Thursday, October 13, 2011

Captain America (2011)

To close out the second part of this week of Comics and Commentary (after Tin Tin and before 20th Century Boys), we find ourselves graced with some thoughts on Captain America, by Reg. To me Captain America is one of the best comic book based films I’ve run across (not to mention one of the best films of the year). Reg has been having conversations about the film ever since it’s come out with anyone who would listen (and a few penguins on holiday who wouldn’t) so I thought it would be best if he was the one to weigh in on this truly wonderful film.

In his Pulitzer Winning novel about the 1940s comic book industry in
New York city. "The Amazing Adventurers of Kavalier and Clay", (a book I cannot recommend highly enough,) Michael Chabon recreates a particular image. The cover of the first issue is a picture of the hero punching Adolf Hitler square an the jaw and there is just something very satisfying about that image, which is probably why back
in the 1940s that was the image on the cover of Captain America issue #1.

Let's face it, punching Hitler is fun and back in the forties, you could make serials where Captain America got to punch Hitler on a regular basis and the folks at home and the troops abroad would be enlivened by it. Captain America, a pure force of goodness, fighting pure evil and the anathema to all that Middle America believed in.

How wonderful it would be to return to that era of certainty, before Watergate, before we knew about the the secret files J. Edgar Hoover was keeping on the Kennedy's, before we knew what the mob had on Hoover.

The problem with Captain America is that he comes from a more innocent age so any film about him could go really, really wrong.

The reason Joe Johnson's film works is that the first thing it eschews is jingoistic patriotism. For a film called "Captain America" there is very little espousal of America. What there is a lot of is giving the little guy a chance and not letting the bully win.

I imagine that the same narrative was the key to those 1940s serials.

21st century technology allows for some brilliant sequences that could never have been dreamt of back in the 1940s and it has to be said that acting techniques have also moved on, so Hugo (Mr Giraffe-Face) Weaving can actually be a terrifyingly controlled and very Prussian omnipathic villain. Weaving's Red Skull is so cold and clinical, the comics geek in me wants to see him go head to head with Jack
Nicholson's Joker.

The point I've been hinting at here is that this film does draw strongly from the 1940s serials. It knows what it is and it knows that at some visceral level, as long as they see the hero punch Hitler, the audience will be satisfied and yet it does so much more because at some point, the director forgot he was trying to pastiche 1940s
serials and started trying to make a 1960s war film.

So the fight scenes involving the Cap, they do look authentically 1940s and frankly, I think the costume works brilliantly in that context. The wider battle-scenes are to me reminiscent of "The Dirty Dozen"or "Where Eagles Dare" And that deserves credit.

The crucial point about this film is that after all the hullabaloo, you actually like the central character and this film leaves us with possibly the most tragic victorious hero ever.

I'm not going to suggest that it is easy to direct a big fat lazy comic-book film but I will say that Joe Johnson directed something that was neither fat nor lazy and he certainly produced a film that deserves to be seen, and makes us all feel like we can punch Hitler.

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