So one of the people I was thinking about doing for the A to Z Challenge (I mean, come on, his name starts with a Z, that’s handy…) was Arnim Zola. He’s a Marvel comics character, well known as a long-time villain of Captain America. With the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he seemed particularly relevant. However, I went with Bucky Barnes from the Captain America universe, so I wanted to go with something else.
And yes, I still owe a Captain America: The Winter Soldier LitFlix. Hoping to see the movie a second time this weekend, and then will get that out!
So meanwhile, Arnim Zola. Scientist. Hydra. Ridiculous head-on-a-screen-in-his-chest from the comics. I don’t really know him from the comics, but in the movie, I mean, he’s Toby Jones! Anyway, spoilers for the films from here – and some meta level, talking about the spoilers from the Captain America film in general!
The Spirit of the Character or the Literal Interpretation?
There is often a competition that goes on between trying to literally interpret a story or person from comics, and transplant them into a movie. The trouble is, especially with established characters spanning back decades, how do you accurately portray them in a 2 hour movie? Especially when they don’t get nearly all of the screen time.
There’s so much baggage, so much continuity, so many alternatives and different interpretations from different writers and artists… how do you decide?
And, for instance, even choosing to include a character like Arnim Zola! I mean, look at that picture above! That’s from less than a decade ago. It looks like that body goes back to the 70’s…
So you have decades of fans who know Zola as this crazy contraption. Presenting him as just a guy is something else. Almost not worth using a known character for. So there he is, in Captain America: The First Avenger, not playing along with the Red Skull completely, not a fanatic by any means. Not really Hydra, just a scientist, right?
He flips on Hydra, Cap wins, the end. Done and gone. Why even use the name, right?
I did warn of spoilers. Because lo! He’s back, and in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And they captured the essence of the character: that he solves immortality by putting his consciousness into a computer. In the 70’s. So, he’s inside a 70’s supercomputer, which of course takes up an entire giant room.
And Cap even gets mad at him and shoots him in the face… which is just a monitor, so another monitor switches on and Zola keeps going. Honestly one of the best moments in the film.
But mostly, they captured the IDEA of Arnim Zola. Is he ridiculously smart? Yes. Bad? For sure. Figures out getting his consciousness into computers? Yep, so who needs the movie Transcendence, right?
But is he in the body of a robot, there to fight Cap and friends? No. And that’s okay. Because he caused far more trouble than a robot body can cause.
The Myth, The Legend, The Meme
So you may have noticed if you frequent the Internet at all that a new meme has popped up since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And it is the whispered-in-the-ear Hail Hydra.
There’s the co-opt an existing piece of media version:
Lots of those going around, pretty much anytime you find someone whispering in anything. It comes from the moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where two major secondary characters (a SHIELD agent and a Senator) reveal themselves to each other (and the audience) as Hydra by whispering “Hail Hydra.” I’ll get to the root cause, and back to ol’ Arnim Zola, down below.
But first, it left us all wondering who we can trust. So some of the meme has centered on subverting our trust of various Marvel characters:
Well, now we know what she said that made him smile. Ah, crap.
I mean, where the heck is Barton?
Anyway, yes, hard to trust anyone. Which immediately made the entire show Agents of SHIELD better. It was the big reveal they probably wanted to do way sooner, but couldn’t because of when the film was airing. Thus the filler episodes.
The third major swing of the meme is, of course, the cut-that-out side of it, either from the side of our heroes, or just generally as a point to the people throwing this meme out there.
I read a pretty good point about this meme – and sadly lost the post, but it’s somewhere on Tumblr, and hopefully others have made the point. This meme is in fairly bad taste – after all, Hydra is a Nazi spin-off eugenics hate group that would love to kill or control the world. Hail Hydra, as a phrase, is a direct derivation from Hail Hitler. Not our finest hour as a humanity.
So we need to remember with this one that we’re probably not on the side of Hydra. I like the idea of subverting the idea of who we can trust, and who the secret bad guys are. You can completely change the meaning of an entire story by dropping in a Hail Hydra. But we need to remember that the thing itself is bad: Hydra is bad.
However, that’s some of what makes this so good: the badness but also the success of Hydra. This was a reveal worthy of being a hidden reveal. Gone are the reveals of last year: the Mandarin is the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Khan is in fact Khan. No, this time, it’s a reveal that mattered. A reveal larger than one character. Larger than the film itself. Larger than the film and the concurrent TV show. This one had implications.
So here’s the story: Arnim Zola, flips on Hydra, accepted (tentatively) by SHIELD. And, though he seemed like a scientist who was being used as a puppet by Hydra, oh noes! He was Hydra through and through. If you cut him, does he not bleed? Or sprout two more heads? Something like that.
He recreates Hydra from within SHIELD. One person at a time, turning people, making them double-agents, turncoats, evil. They have quietly killed people who were too good, who would have figured them out. Like Howard Stark. And then, in the mother of all control plans, they were going to send out helicarriers with death rays, basically, to kill anyone who would – or statistically might – oppose Hydra.
They also name-drop Stephen Strange for this – so I get to eat my words.
If Zola could have distracted Cap for just a few moments longer, they would have taken over the world. That’s how close it comes. How good this scheme is. Arnim Zola works out to be the best villain we have seen yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Loki has caused some stoppable chaos and mischief, and most of the rest haven’t even really done that.
But Zola has us set up with badness for years to come. SHIELD has fallen. The heroes have to go off the grid. Putting the pieces back together could take a lot of movies. And what tech do they have? Hulk research? All sorts of 0-8-4’s from Agents of SHIELD. Winter Soldier. Helicarriers.
And remember, the next Avengers film is Age of Ultron - so I’m pretty sure that means that Hydra has created Ultron. From the mind of Arnim Zola?
Some other interesting implications. One is that I think this did a lot to redeem Iron Man 2. First, because of the Senator, who we know is Hydra, and who was the one fighting with Tony Stark and asking for the Iron Man suit to be turned over. To SHIELD. To Hydra.
And second, because Hydra killed Howard Stark, that changes some aspects too. All of a sudden, all the secret knowledge Howard left for Tony means something different, if he was assassinated. What did he know? What did he suspect? Who was he hiding from?
So this is a plot that goes back into the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and also lays out its future. All from the mind and machinations of Arnim Zola.