Sunday, August 7, 2011

Captain America

Two Fridays ago, I had the opportunity to see the new Captain America film.

This is significant for a number of reasons. For one thing, it's the first film I've seen in the theater since before my child was born (that was back in January). Even before my child was born, there weren't a whole lot of films I was going to days as a cinephile went away sometime in my mid-twenties, and these days it's much easier (and cheaper) to rent Blue-Rays for the big screen TV (or stream Netflix or On Demand) than it is to go out to the theater.

But I really wanted to see this one.

That my wife gave me her blessing to take off while she watched the baby (and even set it up with my buddy Steve-O) was weird enough (it's not like I whined about seeing it or something...come on, I have some parental responsibility!). But I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I took the opportunity when it presented itself.

Oh yeah.

It may come as a surprise to some that Captain America was probably my favorite comic book superhero growing up. Oh, he didn't have a Saturday morning cartoon or anything and I didn't collect any comics really (I'd just occasionally purchase whatever looked good on the rack, if my parents had recently given me some money). But The Avengers were generally always a good buy (back in the early 1980s), and Captain America was always Mister Avenger.

But there were a ton of good Marvel comics back in those days. Daredevil was fighting ninja with Electra, Spiderman hadn't been saturated with Hobgoblins and black sentient outfits, Thor was still a skinny dude with a walking stick when he wasn't hammering foes with his "naked fist." And Ghost Rider, searing people's souls with hellfire touch? Badass. Much as I liked Green Arrow and Green Lantern (from their cartoon characters) DC could never hold a candle to Marvel characters. Batman...a dude with a utility belt that beat up people...was a total wuss back then.

And of the Marvel characters, time and time again Captain America was the guy that came to the forefront as the leader in every situation.

He was always good, back then. Always did the right thing whenever possible. Always took the high road. And yet he never backed down, never gave up, never surrendered...always gave it 100%.

I can still remember reading the first Secret Wars series (speaking of Spidey's black suit) circa age 12 and wondering how the heck the heroes could to prevail against Doctor Doom when he had the Godlike power of the Beyonder at his beck and call. I mean, he'd just wiped out the entire cadre of good guys at the end of the prior issue, and it was only crazy fortune (or Deus Ex Machina...I was fairly unsophisticated back then) that had allowed them to get back in the game.

And there's Cap, shattered shield in hand, leading the charge against Doom and his legion of monsters...and there's Cap breaking the line and confronting Doom...Cap with no super powers to speak of, just dauntless courage and a high level of fitness.

Never say die, never give up, give it your all, always do what's right...even when it's the hard thing to do. For me, Captain America represented what America the country was supposed to be about.

It might also surprise some people, in light of prior blog posts of condemnation, that I am an American patriot. I've got an American flag hanging outside my house and happily champion the ideals this nation's forefathers set down for us...ideals that to me are much more progressive and leftward-leaning (especially with regard to civic duty) than some folks would have people believe. Just because some people appropriate the idea of "American values" and twist it to their own purposes, leading to death, destruction, and the impoverishment of others doesn't mean we should stop fighting for those ideals.

[*sigh* I'm Roman Catholic, too, and the Catholic church has done terrible, terrible things to many, many people over the centuries of its history. Doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to "love our neighbors" or use the example of Christ as a model for good living. And, no, Jesus was not a capitalist]

But, back to Captain America, whose Underoos I proudly owned and wore as a recent years, the good Captain has received a bit of a makeover, playing up his wartime (i.e. WWII) background as a soldier. The version of Cap found in the Ultimates imprint (a re-imagining of many Silver Age heroes) is much more martial in tone, combined with a (or perhaps "un-nuanced") morality that has him experience the same anger management mood swings one might find in a steroid abuser. At the same time, the re-imagined character is quite the badass, and in many ways a more believable character (if any such Marvel creation can be described as such) than the wing-headed guy found in the comics the 70s and 80s. For me, reading The Ultimates revived an interest in Cap (and The Avengers) that hadn't been there since before Yellow Jacket was kicked out of the team. And I like the Falcon/Cap team-ups!

So, yeah...what about the movie?

It's great. I've seen pretty much all the Marvel films of the last decade or so (with the exception of the recent Thor, remember?), and for me, it's high on the list. I think the first Iron Man is probably still the best of the bunch (thanks in large part to Robert Downey Jr.), but it definitely rivals Spider Man 2 (which would have been my shoe-in for second favorite). As a film, I can say that the beginning parts are a little too slow, and the ending/denouement goes a little too fast...but it's always tricky with these "origin stories" to get the pacing right while both a) providing the necessary exposition, and b) providing a fully generated plot.

However, I don't have the same gripes a film critic would...after all, films based on comic books have a different set of grading criteria (for me) than your average film. And what I'M looking for is: how true to the comic book is the portrayal of the character? Certainly, those who've seen the previews will have seen that Cap's costume is much more modeled off the Ultimate Cap imprint than the guy with the red buccaneer boots (though that guy does make an appearance). And the film does mostly take place in the 1940s...would they play him up as a violent, take-no-prisoners killer?

Nope. Asked if he wants to join the army to kill Nazis, he replies:

"I don't want to kill ANYone. I just don't like bullies."

That's a great f'ing line.

This Captain America IS a badass. He's got a totally practical costume, the fancy shield, and a fantastic montage of action sequences to show just why he's the go-to guy when the going gets tough.

But he's still a superhero...that is, someone embodying ideals above and beyond what we might call heroism. Trying to save lives, not take them. Going above and beyond the call of duty. Self-sacrifice. Courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Never say die, never surrender.

Oh, yeah...and he's an artist, too, just like the old Steve Rogers. Not to mention the motorcycle.

I've seen every Captain America movie that's ever been made, and wow are they terrible. But this film, they get so much right, I can totally forgive any oversights and discrepancies that fail to match the comic. Whoever created THIS film knew what they were doing. And knew what Captain America was all about. And they embraced it and ran with it and made a killer movie.

I'd certainly watch it again.


  1. I also enjoyed this movie. The first time I saw it was in 3D, which I hated (it was also my first - and only - 3D movie experience), but even through the terrible 3D filter I knew this was a good movie.

    So I saw it again last night. No 3D. Thumbs up.

  2. Also a big thumbs up from me. I loved how they worked in the old shield and the dorky costume. I'd rank it the #1 or #2 Marvel film, competing with Iron Man 1 for the top slot, which means it's the #1 or #2 superhero film I've seen. (The only DC one that comes close is Dark Knight, and only if you skip the parts Heath Ledger isn't in.) I wish there'd been a little more about what happened after they found the plane, but your point about origins movies is on target there.

    Cap was never a character I read when I was reading comics (Mostly Spidey & DD), but I've warmed up to him over the years. S a result, I was really looking forward to this movie, and it did not disappoint.

  3. I agree! It's my favorite supers movie. They did an outstanding job.

  4. Yep. I still like Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man more, but Captain America is a close third. I certainly prefer it to Thor, which is odd, as I've always liked Thor more than Cap; they should have probably gone with the Ultimates version of Thor, but I can understand that they wanted to do the Kirby stuff.