Captain America: The First Avenger – Thoughts (yeah, I loved it)

[note: no real spoilers here at all]

When I came out of the theater after seeing Thor I immediately posted to a couple sites that Marvel nailed the hero and had made a fantastic movie – it was fun, spirited, and really established a hero that I didn’t know how well would translate into the universe that the Iron Man and Hulk movies had been creating for the past few years.

Now Captain America: The First Avenger has been released, and in interest of full disclosure I have to admit that Cap’s my favorite superhero – always has been and always will.  But after walking out of the midnight showing, I didn’t post anything to facebook or other sites as I had done with Thor, nor could I really respond very well to what seemed to be a legion of  my former students when they asked what I thought of the movie.  Walking back to my car and driving home (at 2:30 A.M),  and even as I was trying to fall asleep, I was trying to evaluate what I had seen fairly, and not allow my fanboy attitude about Cap to unduly influence my reaction. I mean, anyone who knows me would expect me to declare it the best superhero movie of all time, but it’s not.

It is, however, a near-perfect Captain America film. And I loved it.

The thing about Captain America that needs to be understood above all is that the character’s origin is utterly dependent on the setting, and this makes Cap unique among superheroes.  Without the backdrop of WWII, there is no Captain America.  Without the evils of Nazism and Hitler, and the patriotic fervor of America and our desire to end Germany’s quest for world domination, Joe Simon does not sketch out the star-spangled hero punching Hitler in the mouth.

No better first issue cover picture exists in comics.

With every other superhero, the setting doesn’t matter.  Gotham is not inherent to Batman’s origin – the murder of his parents is the key. Krypton is obviously fictional – the importance of Superman’s origin is that his home planet has been destroyed, and any Midwest small town (“Smallville”) could serve Siegel and Shuster’s purposes in creating their uber-man. Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider in a lab. Bruce Banner was bombarded by gamma rays – it doesn’t matter where it happened, or when. And so on.

But where and when, particularly when, is essential to Captain America – he could only have his origins in 1940s America. And that’s what director Joe Johnston clearly understands about the character and it’s the 1940s setting that makes The First Avenger so unique among superhero movies. Sure, you could raise the point about X-Men: First Class being set during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, but that was an artificial backdrop used merely to fit it in to the timeline established by the first two X-Men films. The 1960s were not necessary to the origin of the animosity between Xavier and Magneto (sure, the Civil Rights comparison is there, but the mutant conceit works for any minority that faces prejudice).

And as a result of the setting, there’s a different tone to Captain America than in other superhero movies.  Steve Rogers ends up being a superhero because he loves America and what it stands for, and that’s a far different reason than any other hero – hell, he wears the American flag as a uniform.  It could have easily descended into camp or hokey patriotism, but there’s an earnestness to Evans’ portrayal of Cap (and the film) that keeps it from doing so.  Cap is  a tough character to portray, I imagine, but I bought into it easily.  Chris Evans is now Captain America.

***

I think it’s unfair of reviewers to call this merely a set-up for The Avengers movie next year. There’s a lot of story in this film, and Johnston and crew spent a lot of time developing the characters.  It’s a shame, though, that this film couldn’t get into the Rogers as a “man out of time” story line which would add for more emotional impact – this film only provides the briefest of glimpses of that idea.  As far as the origin story, it nails it. Perfect, really. There are no questions about who Steve Rogers is or what his motivations are, and I’d argue that The First Avenger excels Thor and the Hulk (equal to Iron Man, though) in explaining its main character.

***

Hydra ends up taking the place of Nazis in the movie, by and large, and I wish that we got to see more Nazi-killing. It doesn’t mean that Nazis aren’t present, but it’s made clear that Hydra’s goals go far beyond Nazism and that’s actually in line with the comics. Still, Hydra soldiers in this film are Nazis, so I suppose that will have to suffice. The advanced weaponry seen in the film remind viewers that this is a comic book movie, not history, and I couldn’t help but want to see a little more “realistic” warfare (as seen in the concept art for the movie):

***

Cap in action on the screen might as well have been ripped from the pages of the comics. He punches Hydra goons, they go flying. Remember, the Super Soldier serum transformed him into a physically perfect human specimen, capable of some pretty outstanding feats (the wiki says he can bench press 1200 pounds, i.e., if  he hits/throws a regular person, that person will go flying). I wonder if The Avengers and future Cap movies will allow him to keep his pistol.  I don’t think he needs it, though in wartime it would be expected.  And his use of his iconic shield was perfect – never to the point of eye-rolling, for me.

***

Bottom line, though, is that I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. As a friend and I were saying as we were waiting in line, this was one we were waiting all our lives for. Now that it’s here, it’s everything a Captain America film needed to be. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

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3 Responses to “Captain America: The First Avenger – Thoughts (yeah, I loved it)”

  1. Alejandra Says:

    I don’t know if you’ve read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, but I think you’d like it. The first issue of the fictional comic in the book is the same as the Captain America. It’s also a really good book.

  2. Kracker Says:

    As a person who doesn’t usually like super hero movies, I did enjoy this one for the reasons you posted. It does bring in elements of history, and that’s something I can appreciate.

  3. […] America makes numerous appearance each year, for some reason.  The above is from this past year, as well.  I don’t see myself taking this […]

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