Look I apologize and I’ll understand if you want to leave right now. But before you go: please watch Captain America. It’s really quite a decent flick.
So I guess all the Marvel comics movies can now be separated into “Avengers” and “Not Avengers”. The Avengers movies seem to have been designated the flagship of the Marvel movie universe, with Iron Man as the standard-bearer because well Robert Downy Junior is adorable. Captain America is the first Marvel movie that gives Iron Man a run for his vast fortune. Wheras Thor was a very fun film with a decent backbone and an excellent portrayal of Loki, and X-Men: First Class was an interesting premise with an amazing portrayal of Magneto, Captain America is simply great.
What has cemented Captain America as my favorite of the recent comic book movies is that it’s the only one that uses the by now standard retelling of the origin story for something worthwhile. Here’s Captain America’s origin from the 40’s comics:
Hunh, I hadn’t noticed that gaining intelligence was supposed to be a part of it until just now. Anyways, that characterization you see? That’s about how much everyone got. Dr. Erskine was a name that kind of sounded like Einstein, and Captain America was a prototype superman who immediately leaps into the war to turn the tide. It’s succinct and punchy but you know, not really a “story”. Most superhero origins are similarly constrained, and the question becomes one of working with them in a way that introduces newcomers to the story without boring the piss out of the stalwart fans you’re depending on for your base audience.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” brilliantly expounds on the origin, giving a voice and a reason to Dr. Erskine and allowing him to becoming more of a driving force than his one-note existence in the comics allowed. It also makes Captain America something more than the Charles Atlas boy. Dr. Erskine is introduced as a German ex-pat, a moral man once forced by the Nazis to put his mind to work for evil. That right there is something: the very first German Steve Rogers meets is from Queens. He couldn’t become Captain America without being a decent enough human being to trust that a person isn’t defined solely by nationality. In addition, Erskine himself has a scene where he’s put in stark relief to Nazi Super Scientists Armin Zola and the Red Skull, who pursue science without consideration for safety or decency due to cowardice and self-absorption respectively.
Through the characterization of Erskine, the origin of Captain America becomes less about having awesome steroids and more about the relationship between power and the people who wield it. I mean Erskine specifically mentions that having seen his work corrupted by the Nazis, he’s looking for a man who is weak enough to know that power has to be used wisely instead of taken for granted.
It’s not exactly the deepest philosophy, but it’s trying. Iron Man, for all that I love it, was almost sometimes about taking power for granted, and then mostly was about how robot suits are fucking awesome (another philosophical point I wholly endorse). More importantly, it managed to do this origin without being bone-crushingly boring for someone who already knew the dance steps.
The second piece of Captain America that really made it click for me was that there was a solid reasoning behind the plotting that just isn’t there in many movies, particularly big superhero action flicks. Captain America moved from setting to setting only when it could explain exactly why it was doing so. Nothing happened simply because the principal characters willed it so. Many superhero movies provide motivation and setting for hero and villain, and then in the space of a week they each Origin Story themselves, and they meet at regular intervals for an entire arc’s worth of nemisising. Captain America only allows the hero and villain to meet when a meeting makes sense within the story context. Settings aren’t simply window dressing for action sequences, they’re stages on a journey from Steve Rogers the wimp to Captain America the savior of the US of A. If you took any sequence out of order, it wouldn’t make sense. I can’t say the same thing for many action films.
Also, for god’s sake, things took time. The one silliest part of Thor was that the entire thing took place over the span of a week. Captain America’s personal revelations take place over the course of a war, and his chaste love interest doesn’t fall head over heels for him in a during the arduous trek from Monday to Wednesday. Although the montage sequences went slightly longer than I might have liked, they at least said in bold letters: TIME PASSED AND THINGS CHANGED AS THEY DO…. rather than relying on our idea that yeah it seems right that Thor should learn humility by the end so I guess he does.
I think what provided this backbone was in large part the wartime setting. This movie felt a bit like the propaganda flicks from the 40’s, where providing an accurate picture of exactly where and when the attack was happening and who was flanking who was all part of the wartime cheerleading.
Anyways, go see this movie. It’s the best of the Marvel stuff, and now my personal favorite of the comic films I’ve seen.