Since seemingly everyone is seeing Black Panther next week, now it seems like a good time to revisit the time a Marvel film mostly took place in our nation’s capital. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where they sold it as a superhero riff on a classic genre. In this particular case, they said Winter Soldier was like a conspiracy film from the 1970s. That is a stretch: all they did was cast Robert Redford, and have a handful of perfunctory scenes where Captain America (Christ Evans) figures out that HYDRA has our national security and law enforcement interests. Incidentally, the conceit of a Deep State overthrow of the government plays hilariously different in 2018 than it did during the film’s initial release.
But I digress. For the purposes of this discussion, Winter Soldier is noteworthy for how it portrays our city. The opening scene, oddly enough, captures a very D.C. experience: locals using the National Mall for morning exercise. Cap is running around the Mall, lapping his eventual friend Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Many of the chases and big action sequences exaggerate what D.C. is actually like – the famous elevator sequence violates the Height Act – but nothing is quite as egregious as the film’s climax. A giant airship emerges from the Potomac, leading to a explosion-tastic battle in the skies over Rosslyn. Setting aside the capital investment for such an obscene project, the airship is so big that it widens the Potomac and effectively pretends Theodore Roosevelt Island is not there. No one expects realism from a superhero film, but the pretense of a conspiracy thriller – a genre that requires some plausibility – did not do Winter Soldier any favors. By the time Cap washes up on the shores of the Potomac, I was taken out of the movie.
At least Wakanda, where most of Black Panther takes place, is a fictional nation.