Captain America movie review

Even though Cowboys & Aliens comes out next week and Conan the Barbarian will be released on August 19, the summer movie season ended this past weekend with Captain America: the First Avenger. Waaaay back in February I posted my summer movie preview and in it, I said some questionable things (for instance, in reference to Green Lantern, I said “I already know that I am going to love it before it has come out,” and in reference to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I stated, “I’ll go see it” – both of which are lies), but now that we’re at the end of the season, I look back with mixed feelings. Thor started things off relatively strong, and X-men: First Class took it up a notch, and of course Green Lantern warranted a three-day rant, but how does Captain America fare? 

Even though Chris Evans starred in the Fantastic Four movies as the Human Torch, and Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he still shines as Captain America. He looks the part, and his voice is gruff in the way that Cap should sound. Evans is square-jawed, good-looking, and still charismatic. In short, he is probably the perfect Captain America, so any worries about him in the role are unfounded.

Hugo Weaving plays the Red Skull and there isn’t really much to say other than it’s Hugo Weaving playing a villain again, so you know what you’re getting. The same goes for Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips – if you’ve seen one Tommy Lee Jones movie, then you’ve pretty much seen them all (I suppose he doesn’t chase anyone in this movie, though). This isn’t a slight against either actor so much as it is an acknowledgment that they are actors who are comfortable and excellent in the roles they play.

The biggest surprise of the film was Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. Stark’s role in the film is substantial and the connections made between Howard and his son Tony do much to add to world that Marvel has built within their films. Each Marvel film can be enjoyed on its own, but their connections to one another are incredibly rich and wonderful, but that’s an article for another day.

Even though the acting was top notch, I was a little put off by the lack of overt patriotism in the film. Going into the movie, I wanted to be immersed in patriotism. I wanted Cap to be waving the American flag and quoting the Constitution, but other than the costume, there really wasn’t much in the way of authentic patriotic references.

After Steve Rogers becomes Captain America, instead of joining the armed forces, he is given the choice to either become a lab rat or join the U.S.O. tour. He chooses the latter and puts on a gawdy costume while attractive women dance around him. Here, patriotism is on full display and it is being ridiculed. When he takes his act before the troops, they boo him off the stage and Cap notes that the problem is that his audience isn’t filled with twelve year olds.

If there were any counter-examples of patriotism, then the U.S.O. moments could be forgiven, but there aren’t, and so the film is asserting that patriotism is for kids, but not for serious adults. The serious adults know what war is really like and while there isn’t ever dissension among the soldiers, there is also never a moment where the troops are stating how proud they were to be American, either.

In May, I wrote about why it’s difficult to make Captain America cool and there I noted that Patriotism is sometimes associated with ignorance and this is prevalent in the film Captain America as well. Col. Phillips suggests that Dr. Erskine find a tough and fit soldier for their super-soldier program, but Erskine believes that Steve Rogers is the only man for the job. When asked why he is so confident, Erskine mentions that he “has faith.” Later in the film, Peggy Carter also mentions that she believes in Captain America because she “has faith.”

In these two instances, the characters aren’t believing in Steve Rogers because evidence shows that he can overcome adversity. These characters believe in Rogers simply because they do. It’s clear that Rogers won’t back down from a fight, but that doesn’t mean that he will necessarily be enough to save the day in the end.

This “faith” isn’t a faith in a higher power nor the United States of America being able to overcome adversity – this faith is squarely in an individual and nothing more. As such, Captain America is no longer a symbol of America itself, but rather one man’s ability to overcome adversity now that he is on steroids.

For further evidence of this, look no further than how Steve Rogers became Captain America in this film. He received his powers as part of the Super-Soldier program, but he doesn’t really become Captain America until he joins the U.S.O. traveling show. The identity of Captain America wasn’t created in the film to be a symbol to terrorize the enemy, but was created as a gimmick to sell war bonds. He is a joke in the U.S.O. and it’s almost an accident that he even battles the Nazis in his Cap uniform in the first place.

So, in essence, the idea of super-heroes in the Marvel movieverse is an accident. Cap’s costume becomes a uniform, but it was initially just part of a stage show. So, the Captain America of the movie isn’t a super-hero, but instead, he is a weapon to be used on the enemy and nothing more.

