Captain America

July 26, 2011

Blew my mind, in every good way possible.  I hardly know where to start.  So I’m going to go straight to the metafiction.

A proposition:  World War II is becoming American culture’s Camelot or Middle Earth.  It’s the place and time we go to be heroic, without irony or cynicism.  The super-serum doesn’t make Steve Rogers a hero — he already is.  During that particular war, in that particular time, a kid from Brooklyn could be a hero without doubt or argument or apology.

This is in contrast to the last 25 years we’ve spent pathologizing superheroes.  It’s a symptom of the “gritty realism” everyone’s been after.  What makes someone put on a mask and tights to fight crime?  They must be crazy, deluded, dysfunctional — at best.  Psychotic at worst.  Probably both.  The concept of heroism itself becomes suspect — a means to an end rather than its own reward, the excuse for putting on the mask, rather than the other way around.

There’s this bit in the middle of the movie where Rogers has been barred from combat, but wants to help, so he gets put in a war bonds fundraising show.  And it’s kind of brilliant, because this Captain America is wearing tights, the costume from the comic books — he’s our Captain America, the fictional one from the real world who punched out Hitler on the covers of comic books (that cover really does appear in this bit of the movie).  He’s a construct and a symbol, both in the “real” world and in the fictional world of the movie.  And this is where our modern, cynical take on superheroes gets shoved.  Shoved, compartmentalized, and disposed of.  The show is ridiculous, Steve knows it’s ridiculous — but it’s also useful and he keeps doing it.  Right up until he gets on stage at a USO show in Italy in front of an audience of battle weary troops.  Suddenly there’s a blazing neon subtext:  THIS IS REAL.  SHUT UP AND DO SOMETHING.  And he loses the tights, puts on a leather jacket and helmet, and goes to kick serious, serious ass.  A friend of mine has pointed out that in the film, Captain America doesn’t fight in any actual, real battles.  He doesn’t take a single victory or ounce of respect from the troops who fought in World War II.  Because of Red Skull and Hydra, all his fights — while very spectacular — are completely fictional.  The real troops — the real heroes — still beat Hitler and the Nazis all on their own.

The movie was aware of its own subtext, its own metafiction, and aware of the very fine line it had to tread between gee-whiz four-color comic book action awesomeness (flying wings!  ray guns! Red Skull!  Zip-lining to a speeding train!) and the reality of the war.  It’s not a movie about superheroism — it’s just about straight-up heroism, as anything set in World War II very nearly has to be.

And now a brief word about expectations (I’m going to try to do this without spoilers):  The frame story was very nicely done.  I was hoping we’d get what we got.  But I thought we’d get a tease.  We’d get a hint, and clue, and we’d be done.  But we got so much more than that.  We got a couple of entire scenes.  Great scenes that left me emotionally beat up and in tears.  This is a lesson for writers:  go further.  Be brave.  Take the risk.  Play the scene that ought to be too hard or too much.  Because you may just shock your audience, and that’s often a good thing.

And the **SPOILER** Avengers trailer at the end?  HOLY SHIT Y’ALL!  Remember how I said I wanted to see Thor and Tony Stark posturing at each other?  They teased me.  They are evil.  Pure, terrible, wonderful evil.  Why do I have to wait a whole frakking year?!?

13 Responses to “Captain America”

  1. sef Says:

    I liked it a lot, too. Not as much as the first Iron Man movie, but much more than Thor. The ending was a problem, because… we knew Cap wouldn’t die.

    I found that I liked the character scenes more than the fight scenes — Dr Erskine having a drink not-with Steve was, I thought, a very good scene. And the last scene with Peggy and Steve in it… she was amazing.

    I am still laughing at, “No, you see, fondue is just melted cheese and bread.”

    Also, there were several references to Indiana Jones in it, and my favourite was “While the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the sand.”

  2. Jsoiphine Says:

    I loved the movie. While I have never read comics a friend once took to telling me stories of the comics and what the “Super Heroes” stood for and what they were about. The movie was awesome. even though I only got to see it in 2-D it brought to live the meaning of what a hero is. A+

  3. LupLun Says:

    I thought it was kinda “meh,” honestly. It was worth the admission, but I found the film rather shallow. The action scenes were good, and I appreciated the subtexts where I caught them. (Compare and contrast Cap’s fundraising efforts with Spidey’s brief show biz career in his origin story.)

