One of the biggest hits of the year so far has been Captain America: The Winter Soldier, making it a bigger success than the first film. It helps that it follows up The Avengers and cross-pollinates with other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, what also helped it along was a fresh story that was less of a gee-whiz superhero film and more inspired by the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s.
Now that the film has been released on home video, the directors and writers have sat down and dissected it in their commentary track, available on the Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray. (Sorry, folks… the DVD does not have the commentary on it, so you’ll have to spring for a Blu-ray player if you want to listen. But, seriously, why don’t you have a Blu-ray player already? You do? Thought so.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Commentators: Anthony Russo (co-director), Joe Russo (co-director), Christopher Markus (co-writer), Stephen McFeely (co-writer)
1. The opening scene of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) jogging was inspired by The Marathon Man. The other main 70s conspiracy thriller that inspired the film was 3 Days of the Condor.
2. The writers and directors patterned Rogers after Rocky Balboa, a nice and honest man, which was another reason for the running sequence. This character association allowed him to get the crap kicked out of him, which was a necessity since a too-perfect character can become unlikable.
3. The other reason for introducing Wilson so early in the film was that they wanted him to appear before any conspiracy elements started showing up, helping to show the character as trustworthy, allowing Rogers to seek his help in the middle of the movie.
4. Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) was a different character in early drafts of the script, but they wanted to plant seeds for the Crossbones villain from the comic books. Like Batroq the Leaper, the significance of his character goes unnoticed to those who do not know the source material.
5. Cap’s assault on the ship is meant to show a much more refined, modern soldier than what we saw in either Captain America: The First Avenger or The Avengers, when Steve Rogers was still just a kid “plucked off the streets of Brooklyn.”
6. The ship in the opening action sequence is a real satellite launch ship, which is used to launch satellites close to the equator because it improves fuel efficiency to break orbit and increases the lifespan of the satellite. The idea of the satellites in the conspiracy was added to fit in with this practical set.
7. The writers chose to have Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in this film rather than any of the other Avengers so her ideology can juxtapose that of Rogers’ because she lives in the modern age of gray politics. This allows their worldviews to both conflict and affect one another.
8. Although real-life political issues like WikiLeaks and drones served as inspiration for the conspiracy in the film, the Edward Snowden case didn’t happen until six weeks into shooting, making the story appear somewhat prophetic.
9. Cleveland (the hometown of the directors) served for many locations in the film, including the Howling Commandos exhibit in the Smithsonian, the mall where Rogers and Romanoff flee from and the gravesite of Nick Fury.
10. Hayley Atwell’s appearance in modern day was shot using a similar digital process that was used to create the “skinny Steve” look of Rogers pre-serum. Rather than covering the actress’s face with heavy make-up, they shot her in bed with very little make-up and a wig. Then, they shot an actual older actress making the same motions. The old age elements to her skin and face were then graphed onto Atwell’s face using CGI.
11. Marvel gave the filmmakers two mandates for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in this film: 1) He would have a big action sequence, and 2) he would get a more rounded arc, which led to him being vulnerable during the attack on his SUV.
12. Wilson is presented as a combat veteran in order to give him some common ground for Rogers to talk to, soldier to soldier, rather than the spies he works with in S.H.I.E.L.D.
13. The slow-traffic chase scene with Fury was inspired by a real-life car chase in Brazil in which a man stole a car and got stuck in traffic while police were pursuing on foot. This chase scene was used in the Russo brothers’ initial pitch to direct the project.
14. Both Fury’s attack in the car and Cap’s attack in the elevator were designed as impossible situations from which the hero has to escape. They were inspired by tense suspense scenes in Brian DePalma movies, specifically the white room sequence in Mission: Impossible.
15. In the original script, the Winter Soldier was not in the Fury car attack scene, but the producers wanted him to be introduced earlier in the film. The directors resisted initially, though, because he doesn’t capture Fury, and they feared it would weaken him as a villain.
16. Fury’s codename is Foxtrot because that is the word for F in the NATO phonetic alphabet. They tried several other codenames with more clever meanings, but they found it took too much screen time to explain them.
17. When Romanoff, Rogers and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are watching Fury die on the operating table, there is only one shot in which Romanoff is not in focus. This was done because of her personal emotional connection with Fury’s character.
18. When Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) confronts Rogers with information after Fury’s death, Rogers does not actually lie but rather withholds the truth. That is the closest Captain America comes to lying in any of the films.