But if super-heroes are just weapons, then they aren’t people we should look up to. When we take out the symbolism of the super-hero, then we take out everything that makes them wonderful. And considering that I didn’t see the American flag in this movie one time (no, Cap’s costume doesn’t count), I think it’s safe to say that this movie stripped out its symbolism and left us with a walking, talking weapon.

This wasn’t a bad movie, but I prepared myself for a patriotic tour-de-force with the Star-Spangled Banner playing as Captain America carried our country’s flag to the top of Mount Rushmore, but it was lacking.

Still, it was a hell of a lot better than Green Lantern.

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11 Responses to Captain America movie review

  1. Donny Fleischer says:

    Leave it to Marvel to sacrifice the “red,white, and blue” when it comes to the green. Gotta tailor to the international audience, and them Krauts apparently want to see these movies?

    • Popgun Chaos says:

      To further your point, please note the lack of a Swastika anywhere in the film and while the Nazis were still mentioned as being villainous, note that the Red Skull’s team is so evil that we are almost meant to feel sorry for the Nazis.

  2. The Kid says:

    Interesting. I don’t know much about Captain America, but I saw the film because you and a few other comic book guys I know have talked about how he’s all kinds of awesome, and I was hoping to see what the hype was about. I wouldn’t necessarily say the film lacked patriotism – as I see it, the part of the film focusing on Cap’s gimmicky war bonds pitch was meant to highlight the difference between real patriotism and patriotism for show. Still, I see what you mean. I never got the sense that Cap was actually representing America as an ideal. I could only think of him as an American soldier with a flashier outfit. I even found myself wondering if the film needed to be about “Captain America” at all, or if it could just have been a generic war movie (disregarding the demon-faced supervillain harnessing the power of Odin, obviously). So rather than saying it lacked patriotism, I guess I would say that it failed to utilize patriotism as a central theme the way it should have, and that kept it from achieving its full potential. But it was still enjoyable in a summer movie kind of way and it hasn’t dissuaded me from waiting expectantly for the Avengers movie.

    • Popgun Chaos says:

      My dad brought up the difference between fake patriotism and real patriotism as well, but the film never offered an alternative to fake patriotism. All of the alternatives presented are either personal faith or Steve’s hatred of bullies – neither of which represent a love for one’s country.

  3. Otto66 says:

    Lack of Swastikas has more to do with them being banned in Germany, where the movie is sure to be shown,
    then anything else. Will be seeing the movie this weekend, after which, will be adding my 2¢ to this post.

  4. Buzz McWailin' says:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree about the lack of patriotism, as silly as I feel about arguing such a weighty premise through the context of a summer blockbuster.

    While at no point does Captain America say “I am patriotic” or is described by others as “patriotic,” I feel this in no way decreases his all-American motivations; in fact, I feel it heightens his patriotism. The movie Cap’s patriotism is found solely through action.

    He sacrifices what could very well be his life by subjecting himself to a dangerous medical experiment, proceeding despite agonizing pain because he believes in his government’s abilities and motivations.

    He does an endless, humiliating USO tour despite wanting to avoid a desk job since the outset, merely because he is told it is how he can best contribute to the war effort. While cheese was a very real factor in many USO productions, both historically and in this movie, no one can overstate the importance such funds had to the American war effort. The distasteful attitude Steve Rogers has towards his fame makes him all the more patriotic for his persistence.

    When it becomes clear that Cap is not being allowed to best serve his country due to limitations imposed by the same authority that set him on the USO tour in the first place, he rebels against that authority and sees his first action. Note he does this only when it becomes obvious (via the endangered lives of 400+ POWs) no other recourse is available. And when he returns from his act of rebellion, he immediately reintegrates with the command structure, thus changing the structure through his informed dissent. What more flattering description of the democratic system could you want?

    Finally, rather than risk EVEN THE POSSIBILITY of destruction befalling the USA, he flies a plane into the icy depths of the sea to what he must believe is his certain death. Keep in mind, the possibility of deterring disaster without this sacrifice is never expressly ruled out; he kills himself to avoid even the risk to his countrymen’s safety. He doesn’t sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic or anything like that while he crashes, but is that really the gripe?

