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.