Friday, August 3, 2012

137. CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

This was my second viewing of director Joe Johnston's attempt to bring one of Marvel Comics' Golden Age superheroes to the screen, after numerous failed attempts. Though the film has its champions, I find it fails in nearly every respect and can only reiterate them.

This is a film about World War II that refuses to engage with it, proposing (instead of real Nazi opposition) the pre-existence of Marvel's Silver Age, post-SMERSH invention of HYDRA, and sidestepping the historical need for clunkier defense vehicles and weaponry by making HYDRA so far ahead of its time that not even Tony Stark's father (Dominic Cooper) can get a handle on it. HYDRA is now run by the disfigured Johann Schmidt, whom the film strangely refuses to call The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Because every Marvel hero seems doomed in their movies to confront a dark aspect of themselves, here the Red Skull is a creation of the same scientist responsible for accentuating the good in 4F Army reject Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and giving it an über-boost that transforms him into the ultra-1A Brooklyn mensch, Captain America.

The wimpy form of Steve Rogers is just as much a CGI creation as Captain America's heroism, and the fabulously leaping, shield-hurling, fast-running hero appears so graphically disengaged from everything happening around him, the viewer never fears for his safety, reminding us that the real secret of making someone heroic in a movie is to demonstrate his vulnerability now and then. The film also goes out of its way to make this most American and isolationist/patriotic of subjects more worldly -- the heroine, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, is British (indeed, when the war is won, we don't see the usual US celebration but instead rejoicing on the streets of London) and Cap's creator Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) is a German emigré, proposing our hero as a kind of Jewish Superman countermeasure to the Hitlerjugend ideal, though he too is blonde and blue-eyed. This unification of nations was a step doubtless taken to better ensure the film's boxoffice success abroad, but this approach flies in the face of Captain America's own voiced resistance to the Red Skull's vision of "a world without flags." "Never!" he says. Well, he may want to check who owns his red, white and blue ass in 2012.

Shockingly, to me anyway, a whole segment of the film indulges in revisionist history wherein Captain America is prostituted as a US government public relations tool, making embarrassing public appearances while his fictional adventures are trotted out in comic books and movie serials. This, too, seems a concession to the film's reach for worldly acceptance, one admitting that the character was once no more than nationalist propaganda but, by implication, is now real and fighting for all our freedoms. In a film full of odd choices, the film builds to a limp finale telegraphed by the pre-credits sequence, that clearly aspires to the level of a PLANET OF THE APES-like shock, but dampens it with a closing line reference to a romance between Steve and Peggy that never rises to a more urgent occasion than a kiss for good luck.

None of this is to claim the film is unwatchable, just... unthinkable.

Viewed on Netflix.

3 comments:

  1. I love both “Captain America: The Last Avenger” and “Planet of the Apes”; what's wrong with me? I had a chat with a friend and colleague from Dish, who was insistent I see it and I’m not disappointed. What impresses me is the fact that the WWII superhero is a patriot, and a beautiful one at that. Then you mix in a little Hugo Weaving as the villain and Tommy Lee Jones for the perfect cast! Luckily, with the “The Winter Soldier” coming out I’m excited to see” The Last Avenger” again, as well as the 1940’s version using Dish Online. I travel frequently, so having online access is super helpful. Another great character trait carried by Captain America, is honor; this makes CA a class a superhero to me.

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  2. Sadie, thank you for the compliment, but the fact that we disagree on something doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. You and I came to this movie from different paths; the path I took was via the comic book and, I assure you, that version of Captain America was greater than this one on just about every level, partly because he was allowed to confront real evils. This movie gives us an alternate world sci-fi version of World War II, with lots of equipment that looks futuristic even today -- not the World War II in which Captain America was created to reflect real American courage. The movie is just entertainment, and I count this as a betrayal of his creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby -- whose names, incidentally, you may be forgiven for not noticing as they passed by in fine print.

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  3. Captain America was disappointing for many of the reasons you've cited. At least the Avengers was Great.

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