The Much-Needed Captain America
“Captain America: The First Avenger” has arrived at the perfect time, providing a much-needed dose of patriotism in this cynical period of American life.
The film feeds our collective nostalgia, transporting viewers to an era of strong ideals, unbridled enthusiasm and wars worth fighting. Its grounding in World War II provides a stark reminder that our current wars are not as clear-cut as that one.
Captain America was first seen in 1941, fighting the Axis powers of World War II across the pages of Timely Comics (Marvel’s predecessor). An intentionally patriotic symbol, he was Timely’s most popular character during the wartime period.
He seems to be the most popular character during our wartime period as well. “Captain America” beat “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” at this past weekend’s box office, raking in an estimated $65.8 million — impressive and surprising considering “Harry Potter” is only in its second week of release.
Perhaps this triumph over the darker “Harry Potter” is a sign of audiences’ desire, in these troubled times, to step into the light. “Captain America” may take place in the midst of war, but it is about a man who continually rises from the rubble and emerges as a hero. Most recent comic book films — and action movies in general (e.g. “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Dark Knight,” “The American,” etc.) — follow their heroes into the abyss, never to return.
It feels strange to watch a pro-war film like “Captain America” in a time when the country is largely against it. Even stranger is the fact that the superhero at its forefront is a mirror of our current president.
Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) reflects President Obama in how he begins as an underdog and then rises through the ranks to become a powerful symbol of hope. In the process, he overcomes prejudice and doubt — and learns how to rouse a crowd. One of the film’s most memorable set pieces is a montage of the Captain’s stage show designed to sell war bonds — a literalization of political theater.
Like Obama — and unlike many recently seen superheroes — Captain America is a hopeful, eager leader rather than a world-weary one. It’s refreshing to see a purposeful superhero that jumps into action with giddy exuberance rather than trudging through a melancholy daze out of obligation and anger. I’m looking at you, Batman and Spider-Man.
As much as I appreciate “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 2” for their realism, it’s nice to see an old-fashioned adventure flick filmed through an escapist lens. “Captain America” stands out in this age of revisionist genre films, embracing conventions when it is popular to play against them. It mirrors films from the Golden Age of Hollywood with its wholesome, familiar style and cathartic power.
“Captain America” breaks the recent pattern of gritty realism, and I, for one, welcome the shake-up with open arms. Fraught with social, political and economic tension, our country could use a pick-me-up and for that, this film is the ticket. Anchored by effervescent direction and acting, it is one of the summer’s best films.
Keep in mind that Captain America was initially created to assure the country that it could conquer evil and overcome adversity. So, I’d say we need him now more than ever.
Film: 4 yaps
Illustration by good friend and Film Yap reader Ian Boley.