19. The elevator fight originated as a chase through the building in which Cap jumps out of the window. It was changed to opt for tension in the scene rather than a huge action set piece. The filmmakers likened it to ten well-trained guys trying to subdue a gorilla in a cage.
20. The elevator scene was the first scene shot in the film, and it took place over the course of four days.
21. Originally, after Cap escapes Triskelion, a huge chase through Washington DC ensued. However, the filmmakers trimmed it down for time and because there were already many action sequences in the movie.
22. There were debates about whether Rogers should have a romance with Romanoff, but they opted not to do it because it would sell out both characters. In particular, they felt that if that happened, it would appear that the only reason to have Black Widow in the film was as a love interest, and there was so much more her character could offer the story.
23. Internally, the most controversial scene in the film was having Arnim Zola (Tobey Jones) reveal the HYDRA history in the underground bunker. This was because it was a sci-fi moment in an otherwise grounded and realistic conspiracy thriller.
24. The WarGames joke Romanoff makes was ad libbed on set during shooting to lighten the mood. (However, neither Scarlett Johansson nor Natasha Romanoff were born before that movie was released.)
25. The scene where the Winter Soldier shows up at Pierce’s house pays homage to the scene in 3 Days of the Condor in which Redford’s characters shows up at Atwood’s home.
26. Originally, Wilson was going to swoop in as the Falcon to pluck Sitwell off the street, but the filmmakers thought this would be to much, so they decided on the phone trick and laser target to get him alone.
27. As scripted, Romanoff was supposed to place her shoes behind a car as a decoy for the Winter Soldier, but on set Johansson asked why her character would then have to run around barefoot for the next chunk of the film. This led to them using the cell phone with her voice as a decoy, allowing her to keep her shoes.
28. The reveal of Bucky (Sebastian Stan) as the Winter Soldier was pitched to Kevin Feige of Marvel as their “Star Wars reveal” because it’s rare for the hero and the villain of a film to have such a close, emotional connection.
29. Ed Brubaker, the creator of the Winter Soldier in the comic books, plays one of the scientists in charge of maintaining the Winter Soldier.
30. Another Star Wars connection, The Winter Soldier getting his mind wiped is based on Han Solo’s torture sequence in The Empire Strikes Back.
31. The underground fortress where the gang reunites with Nick Fury was shot in an old sewage treatment plant in Cleveland. The location was scouted in the winter, when it was creepy and cool. However, when it came time to shoot in the summer, it was much warmer, and the temperature also brought out the terrible smell of the facility.
32. The launch pad of the helicarriers for the climax were deliberately put on the Potomac River because visually it sits between old DC on one bank and the new DC with modern glass buildings on the other side. This is meant to symbolize the conflict between Rogers’ traditional morals and the modern government.
33. When Joe Russo watched the film with his eight-year-old daughter, she cried when the Winter Soldier shoots Captain America, worried that he was going to die.
34. Somehow, Black Widow manages to change her outfit between leaving Triskelion and getting on the helicopter with Fury, before they rescue Cap.
35. Everything from Rogers waking up in the hospital to the scene at Nick Fury’s grave were reshoots.
36. Because they couldn’t show Nick Fury’s birth and death dates on his tombstone, the directors needed to fill that space, so they chose the Ezekiel 25:17 quote from Pulp Fiction. Nicely done.
37. During the stinger, an eagle is heard just before the image cuts away from Bucky’s face. This sound was actually human voices recorded and modulated to sound like an eagle’s cry.
Best in Commentary
- Anthony Russo: “We fetishize car chases.”
- McFeely: “At some points, we’d go, ‘Are you sure? This seems like over the top.’ And Joe would say, ‘Uh, it should be really hard to kill Nick Fury.’”
- Joe Russo: “Hail HYDRA! It spawned an internet meme. Bert and Ernie.”
- Markus: “How did it feel to blow up your hometown?” Anthony: “No matter how old you get, you never get tired of blowing stuff up.”
Personally, I enjoyed this installment of Captain America much more than the first film, though I will say that there really isn’t a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that I don’t like. Still, it was nice to sit through the film with the directors and writers, who seemed to be more in synch with each other than most directors and writers are in Hollywood.
With four people on the commentary, there’s always the danger that things will get too conversational. However, all four of them pretty much stay on point, and for the most part, everyone gets a chance to speak.
The best moments are when they pull the veil back from the process and look at the more surprising ways things came about, from the aging process of Hayley Atwell to various comments on which effects were practical and which weren’t. Not only did the Russos do a fine job with the film, they really put forth an informative commentary, and they also effectively tease both The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America 3, which makes me want to see both of them right now.