    I think the main problem was that the characters did not resonate. Like, with Spider-Man, it was a story about a superhero, but it was also a story about a young man trying to find his purpose, and being forced to reconcile love and duty to do so. Captain America gives us a hero who’s kinda bland and one-note, a villain who’s also kinda bland, and a supporting cast that follows suit.

    I feel like Tommy Lee Jones’ performance is a zeitgeist for the entire film. He’s got a role to play, he plays it well, the audience gets their money’s worth, and everybody’s happy. But it’s not exactly a challenging role. So too with the movie. It’s competently made, but boiler-plate. Nothing here is especially original.

    Call me crazy, but I like the more modern, angsty superheroes. Superheroes are supposed to be human beings writ larger than life. Everything good about us is in them, dialed to eleven. But also stuff that isn’t so positive: our doubts, insecurities, and failings. Cap is a bit too old-school for me, a bit to pure and unfailingly heroic.


  4. Mike H Says:

    I definitely enjoyed it more than I thought I would. They actually held a lot back from the trailers. So, I was constantly seeing a completely unfamiliar scene. My only complaint was the ending felt random with almost no build up nor looming crisis nor increase in complexity. It was basically, “Ok let’s go fight the final boss.” Other than that, I did enjoy it.

  5. carriev Says:

    Daniel Abraham has a rant, about modern comics and their heroes. That when gritty and ambiguous become the standard way of doing things, then the earnest, honest heroes start to look punk and revolutionary.

  6. ArcLight Says:

    Also enjoyed it very much. Saw comment elsewhere that basically stated that whatever you thought of THE ROCKETEER is what you’d think of this movie and I think that’s pretty accurate. I dig the heck out of ’em both.

  7. Re WIlliams Says:

    “A proposition: World War II is becoming American culture’s Camelot or Middle Earth. ”

    I agree with you. As someone who lived in Germany 10 years I also wish it wasn’t. I wish people could hear Nuremberg and think about awesome ginger bread instead of war trials. But things are how they are. Besides this is a movie review, I don’t need to rant.

    I haven’t seen any of these comic movies yet, but that needs to change soon. This is something I enjoy about reading your blog. I get exposed to things I normally wouldn’t think about or try. I’ve watched and enjoyed several movies I wouldn’t have seen otherwise and also gotten in touch with the 80’s music that I missed growing up. (Blame it on public radio 🙂

  8. Jakk Says:

    Great movie. I loved it a lot. Easily the best super-hero movie of the year, and i liked Thor and X-Men:First Class. And i am sooo with you on that spoiler, Carrie. I want to see the Avengers ASAP.

  9. Saw it last night with my 6 year old son. Asked him how he liked it. Said, in loud kid voice, ‘I liked Iron Man better!’ I think that is true for me, but CA out performed my expectations, even with the glowing reviews here.

    Hugo Weaving was very good as the Red Skull. It is the first time since the Matrix that I have been able to look at him without thinking ‘He’s an Agent!’ His Elrond was just cringe inducing for me. Here, the accent and the personality (such as it was) worked very well.

    CA was always one of my favorite heroes, and at least until the last decade was just great, pure patriotism. He was well represented in the movie, as was the initial S.H.E.I.L.D. crew. I liked Dum Dum especially.

  10. Adam. Says:

    Don’t know if anyone will read a comment to a post that’s now getting a bit old, but felt like sharing anyway…

    One of the guys at my kenjutsu class recently saw this and described it as starting like a normal superhero origin story, and ending in a 45 minute Ace Rimmer segment.

    I’m not going to be able to see it with a straight face now.

    Smoke me a kipper, I’m going to kill some nazis.

  11. carriev Says:

    I figure every cliche has to start somewhere…

  12. Stephanie G. Says:

    This is, hands down, the best movie I have seen in years. (We just saw it over the weekend) I didn’t want to read your review until I saw the movie myself. But, you were right on target with everything you said!! Personally, my favorite part of the movie was when he jumped on the granade, while the rest of the men ran for cover. I literally screamed and cried, right in the middle of the theater!! Good thing the lights were off….ha! :)))

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