Saturday, August 20, 2011

Captain "Middle of the Road" America

Yes this is a review of Captain America. And as a disclaimer I will add that I have no history with the famed superhero, so I will accept no responsibility for making a comment that would be considered irreverent. I review the movie, not the literature, entity, or culture of Captain America.

The stereotypical unlikely hero of this story is Steve Rogers; a skinny, scrawny young man with no admirable physique, but pure ideals and a heart for justice. Steve is in a sense, an embodiment of the American way of liberty and justice for all. He longs to fight against the evil powers of oppression of World War II and be counted among the men who defend freedom. Thanks to cutting edge science, the mad dreams of Dr. Abraham Erskine, and Steve's willingness to be a guinea pig, Steve is transformed in a matter of minutes from a determined runt to a muscular model of a soldier. Being a humble man, he doesn't shove his paperwork stamped "phyically unfit" in the face of the recruiters when he emerges as a supersolider.

Captain America is as a comicbook movie, neither great nor loathsome. It hits squarely in the middle in almost all ways. The plot is predictable, the light love story expected, and the overblown action is typical (though admittedly entertaining) for a movie of its genre. I believe I have said before that this particular genre does not necessarily require good acting, so if it is present it may be counted as a bonus, as was the case with Iron Man. Chris Evans faithfully presents the character of Steve Rogers as a sterling, incorruptible force for good, without being stupidly angelic. Rogers is a down to earth sort of boy next next door, and extremely likable even before his transformation into Captain America. He's polite, patriotic, kind, but strong and determined. Other than Rogers himself, the most memorable character is Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, someday the father of Iron Man's Tony Stark, with a similarly sarcastic nature and preference for scantily-clad women, but women in general do just as well.

Hugo Weaving is an interesting actor to say the least, but his role as the Red Skull villain of this movie is mediocre by no fault of his own, which means the parties to blame must be, at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, the writers. Don't misunderstand me, it was preposterously ambitious to have a Nazi villain whose plots surpass Der Fuhrer himself. The laws of comic books require that the villain be the absolute antithesis of the hero, and if you're searching for such an archetype, you can hardly do better than a Nazi. Since Steve is the apotheosis of goodness and virtue, the Nazi by default must be the epitome of depravity, evil, and abnormality. He accomplishes this by not having a real face, which is hardly unexpected in a comic book movie. Steve on the other hand has no selfish ambitions, is not to be dissuaded by his diminutive size, and does not take advantage of the British agent who clearly takes an interest. He is like the idealistic Superman, but not so untouchable and impersonal. For the most part he is a fairly solid hero, though not particularly complex. However, not having a hero with inner demons and deep dark tortuous secrets is refreshing, really.

It is this lack of complexity and excess of cliche that brings Captain America somewhere stranded between Spider-man and Iron Man; above a completely lighthearted origin story, but not quite original enough to stand out as a paragon of the genre. All the same, that is not to say that Captain America is unenjoyable; it is certainly very good. The lead character is the definitive good guy, the WWII setting is unique, and it's packed full of fast-paced action and a few sweet reflective moments. As a superhero origin movie it may not go down in the genre's history as a specimen of their finest, but it makes for a great popcorn flick and some nostalgic patriotism.

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