Nine films in, the movies released by Marvel Studios comprise an elaborate narrative tapestry, with connections running between films, the short DVD-extra One-Shots, and the rapidly expanding universe of TV projects. The films are purposefully designed to appeal to newcomers. I’m guessing that the vast majority of people who love Iron Man have never read an Iron Man comic book. (Side note: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man is much cooler than pretty much any comic book version of Iron Man.) But speaking as someone who grew up devouring comic books, part of what makes the Marvel Studios films so fun is how they freely pull from several decades of comic book history in composing their big-screen world.
That’s especially true of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that takes its name from a mid-2000s story arc, but which contains characters, settings, and stylistic flourishes from throughout Marvel’s history. Winter Soldier also featured an unusual assortment of fan-servicey bits, tantalizing remarks about future Marvel projects, and references to films outside of the Marvel fold, not to mention at least one very savvy use of real-world iconography. The following isn’t just a guide to the tiny details in Winter Soldier; it’s an A-Z reference guide for how the newest Marvel film continues to expand the series’ universe. (Yes, there are spoilers.)
Abed: A.k.a. Danny Pudi, who plays the pop culture savant on NBC’s Community. Winter Soldier directors Anthony and Joe Russo have directed several Community episodes, including the pilot, which probably explains how Pudi managed to land a short role as a SHIELD agent. (He talks to another guy about parking spaces.) Of course, it’s entirely possible that — just like when he cameo’d on Cougar Town — Danny Pudi is actually playing Abed playing a SHIELD agent, and Community creator Dan Harmon is planning on structuring an entire sixth-season episode on Abed’s entry into the onscreen Marvel universe which will somehow feature Alison Brie in a Spider-Woman costume.
Batroc: The lead bad guy who takes over the ship from Winter Soldier‘s first action scene. If you’re not a comic book fan, you might’ve been wondering why the film treated his fight with Cap like such a battle royale. That’s partially because, in the comics, Batroc is a much more outré supervillain, rocking a skintight purple-orange wardrobe. He’s also known as Batroc the Leaper. Wisely, the film underplays everything about Batroc besides his ability to do cool jumpkicks.
Brubaker, Ed: A longtime Marvel mainstay, Brubaker was the writer of the original Winter Soldier story arc, which back in 2005 made Captain America interesting again for the first time in a decade. Brubaker invented the Winter Soldier character; appropriately, he’s one of the scientists working on the Winter Soldier in the film.
Ellis, Matthew: The President of the United States in Marvel’s America, played by bad-guy-from-Die-Hard-2 William Sadler. Ellis has a big role in Iron Man 3 (he was almost assassinated!) and there are references to him throughout Winter Soldier. Seems likely he’ll pop up again in Avengers 2. Entirely possible he will be revealed as Baron Zemo in Captain America 3.
Ezekiel 25:17: Biblical verse made famous by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. At the end of Winter Soldier, Nick Fury’s grave is adorned with the beginning of the verse: “The path of the righteous man…” A nice referential gag which actually works in context, since — just like Jules Winfield at the close of Pulp Fiction — Nick Fury ends Winter Soldier planning to walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu.
KGB: After three films, we still don’t know much about Black Widow’s history. So every tidbit counts…and at one point, Scarlett Johansson’s superspy mentions that she used to work for the KGB. That gibes with the comic book character’s history. However, it’s worth pointing out that the KGB dissolved with the USSR in 1991 — at which point Black Widow would’ve been about 7, assuming that she’s the same age as the actress playing her. Then again, she could’ve just been referring to one of various successor agencies that took the KGB’s place. Or maybe she’s actually from South Ossetia, which still has a KGB. Or — double maybe — the Marvel Studios films take place in a universe where the Soviet Union never dissolved. #Theories
Lee, Stan: Marvel overlord and cameo superstar. Appears in Winter Soldier world’s oldest museum security guard.
Lemuria: A semi-mythic “lost land.” In Marvel Comics lore, “Lemuria” is actually the name of two different nations. One of them is an undersea nation, similar to Atlantis, which factors into the mythology of the Sub-Mariner. The other is a subterranean country which is home to a race of super-people called Deviants. The captured ship at the star of Winter Soldier is called the Lemurian Star. The name could just be a throwaway reference, although it’s worth pointing out that Iron Man 2 contained a couple references to Atlantis and the Sub-Mariner.
