparison, let’s say a bullet weighing 5 g moving at 300 m/s has a total energy of 45 J spread over a small area, say about 1 cm^2.  It ends up being equal to the energy per area of hitting the concrete.  Except hitting the concrete is all over your body.  So, falling out of a tall building is kind of like being shot all over.  Probably not comfortable.  And, for normal people, only survivable in fortunate circumstances.

Also, that 64 kJ of energy is enough to increase the temperature of 64 kg of water by 1 degree Celsius.  Given that the shield weighs much less than 64 kg (heck, I weigh less than that), it should be noticeably warm as well.

Further, despite Captain America’s resilience to blunt force trauma, the Winter Soldier is capable of punching hard enough with his metal left arm to given the Captain a black eye.  So, he can punch at least as hard as a concrete slab moving at over 90 miles/hour.


Let’s not think about that too hard, and just move on.

PTSD Doesn’t Work That Way

One of the supporting characters, Sam, is shown leading some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder support group.  This is all well and good.  PTSD is a serious mental health problem experienced by a lot of people, especially veterans.  It’s good that the movie shows that the problem exists and that people should seek help for it.

But I’m bothered by some of Sam’s rhetoric in this scene.  He says something along the lines of”it’s up to you whether you carry your issues are in a big suitcase or a little man-purse.”  Um… this almost seems kind of wrong.  Telling people to suck it up, just deal with it, and so on, are not helpful responses for mental illness.  Don’t do this.  It’s called an illness for a reason — real treatment, like counseling and medication if it’s called for, helps and is often necessary.

The Lizard People Have Infiltrated The Illuminati

Well, not actually.  But, in a sense, that’s the premise of the film.

And I love intrigue.

As it turns out, SHIELD has been infiltrated by surviving Hydra members almost since it was founded.  Slowing growing the organization within the organization, and using their influence to gradually alter SHIELD’s missions from within, they now have the technology to selectively target anyone who will be a threat to world order.  (The fictitious US president was listed among the targets, as were various other characters.)  They’re about to go live, with three helicarriers to carry out their mission.  They only need to kill 20 million people to have control over the rest…  It was over-the-top, but awesome.

But I have to wonder: could such a parasitic spy-agency-within-a-spy-agency actually be pulled off?  Realistically?  With a large enough member base to do all the stuffs that they do during the movie?  Given all the NSA-style surveillance going on, it’s probably not feasible.  But it was such a fun twist.

Also, I note that the whole movie was a bit of a study in well-intentioned extremism.  Even the head secretary of the committee that oversees SHIELD (yes, he’s with Hydra, totally saw that coming) discusses this — he mentions how he was impressed by Fury when Fury, as a younger agent, chose to go in with his team, guns blazing, to (successfully) rescue hostages, instead of trying to negotiate.  He was inspired.  Rogers is on the other extreme (“I thought the punishment came after the crime”), while Fury is somewhere in-between.  The film hints at the NSA-related scandals and drone warfare, and asks — how much liberty would you give up for security?

I especially liked the response of the committee member from Mumbai.  He was asked if, given that Pakistan was about to invade, and was going to execute his daughters, but the Hydra secretary had a switch to flip that could make the problem go away, and prevent it all, would he do it?  … his answer was, “Not if it’s your switch.”

Black Widow Shows Off

I’d kind of like to see her in her own movie.  Some sort of spy thriller with double-triple agents and maybe a few more of those Mission Impossible-style holographic face masks.

The awkwardness of some of the tricks she pulls with Rogers is a little annoying — kissing him once and pretending to be romantically involved to avoid getting caught — are annoying.  But the contrast between the characters is great fun.  Rogers as the honest man, and Romanoff as the master of lies.  It was fun to watch the introspection.

Dead People and Supertech

Consistency comes and goes here.  Fury fakes his death (I totally called that one, too), and has a self-driving car that (presumably) had repulsor-based flying tech before it was damaged, but self-driving cars haven’t gone mainstream yet.  (I want one.)  Black Widow has taser-devices that no one else uses, but her little taser-dart things make a nice comeback as a way to short out some unpleasant electronics.  The night-night/icer/knockout guns from Agents of SHIELD don’t even show up.

One thing does really bother me, though.  The Winter Soldier is actually Bucky Barnes, who’s had his brain (mostly) wiped by Hydra and has been sent off to do covert missions for them.  He hasn’t aged much because he’s been kept on ice.  That’s right, cryogenically frozen to avoid going bad (heh) in between ops.

But… cryogenic freezing!  We could do space-travel, and just nap en-route.  And do civilians have access to anything like that?  And… well, I’m sure Hydra doesn’t share their toys, but… still.

What About SHIELD?

Well… this is going to be interesting.  I’ve been following Agents of SHIELD since the pilot with great enjoyment, but now that SHIELD has been torn apart by fighting with itself, I’m left with a few new questions about the TV show.

Is Victoria Hand another Hydra agent?

When is the movie happening relative to the show?  Presumably, as of last week, Fury had just gotten back from using his “personal leave” trying to figure out the Hydra business, and the big mess is going down while our protagonists are still in the air.  Most of the film must have happened after the last episode, since it looks like one recurring character got killed off in the movie.

Thus, the final question: While the Triskellion is being demolished, what’s happening at the Hub?

[EDIT: I have since seen the next episode.  It’s epic.  That twist… and the other twist at the end… well played.]

Nonetheless… we know it’s serious when Fury’s eyepatch comes off.

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