(Warning: Some spoilers Captain America: The Winter Soldier ahead.)
I won't give away too much about the primary villains in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but fans of the franchise probably won't be too surprised to find that even though the period has jumped forward from World War II to the modern era, Hydra, the evil global organization that backed The Red Skull in the first film, hasn't exactly disappeared from the scene.
This time, however, instead of joining forces with the Nazis, Hydra is working insidiously through the U.S. government to corrupt and control what's supposed to be a surveillance and targeting program that gives the nation's defense forces the capability to track and take out potential terrorists before they carry out their plans. The program is initially pitched as a protective deterrent system that assesses a limited, narrowly defined number of potential foreign threats and allows the government to stop them before they happen.
But as is so often the case with government programs, it turns out to be hard to maintain an initial narrow scope. Fittingly, Hydra's grand plan isn't to subvert the program so much as to expand it by increasing the number of targets and using the system domestically. The plan's masterminds insist that they're not even after typical villainous world domination; they just want to remove dangerous people who might disrupt a peaceful and orderly society.
The movie, which is set in Washington, D.C., is as much a 70s-throwback political thriller as a traditional costumed-hero film, and it doesn't take much imagination to see the contemporary political parallels. Basically, Captain America ends up fighting a souped-up, ultra-powerful version of the National Security Agency coupled with the Central Intelligence Agency's targeted killing program.
In an interview with Asawin Suebsaeng of Mother Jones, the film's directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, confirm that this was by design.
"[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller," says Joe Russo, who directed the film with his brother Anthony. "So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience…That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president's kill list, preemptive technology."
The Winter Soldier isn't the first Marvel movie to dabble with libertarianish themes and heroes. The second Iron Man movie gave us Tony Stark, capitalist/industrialist libertarian. Now we get Captain America, civil libertarian.
Kurt Loder reviewed The Winter Soldier for Reason here.