Captain America (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
23Jul/112

Captain America (2011)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

"There's no subtext here, not like you get in X-Men where it's about racism or homosexuality."

"What the Flick" is a fun ten minute show on YouTube for anyone who wishes to watch three professional film critics putting absolutely the bare minimum of critical thought into a film. It's mostly jovial, sometimes funny, sometimes amazingly infuriating.

The quote at the top of the article comes from this week's episode-- I'm not going to link it because in my mind that may constitute endorsing it-- and is said with a completely serious face.

Now, the X-Men franchise has the level of subtlety that it may as well have put big flashing neon lights in the corner of the screen-- and, hell, I'm sure several forms of theater floor bacteria picked up on those subtleties. But saying that Captain America has absolutely no subtext is mind boggling.

Any film, television show, commercial, short story, or what have you that wraps itself in this country's flag is saying something about that flag. What it's saying is just as important as the fact that they're wearing it, but the person doing the talking usually isn't very interested in their audience thinking about it too much. That's why questioning what this film version of  an embodiment of patriotism in a mass marketed film is crucial; this film is eagerly trying to throw at the screen what Americans wish we were.

With that in mind, Steve Rogers is Captain America (I'm dropping the terrible subtitle "The First Avenger" for reasons explained further on), a man seems hellbent on not talking about what he represents. He starts as a pipsqueak and, through luck and bravura, he's selected to become the man modified into Captain America.

I say modified and that's, of course, one of the core principals of the Captain America story. A 90 pound weakling becomes hulk of muscle through a magic serum. The good Captain may have been the first all-American hero who juices up to win the nation's heart-- and he sure as hell wasn't the last.

Which I should mention, since I'm having trouble fitting it in as is, check out the documentary Bigger Faster Stronger. It's almost as revealing as that shirt.

This juicing is the sort of thing worth noting. Take the fact that Rogers' weapon of choice is a bulletproof shield. Using a weapon that's innately defensive is an appropriate choice of weapon as representative of a country that's been a bastion of isolationism for four decades. It almost feels like a betrayal of character each time he picks up a gun.

Delving into Roger's own reasons for becoming the Captain, we find a man eager to enlist not because of a love of country, but because he hates bullies. He's spent his life being picked on and refusing to back down from a fight, which the movie in turn mocks and admires.

So what have we got? A man who's loyal, clever, and possessing an overwhelming desire to stand up for the little guy, yet still someone willing to win at all costs. Does that sound like someone who you want Captain America to be? Or-- more to the point-- which points among those does the villainous Red Skull not represent? It's not too difficult to figure out.

Despite all that it does and doesn't say, Captain America gets a lot of lucky shots in. The supporting cast, including the infallibly watchable Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving and Dominic Cooper, are all on their game. Hayley Atwell, as the romantic interest, has some good chemistry with Rogers but otherwise doesn't leave much of an impression.

Although other things seem to leave an impression upon her.

Oh, and Steve Rogers is played by Chris Evans with more than enough panache and drama that it's impossible not to empathize with his character. It's hard to believe he gets so much mileage out of this persona again, which is a step or five above the Fantastic Four films and on the same level as the sort of thing he mocked in Scott Pilgrim Versus The World. He creates the Captain as a half dozen characters, from the weak man who knows he's lucky, the great showman, the daring hero, the pathetic nerd who doesn't know how to get a girl, and turns them into one heartbreaking man.

Captain America's plot is mostly similar to what one would find in a Saturday afternoon serial. It has an vivid sense of the era it's in, with director Joe Johnston (who's also directed The Rocketeer and the recent remake of The Wolfman) infusing the cartoonish plot with enough vigor and good nature to set it apart from most of its mechanical, self important brethren. Because of its setting, it also gets to avoid unsavory questions about the brutal justification of vigilantism that sinks so many other comic book films like the albatross that it is.

Unfortunately for Captain America, it also exists in the world of the Marvel movies, glossing over a few unsavory things to streamline its mass appeal (that Japanese guy from California never does mention those interment camps his family is probably rotting away in) and tacking on a set of unnecessary bookends. Are the beginning and very end of the film really needed for anything other than to lead into the Next Big Marvel Film(TM)?

The story of the comic book character Captain America is that of a man who was a legend in his own time and then forcibly moved to a different one. Presenting the first half as its own story demands the second half be given the same attention; odds of this happening is astronomically low. Wondering how this man would deal with a world where America exists in a world of grays, one where it is sometimes the bully itself, is tantalizing.

The good news is that Captain America makes you yearn for Captain America 2. The bad news is that you're getting The Avengers.

Posted by Danny

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  1. A good point on your view of juicing and racism that clearly existed even back then. Doesn’t anyone remember the Tuskegee Airmen?? If the good old Captain were to fight in this era, he clearly would not be allowed to take this magic serum to make you hulky bulky. He would initially fail his Golden Flow test and would be dishonorably discharged for drugs. His G.I. Bill would be obsolete, no V.A. loan to buy his Capt American dream home, and if he were to have side effects from his serum he would be screwed. But who knows maybe the good ol’ Cap would turn out okay. He probably wouldn’t so much fight for the freedom of the world but actually fight for the freedom of gays and lesbians to be free of bias and prejudice in the military. And that’s when the Hulk and Thor step in and form the ASSVengers with their main man Iron METRO Man.

  2. (RE: that quote at the top — yes, X-Men using straight white males to tell us how hard it is to be a minority is real depth :|)
    I found it frustrating that there wasn’t any mention of Patriot [the only survivor of the black volunteers they tested the serum on before they got white recruits in the comics], and it did lack something of comics steve [the fact that comics!steve would not and did not use a gun. i just hope we get the nomad costume]. but it did also have some very appealing factors – one thing i loved that you skipped was the brilliant music by alan silvestri [lilo&stitch]. the integration of the uso music into seamless background music. it wasn’t the sort of overwhelmingly “ICONIC” music you get from JOHN WILLIAMS, but the subtlety of it really worked for me.
    but i was mostly in it for chris evan’s abs, and they delivered.


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