“You’ve been asleep, Captain, for about 70 years.” (Anonymous, militaristic character played by Sam Jackson–at the very end of the movie)
So, I took 9 to Captain America: The First Avenger today, though I didn’t realize there was a subtitle until I read the caption under the large “still,” which was unrepresentative of the movie’s action, but pretty perfect as a one of the movie’s ethos, though it took up as much space as the AP review printed in the HT, which can be found in numerous other “free” online outlets. I have purposely not read that review preferring to offer my own thoughts and then review the review, so to speak.
In case you’re unaware of the premise, a tiny, asthmatic with a “big heart” wants to enlist to fight the Nazis in WWII like his best friend but is rejected 5 times. A “good” scientist spots his “goodness” and sees his “weakness” as part of his balanced goodness. Sorry for that being convoluted, but that’s the way it goes. The scientist thinks he’s a perfect guinea pig for a human experiment in making perfect soldiers with chemistry and other technologies. (Further, he explains he’s done this before in Germany to a strong, powerful, ambitious man and it’s those properties that are enhanced.) It works, he becomes buff and fast, super in many ways. And always good, no inner conflict for Cap–good guys are good and bad guys are bad, though when asked, “Do you want to kill Nazis,” he says, “I don’t want to kill anyone, but I hate bullies.” (Oh, America, from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we are indeed the world’s unparalleled bully.) So, off he goes to save both the world and his best buddy, not to mention fall in love, only to lose that love due to an unmatched example of sacrifice. Well, it’s been matched; I think Ben Affleck does something similar in that end of the world movie he was in.
So, I think I’ll lazily just offer impressions.
1. The movie is very much a kind of hybrid of the Spielberg-Lucas movie genre. We are often thrust into scenes straight out of Indiana Jones, with Cap using his shield like Indy does his whip, and then pushed, ducking all the way, onto the corridors of some Imperial Star Cruiser while stormtroopers shoot laser weapons at the hero. (9 year old leans over, “Hey that’s just like a scene in the Star Wars movie with the Ewoks!” Later 9 says, “the bad guy looks like Darth Maul.”)
2. There is an evil German (they’re still the bad guys?) who is worse than Hitler in the same way that the horrible archaeologist, Belloc (French, Vichy Axis collaborator?) was in the first Indy. I mean he serves the Reich and all, but he knows Hitler is pedestrian evil and that only he, via occult knowledge, can be all powerful and walk with gods via a melding of technology and magic (science?).
3. The female lead is the only female and very attractive and tough and buxom. Would you expect anything else? Betty Boop and Polly Pureheart in a uniform. Sexy, but oh so chaste and pure, and dedicated to the right man. She loves the tiny, weak, spaghetti-armed boy as much as the buff hero. She loves his goodness!
4. War movies and Superhero movies are all the rage, but it’s interesting here that we’ve returned to Germany and Hitler as this is a universal icon of something evil and worth destroying. However, in a true kind of transference, that evil is larger and singular, a mastermind of evil that must be confronted because what if one man could have an ultimate weapon as an instrument of “terror”? So, brilliantly, Hollywoodland offers us a War Movie out of the past that we can easily “read” or rather absorb as relevant to the “Wars” today. We fight evil, and we fight Singular Evil Men who just might be crazy enough to kill us. Wake UP, America, you’ve been asleep for 70 years and look what’s happened! We are GOOD, as we were GOOD in helping destroy Hitler, unambiguously so when fighting EVIL of this magnitude. Though, why do we never give the USSR any props as they did the bulk of the real work? Do I need to spell this out to you regarding our current aggression in the Middle East?
5. Hugo Weaving is the bad guy as usual. And again, because we are a movie culture, we associate him with the Matrix and we must associate Steve Rogers (Cap’n) with Neo. Transformations are both natural, within ourselves, and external via machine; technology allows us to metamorphose. Recall that Avatar uses a kind of chrysalis action too. We are animals and so destined to death, but with the chrysalis machine we can be “super animals” and transcend by being an organic machine, timeless, deathless.
6. Wars seem designed as population control, i.e. sperm-producing creatures are shipped off to die.
7. There is also a bit of the Zemeckis/Back to the Future technology in the power-source mechanism.
8. Late 70s and early 80s films push the Cold War as a “real war” and these visual allusions seem intentional as part of the message.
9. The Captain is at first used, in an interesting internal truth, as a marketing tool for war funding and war propaganda going on a USO type “mission” dressed in his costume. He is called “tinkerbell” in a nice bit of military homophobia at one of these shows, and immediately after this show the buxom babe, who is a British Agent, shows up and encourages him to go and rescue some men. See, would a tinkerbell do that!? It’s always interesting when movies criticize themselves and the culture they serve in a moralistic fashion all while serving to fortify those very same cultural prejudices.
10. I miss the days when one could imagine that both Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were in love with Han rather than Han and Luke being in love with Leia. I had this “a trois” in mind while watching the recent Potter finale. It’s pretty clear that Harry and Ron makes more sense than Hermione in any combination. And is it weird that these are two “old school” porn actor names, Harry Reams and Ron Jeremy? I’m not exactly sure why this came up here; the hero, the friend he’s going to rescue, and Buxom make an “a trois” of sorts maybe.
11. In some respects this movie is very much like Hellboy, but Hellboy is far better, especially its sequel, and Hellboy avoids being a militaristic piece of agitprop.
12. Why are our “super” hero movies populated with war profiteers and weapons inventors as if they were on the side of light? I think this is the error that even Chomsky (yes, I said Chomsky) makes; that technology is neutral. It’s not; it is imbued always with intention.
13. One can imagine how movies of this stripe, shown during and after WWII, must have aroused a very emotionally deep sense of patriotism, pride, and loss of innocence and trust. There must be depth in living through such murderousness: Genocide, Dresden, then Fat Man and Little Boy. How does a population understand their war efforts as unarguably good and yet become complicit in the most atrocious act of inhumanity in history? The bombs dropped on Japan, our true heritage as world power, led us into our current World Order: we will evaporate human life with no compunction. Surely napalm and white phosphorous and ammunition made of radioactive waste doesn’t surprise you.
14. I will offer, as a final comment, a prop to the idea, made possible with movie magic, of making the face and voice of Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, come out of a scrawny body-double. It really does “create” the inner-being of the character so that even as we see the buff actor rebuff the black-masked storm-troopers we still “feel” him as that first guy who was transformed. It is the movie’s greatest strength and likely one they didn’t actually plan. It gives him very real depth. The movie does not have this depth though.
I said I was going to review the review I linked to but it’s so “phoned-in” that I don’t think it warrants any attention. You be the judge if you feel like it.