Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Star-Spangled Man With A Plan

I wasn't feeling well when I saw Captain America. It didn't cure me; I went to the bathroom several times during the film, and I'll have to wait to see the whole thing again some time. Although the film doesn't surpass other superhero movies in its effect on audiences, it's a good film, and better than what I expected.

Through CGI, Chris Evans is made into the wimpy, thin, frail Steve Rogers. He's a sickly kid who wants to do anything to serve his country. But he is not a jingoistic jerk. When Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) interviews him, he asks him "Do you want to kill Nazis?" he replies, "I don't want to kill anybody. I don't like bullies, wherever they're from."

When Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Cap in 1940, of course there was racist talk about the Germans and Japanese in the comics and movies. More against the Japanese, since there were always "good Germans" who often died in sacrifice to save the American hero. Here, the racism does not exist...and, to a large extent, the Nazis don't, either.

The villain, The Red Skull, a.k.a. Johann Schmidt, is a scientific genius who was the first (undesired) recipient of Dr. Erskine's formula. He has discovered a form of energy (known in comics as The Cosmic Cube) which he uses to create incredible weapons and vehicles. But not for the Third Reich. To sell this film in Germany, every Swastika has been deleted. The Skull is ambitious enough to want to destroy both the Allies and Hitler. His organization, Hydra (developed in the 60's as substitutes for Nazis)

After Steve Rogers becomes Captain America, and his creator is murdered, he works for the Allies...in cheesy War Bond fundraising shows where he punches out a bad actor playing Hitler, to the delight of miniskirted star-spangled girls. But it doesn't play on actual battlefields. "Nice boobs, Tinkerbell!" the GI's heckle him. Rogers (who, like his 1980's version, was an artist) draws himself in a notebook as a monkey on a unicycle carrying a shield.

Against the wishes of the military, Cap goes to rescue a group of captured soldiers. He gets the aid of Howard Stark (yep, Tony Stark's dad) and rescues them. Although the story doesn't specifically mention it, the soldiers who accompany him on his mission are the Howlin' Commandos, the international group of soldiers from Marvel's war comics. (In the comics, the Commandos were led by Nick Fury...who back then was white and had both eyes.)

It all comes up to the climax where Cap crashes the Red Skull's massive "flying wing" into the Arctic, is defrosted in the present day, and stares in wonder at Times Square circa 2011. And the inevitable, very short trailer for The Avengers.

Okay, all the major fanboy plot points are hit. Cap is a man out of time. He can barely understand the present day. He will note how many things have changed, but how some things still need to be changed. And he will represent the spirit of America as the good liberal writers of Marvel Comics always presented him.

And unlike the two TV-movies that screwed up Captain America, unlike the bad cartoons done by Grantray-Lawrence Animaton and Marvel Productions, this Captain is worthy of the legend. But...well, I was hoping for something more. Something inspiring. Maybe something that would comment, even if only obliquely, on our present day.

I wish I felt better about this film. Maybe it was my illness. Maybe it was that this film hit at the end of a drab summer. But Captain America doesn't completely work in an era of Wal-Mart and corporate corruption. There could have been something more than the magic awakening in Times Square; Cap's reaction to our modern world might have made this film significant. Instead we'll have to wait and see if he says anything in The Avengers.