12 Big Questions Left Unanswered By ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

By  · Published on April 7th, 2014

Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in Captain America The Winter Soldier

Marvel Studios

The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is a pretty solid comic book movie. But it is still a comic book movie, complete with a lot of ridiculous plot points that we should know to just let slide. Well, I can suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment while I’m watching and enjoying the thing, but later I also enjoy pondering its logic and gaps regarding certain important details. I don’t necessarily like the movie any less for these faults (this movie’s true flaws are in the direction anyway), and in fact sometimes the more I ask these sorts of questions, the more I like greater discussions they take me to.

Given that this is just a single puzzle piece in a large scheme of intertwining and forward-moving blockbusters, maybe all the questions I have left over are yet to be answered. Maybe the information I seek is in the pages of the comics – though this shouldn’t be since the MCU is separate from the universe found in Marvel’s pages, past and present, and has a ton of differences.

Obviously, the following inquiry is full of spoilers, so beware if you haven’t seen the Captain America sequel and care to.

Why Would Anyone Recommend Nirvana to a 95-Year-Old Man?

This is a light question to start things off, and I realize it’s not quite a question of reason or plausibility. I understand the gag of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) having a notebook filled with recommendations of historical and pop cultural items to check out, though it is kind of a common list to make for anyone, not just a guy who’s been frozen for the past 70 years. Heck, I know a film critic who just saw Star Wars for the first time the other day. And I too added Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” to my own mental notebook of curiosity. We all keep running lists of this sort, and the younger we are, the more we’ve had to – like Rogers – go backward and play catch-up (film critics especially).


Marvel Studios

The thing with Rogers, though, is that he’s from the past, not just born today and in need of background. He still listens to stuff like Harry James and His Orchestra. He needs to take baby steps through the cultural landmarks to better appreciate how we got from then to now (maybe he’s kind of doing that since the Harry James song he listens to is from after his crash into the ice), and Nirvana especially would be even more difficult for him to get into than it was for your grandma.

Meanwhile, does he really need to write down the Moon Landing and the Berlin Wall? He should be sifting through major events in history anyway, especially if he has nothing else to do on Saturday night. But if there’s any historical stuff people should be recommending to him, particularly to point out to him that today is not that far off from his time, it’s the internment of Asian-Americans, the rest of the racist stereotyping to build fear and hatred, the bombings of Dresden and especially Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more than a few atrocities that some would consider to be outright war crimes.

One more thing: is Star Wars crossed out because someone told him not to bother and stick with Star Trek or because he saw it and checked it off? I keep seeing people claim the former, but the latter makes so much more sense.

Where Were the Other Avengers?

This is the obligatory question for all solo MCU movies post The Avengers, and it’s also probably the biggest. You’ll find it asked the most on message boards and by all your friends who aren’t as forgiving of movie and comic book logic. We can dismiss Thor, perhaps, since he lives in another world. The Hulk isn’t stable enough to be recruited or to act of his own will, I assume.

But what’s Tony Stark doing during the events of The Winter Soldier? He would certainly have a vested interest in a conspiracy going on with S.H.I.E.L.D., the U.S. defense department in general, and all that military technology involved – some of which he helped out on, as we hear regarding improvements made to the Insight helicarriers. He and War Machine ought to have been there in the end especially, making the Falcon look puny and worthless, but still.

Another guy I didn’t even think about once during the movie, and I bet the people at Marvel Studios are hoping we all did, is Hawkeye. He’s an actual S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, like Black Widow, isn’t he? Maybe he’s just sitting at home being depressed about being turned so uninteresting in the movies.

Anthony Mackie Winter Soldier

Marvel Studios

Why Were the Falcon’s Wings Just Sitting Around Not Being Used?

There has been some question about why the Falcon’s wing technology is so minor in a post-Iron Man/War Machine world. But it’s very likely that those wings were developed and maybe even used before Stark and his suit came around. Plus it’d be cheaper. They work well enough, as we see in the movie, though, so why were they just collecting dust in a warehouse somewhere waiting for a guy to remember them and decide to turn them into a superhero’s “power”?

Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) doesn’t seem to have all of a sudden thought of them, at least. You know it was an accident that he and Rogers met where they did. Wilson was likely stalking the Cap in order to pitch this idea of him joining in action with these cool and unused wings he had during his service in Afghanistan. And thank goodness he did, at just the right time to be helpful as a non-S.H.I.E.L.D.-affiliate to trust.

Why Is the Strength of Captain America’s Shield So Inconsistent?

Captain America’s shield, his primary weapon and tool for defense is pretty dang strong, made out of indestructible vibranium. He uses it to knock out bad guys, destroy jets and bounce off walls and people for a nice boomerang effect. But how is it that it bounces off some material and can totally damage other material? Not only that but in the case of the jet he take out in The Winter Soldier, for instance, the shield gets lodged into its body. Maybe Cap is just using different strength in throwing it for different results, but it still looks like a fault of inconsistency to accommodate the plot and action at different times.


Marvel Studios

Who Would Believe Nick Fury to Actually Be Dead?

For the audience, the revelation that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) isn’t dead shouldn’t have been a surprise. Not after the lesser character/leader Phil Coulson turned up alive after The Avengers. Plus, nobody dies in comics or comic book movies. That’s even a more the truth in the story of The Winter Soldier because Bucky Barnes was, for decades, known to be one of the only deaths in the Marvel Universe to have stuck – until 10 years ago when the Winter Soldier storyline shocked readers.

