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Monday, July 25, 2011

Pleasantly meta: A Captain America Review (spoilers)

Let it be known to all and sundry that I am not a Captain America fan, not even a little, and I am not familiar enough with his development to know how closely this film follows the comics. That said, Captain America: The First Avenger is a really excellent film, for my money the best of the comic book crop this year: the consummate summer blockbuster and a lovely hearkening-back to pulpy, old-fashioned movies, and--it must be said--an excellent propaganda film. Captain America is the best-named superhero in history for a reason: he represents everything the US likes to think it's all about; compassion and sticking up for the underdog are what Cap trumpets but at the end of the day, he's got muscle where it counts. Might doesn't make right and Cap has never been about that (to his credit, I'd have been on his side during Civil War), and the film gets this correct, since Red Skull is the foil to Cap, using the power of the Super-Soldier serum for evil and control while Cap uses it for freedom. However, Dr. Zola, played by the perfectly squirrelly Toby Jones, is also a foil for Steve Rogers; as an undersized dorky scientist, he represents (for me anyway) the other side of the Super-Soldier coin. Steve casts away his scrawny physique and becomes the Platonic ideal of Aryan manhood: tall, muscular, with blond good looks and a great smile. He's suddenly massively attractive to the ladies and he can beat up bullies all day. Zola on the other hand develops his brainpower, unfortunately having it subverted and co-opted by Red Skull's evil plans for Hydra. Zola should be as much of a man as Rogers is...after all, what would Steve have done if he hadn't been used for the Super-Soldier program? Hopefully he would've turned his passion to building things, creating things, writing things, or doing anything else for the war effort and beyond, but we don't know and no one cares, because he became Captain America.

Zola stays Zola: a man of science and intellect, short and pudgy and clearly undesirable, and a Nazi to boot, an icon of the things we fear, hate, and mock. Cap will get laid (seventy years in the future) because he's now a hunk of ass and biceps, and he's nice; we're not sure Zola has ever been laid or ever will be. And on that note, I was rather pleased with the character of Agent Carter, a stubborn, smart, sassy, shoot-em-up gal who doesn't take shit. Yes, she's got the hots for Cap and yes, she's the very image of a sexy pin-up gal, but she never needs rescuing and I didn't find the development of her relationship with Steve to be exploitative or forced. She's a woman with her own career and interests and strengths, and I was glad to see that Steve's reaction to and interactions with her displayed none of the hackneyed "My you're awfully modern, madam. I can almost see the outline of your, ahem, your...lady protrusions!" which some of Cap's comics utilize in order for the reader to be VERY VERY SURE that Cap's a man of his time and he doesn't quite hold with these ladies and their jobs and their above-the-knee shorts. Steve always treats Carter respectfully and she treats him in kind, placing faith in his ability and belief when no one else will.

On a technical level: the acting is solid all around, with standouts from Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter), Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Philips), and Hugo Weaving (Red Skull/Johann Schmidt. Weaving turns that shit up to eleven). The Hollywood junkie in me really enjoyed spotting all the random sort-of famous people in various roles: oh look it's Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer)! Weird, Carter Baizen is playing Bucky? (Sebastian Stan) John Thornton, why are you Hydra? (Richard Armitage being Armitagey) Oh shit it's Dakin as...Tony Stark's dad! (Dominic Cooper) The high-contrast look to the filmography, the almost-corny action sequences and dialogue, and the all-singing all-dancing Star-Spangled Man show really sold the film as a period piece. For a comic book fan, there are plenty of treats in the Cap film, from a glimpse of "Phineas T. Horton's Synthetic Man" at a science expo to a Thor-inspired opening scene.

And of course, there's the Avengers teaser post-credits. In this case "teaser" really is the appropriate term; I don't think a single shot lasted more than five seconds. However, in those seconds is a mass of material which managed to simultaneously give me a boner and remind me why I'm irritated at the film's concept and what Marvel Studios have been doing for the last four years. Yes, it's true, when the movie rolls around I'll have a hard time deciding where to look when RDJ, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Jeremy Renner are on the screen together...but the teaser's conclusion, when Nick Fury says, "Gentlemen, you're up," grates my cheese. It's extremely clear who this movie is about: it's about the Avengers. It's about Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk.

Wait, isn't Black Widow also on the Avengers team?


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