Rumlow, Brock: The SHIELD agent and HYDRA henchman played by Frank Grillo. Rumlow appears quite a bit in Winter Soldier, and the closing montage takes a moment to show that he just barely survived the final battle. In the comics, “Brock Rumlow” is the alter ego of Cap baddie Crossbones — so it’s very likely we haven’t seen the last of him.
Sitwell, Jasper: A SHIELD agent played by Maximilano Hernandez, whose previous appearances include Thor and Agents of SHIELD. In the comic books, Sitwell was a very square ’60s dude, eager to please his much cooler SHIELD bosses. Movie-Sitwell is a bad guy, one of several SHIELD agents who works for HYDRA.
“Sharon”: The real name of Agent 13, the junior-level SHIELD agent played by Emily VanCamp. VanCamp’s role in Winter Soldier isn’t too big, but it could potentially grow into something further down the line. In the comics, Agent 13’s real name was Sharon Carter…the niece of Peggy Carter, Captain America’s First Avenger squeeze. Winter Soldier doesn’t make their connection explicit, although Agent 13 does mention an “aunt” at one point.
Shandling, Garry: Creator of The Larry Sanders Show, who played the ornery Senator Shaw in Iron Man 2. Shandling reappears in Winter Soldier — and, like Sitwell, is revealed as a secret HYDRA agent. This is a funny little bit that retroactively makes Iron Man 2 looks much more interesting. Was the government after Tony Stark’s armor…or was it really HYDRA all along? (UPDATE: As Twitter user Martianman68 points out, Shandling’s character is actually named “Senator Stern.” I regret the error and was totally thinking about Sebastian Shaw.)
Sinise, Gary: Makes his Marvel debut as the narrator of the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian. Doesn’t actually appear onscreen. Seems entirely plausible that he is actually playing Lieutenant Dan, and that the Marvel movies take place in the same universe as Forrest Gump. #Theories
Star Wars/Trek: Key item on Cap’s catch-up list. He apparently already saw Star Wars. Unclear if he intends to watch all of Star Trek or just the original series. Or maybe Deep Space Nine? I feel like Cap would really dig Deep Space Nine.
Strange, Stephen: When Cap and his friends interrogate Sitwell about the Project Insight, he explains that the computer program can track down anyone who is dangerous or potentially dangerous. The list includes familiar superhero alter egos like Bruce Banner and Tony Stark…and he also mentions “Stephen Strange,” aka the future Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and star of the purely theoretical Dr. Strange movie that will definitely have to happen now, right?
Super Soldier: After Cap came back to life in 2009 — don’t ask, time travel — he spent a couple years not being Captain America. Instead, he went by just plain ol’ Steve Rogers, Super Soldier, and rocked a relatively low-key outfit without a mask. That costume appears to be the main visual reference for the stealth suit worn by Chris Evans in the film’s first half, before he ultimately snags his old-school outfit from the Smithsonian.
Triskelion: SHIELD’s headquarters in the movie. The Triskelion was introduced in The Ultimates, a 2002 series which rebooted the Avengers into the modern day (and which provided much of the backbone for the Avengers movie.) Comic-Triskelion was located in New York, but Winter Soldier‘s Triskelion overlooks the DC skyline. (See Watergate.)
WarGames: The Epitome-of-the-Decade ’80s movie about an evil supercomputer that could destroy the world. Referenced by Black Widow, who says the film’s key line: “Shall we play a game?”
Watergate: The scandal that taught everyone to never trust the government again. Named after the Watergate Hotel — which is seen a few times in the movie. Apparently, they built the Triskelion right across the Potomac from the Watergate, since you can spot it outside of the glass elevator outside the SHIELD headquarters. (Those HYDRA guys, what jokesters!)
World Security Council: An international group devoted to maintaining order. In charge of SHIELD, entirely populated by actors with very familiar faces. The WSC first appeared in the shadows of The Avengers, where their most notable member was former 24 President Powers Boothe. In Winter Soldier, the only Councilmember left from Avengers is played by Jenny Agutter. The newbies are frequent TV actor Bernard White, Alan Dale, and Chin Han. So, to clarify, the Security Council includes Charles Widmore from Lost and Lau from The Dark Knight.
Zola, Arnim: The nefarious henchman played by Toby Jones in Captain America: The First Avenger. Zola only has one scene in Winter Soldier, but it’s a scorcher: The long-dead scientist reveals that he downloaded his personality into some proto-internet computers, and tells Cap the truth about the HYDRA takeover. While his head appears onscreen, a camera above the screen points at Cap and Black Widow — a nice sly visual reference to the character’s absolutely ridiculous comic book costume.