So the death and revelation of Fury might have only been for Rogers within the movie (just like how the surprise of the Winter Soldier being Bucky was only for Rogers since much of the movie’s audience is aware of that fact going in), though even he should have assumed there was something that could and would be done. I figure Alexander Pierce and others in S.H.I.E.L.D. and/or Hydra to assume the demise was fake, too. After all, they’re all doing it, S.H.I.E.L.D. with Coulson, Hydra with Zola and probably the Red Skull and others.

Was Natasha Romanoff a Child Spy for the KGB?

We’ll supposedly get a lot more backstory on Black Widow in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, not to mention her solo movie if that ever comes about, so we can expect to hear the truth about his soon enough. For now, what we know is that Natasha Romanoff was born in Soviet Russia and was originally doing bad things for someone over there before coming to America and joining S.H.I.E.L.D. In the new Captain American movie, when telling Rogers about the Winter Soldier, she mentions having been in the KGB.

If Romanoff is the same age as her portrayer, Scarlett Johansson, then she was only 7 when the Soviet Union dissolved and with it so did that intelligence agency. Apparently the character began her training as a very young age, so it is plausible that she was a mini agent, but not only do we want to know more about that, we want to see some of that, too. Maybe her solo movie can just be a Spy Kids reboot.

Marvel Studios

Why Is Young Howard Stark Shown In the News Clipping Of His Death?

Thanks to observant members of message groups for this bit of nitpickery. When Arnim Zola is telling Cap and Black Widow about Hydra’s shaping of history, he notes that they were responsible for the death of Howard and Maria Stark (Iron Man’s parents), which was thought to be an accident. We see a newspaper clipping about the death and Dominic Cooper’s face is featured in the article. Why not use the older Howard, played in Iron Man 2 by John Slattery?

I see how it would be more consistent for the Captain America series to use the guy seen as Howard in The First Avenger, and it’s not totally crazy that a news organization would use a picture of him when he was younger, but still feels wrong.

Why Didn’t Hydra Eliminate the Superheroes First?

They killed Howard Stark and made it look like an accident. Shouldn’t they have gone ahead and killed Tony, too? And wouldn’t they have been hesitant to resurrect Captain America? All these superheroes suddenly showing up seem like a good place to start before launching a major initiative of wiping out all other threats. Get rid of the guys most likely to thwart your bigger plan first seems like a good idea to me. Did they really think Captain America would be easily defeated in the middle of all of that?

Hydra seems pretty shortsighted to have ignored these guys who just stopped an entire alien army – and destroyed another helicarrier already before that – as they launch their secret weapons of mass destruction and blow their cover and go for the big takeover all at once. Speaking of which…

Hellicarriers in Captain America The Winter Soldier

Marvel Studios

Are Giant, Incredibly Expensive Helicarriers the Best Way to Eliminate Threats to Hydra?

The ultimate plan of Hydra to save humanity by killing millions of people is where The Winter Soldier becomes kinda silly. They launch these behemoths into the sky to fly around the U.S. shooting these people? Seems a bit much, even if it’s an extreme take on actual American special operations tactics regarding targeted killings abroad (and possibly at home).

I really wish we could have seen at least one of them accomplish part of the evil mission so we could see exactly how it would work and what the aftereffects are. As far as what we do see of these enormous, extremely expensive inter-atmosphere satellites of fear-producing murder, all I could think about when they’re launched and then in rewired battle against each other above D.C., then crashing down upon the nation’s capital, is what does everyone on the ground think of what’s going on above.

And would there not be additional aircraft – both Hydra’s from the carriers and U.S. Air Force jets – make their way into the battle to contribute the situation? The latter to maybe make sure the carriers don’t crash into monuments or the White House or Capitol? Or are we to forget there are things existing in this universe that isn’t part of the action at hand? Too much in this movie was occurring in public and broad daylight without much acknowledgement that there’s a normal world of people out there.

How Did Bucky/The Winter Soldier Not Age Much Over the Years?

Like Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes is around 95 years old, but we know Rogers was frozen for about 70 of those while we hear that The Winter Soldier had at least been on missions for the last couple decades. He’d have aged some, right? As far as I noticed, it’s not explained in the movie, but in the comics the deal was that he would be sent on missions and then returned to cryogenic sleep when he was off duty. We can assume that was the case here.

World Security Council in Captain America The Winter Soldier

Marvel Studios

What Happened to the Real Councilwoman Hawley?

It was great to see Jenny Agutter return to the MCU as Councilwoman Hawley, but even better was it to see her kicking ass in a scene near the end. I was really hoping that Hawley was simply that awesome, but unfortunately it was really Black Widow in a Mission: Impossible-sort of implausible mask (and platforms, I assume since Agutter has a number of inches on Johansson). So where’s the real councilwoman?

I know it doesn’t matter, but it’d be nice to see more of Agutter in these or any movies. I’ll just assume she’s been sitting cooperatively in some room with no clothes on (as Agutter is known to be without clothes often in movies) and probably sadly forgotten after everything went down.

Will Iron Man Still Attend Alexander Pierce’s Niece’s Birthday Party?

I think it only fair. I mean, Fury makes the promise and she shouldn’t have to pay for her uncle’s villainy. Plus, that noted, she just lost her uncle, evil or not, and she could use a pick-me-up, even if from a superhero affiliated with those who killed the guy. I’m going to just imagine the whole awkward scene in my head, since nobody else likely cares besides me.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.