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Love Interests vs. Just Friends in Movies

I want to discuss something that Captain America: The Winter Soldier made me start thinking about. Mainly how differently platonic relationships and sexual ones are portrayed in movies. So there may be spoilers. Also maybe spoilers for Pacific Rim. Proceed with caution!

So there is an idea that has been floating around post CA: TWS that I wanted to think about here. That idea was best expressed in this blog post (bottom section titled "Falcon"):

I'm not saying "Falcon is literally Cap's love interest," but "Falcon's role is structured like that of a love interest in a typical superhero/action movie."


My gut instinct is to agree with this analysis but I can't figure out just why. I think they had a bit of a meet cute which is pretty typical of love interests. I think the whole throwing yourself into the life of basically a stranger even when logic tells you to run away is pretty action movie love interest. I definitely think waiting by someone's bedside while listening to Marvin Gaye is totally love interest activity. Yeah I know, it was the Trouble Man soundtrack and that was Sam's recommendation in the beginning but whatever, I laughed when I saw that emotionally heavy scene because it was MARVIN GAYE. 90% of his music is sex music and that's their song.

But why do these actions trigger my (and a lot of the internet's) romantic partner buttons instead of the ones that say these people are friends? I don't really dig for subtext and I think nonsexual relationships are so important, just as important as sexual relationships. I wasn't even trying to queer up the film. But in this setting, all I can focus on is how romantically they set up this friendship. If Sam was Samantha, I wouldn't even feel crazy when I thought they would be good together. It reminds me of Pacific Rim. I definitely thought Mako and Raleigh were going to get together! And then they were just friends. I felt so weird that even I couldn't see a male and female character as just friends.

I think what makes it hard for me to accept a friendship between people with great chemistry who have just met is that I assume that they would want to jump to romance. There's no already established friendship so they're free to move in a romantic direction. Does it change anything when you perceive characters as being romantically involved versus only seeing them as friends? What makes you see romance instead of just friends? I've been pondering this what makes a love interest idea all weekend and still have no answer.

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