    These actions speak of qualities like self-sacrifice, informed citizenship, duty, modesty, and stoicism. I’d argue that all these qualities are distinct facets of American identity, and it is these qualities, as they are embodied by Steve Rogers, that the supporting cast expresses faith in. Stanley Tucci’s character demonstrates this faith long before Rogers undergoes the procedure, and the supporting characters all share the same arc/epiphany through the course of the film as they realize that this faith was well placed.

    How is that not patriotic? How would more recreations of a propaganda images in the film itself possibly add anything to that patriotic message? How could verbally expressing these sentiments be more powerful than depicting them through dramatic interplay, especially in a movie?

    • Popgun Chaos says:

      “as silly as I feel about arguing such a weighty premise through the context of a summer blockbuster” – There’s nothing silly about this discussion because it’s Captain America and as a symbol for America, these are issues that should be addressed with the character just as race, sexuality, and equality should be addressed with the X-men films.

      You bring up a lot of excellent points that I am inclined to agree with, but where does all of this selflessness come from? We’re never clear on why Steve Rogers is motivated to act outside of saving people is the right thing to do and bullies are jerks. Cap isn’t a hero in this film because of patriotism, but rather because of humanism. He isn’t a hero because he was raised in America and he learned specific values to shape him into the individual he has become, but because he doesn’t like seeing people get pushed around.

      Keep in mind, I’m not saying that this is wrong. In fact, our world might be a better place if we cared for others as much as we care for ourselves. But in a film that takes place in the 40’s (and a film that has been noted by some idiot critics as being an “authentic” film) I expected more “gee-whiz” kind of mentality.

      I feel like I’m going a little too fanboy on my comments about the film, so please don’t interpret them as a condemnation of the movie just because I wanted more patriotism. I think it was a well-made movie on the whole (I neglected to mention in my review that I thought the effects to make Evans look scrawny were very well handled) with a few exceptions (some of the continuity editing was a little confusing), but I did enjoy it.

    • Popgun Chaos says:

      One last thing – I miss ya, Buzz. We need to hang out sometime soon.

      • Michael Patton says:

        I have to chime in here. For a long time in the Captain America comic there has been a distinct difference between him representing the American Citizen and the American Government. He is a symbol when he takes up his shield and the warrior we know as Cap, Steve Rogers, is the embodiment of Cap. Even when Bucky/Winter Soldier replaces him it is clear he is in the shadow of Steve Rogers/Cap. This is the teammate who encourages all, who carries out tactics and brings fighting men and women together. I feel Cody that your bias for DC and the symbolism of their characters interferes with the way Marvel defines their heroes. Do heroes need to uphold ideal imagery or a specific idea to remain a hero? Marvel doesn’t emphasize the stalwart support of any idea even the Avengers. The Avengers themselves are flawed, like Captain America is. To be truly human in Marvel is to be uncertain and sometimes the Marvel Heroes are uncertain. It is not the idea that wins the day but it is the men and women of that struggle that overcome. Yes it is messy but I like messy and that is why this character was perfect for me. I like Captain America more now than ever and he shows why you can defy commands in an informed way to do the right thing. This will be the difference in a place like Germany where they know Nazi’s followed orders, Americans, the people, do what is right because Captain America showed that is what Americans do.

  5. “This “faith” isn’t a faith in a higher power nor the United States of America being able to overcome adversity – this faith is squarely in an individual and nothing more. As such, Captain America is no longer a symbol of America itself, but rather one man’s ability to overcome adversity now that he is on steroids.”

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I picked up on this a little from the trailer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Cap as a kid, and I don’t read many mainstream comics today. However, I was always struck that Captain America’s super-soldier status was downplayed to his image of American Idealism. Wasn’t that why it was so sad when he was shot? Not, “Aw, damn…there go million’s of Uncle Sam’s dollars,” but “what do we do now without our pervading and rock-steady embodyment of the American Ideal”? Yes, he was an amazing warrior, but this, in my mind, was due more to his unyielding patriotism and faith in democracy, not because of the measure of his strength.

    That being said, I still think it’s going to be a great movie, and I still plan on seeing it. I have really been working hard on separating films based on things I love from the actual things that I love. Otherwise, because Hollywood has obviously run out of ideas, I would never be able to see a movie again.

  6. joecrak says:

    I think i enjoyed the movie so much more because there was not a lot of overt patriotism in it. It’s just about a man standing up for what he believes.

    Plus i think it’s cool that he rarely smiles throughout the entire film.

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