Friday, July 22, 2011

Capatain America: The First Avenger

Created back in the heydey of the 40's to answer the question of the European war with fantasy, Captain America is well named "The First Avenger" - to right wrongs done, to fight evil and to do it out of desire to protect the innocent, NOT to simply, as Dr. Erskine asks in the latest film "ready to kill Nazis?"

I'm gonna guess you are familiar with the classic story: how patriotic and puny Steve Rogers, classified 4F due to multiple health issues problems is unable to serve in the U.S. army. However, a sympathetic Dr. Abram Erskine overhears his plight and offers him a chance - to undergo a special treatment and become America's first "super soldier" - with a form of instant bio-engineering. It is a smashing success, but the good doctor is subsequently killed by a Nazi spy, and key elements of the process are lost. Thus, Steve Rogers remains the only living example of the super soldier formula.

And in the comics, he immediately begins fighting for Uncle Sam on the battlefield.

The movie is a bit more savvy - Steve too prized a possession to use that way! We need money for the war effort - and so he's used on USO tours across the US in that classic spandex costume - to entertain and garner support for the war. It is to Steve's credit he plays along, until he meets real enlisted men who mock him on stage.

He realizes its time to do what he was created for - and thus the heroic front line, pure action Captain America is born.

Yes, poppets we were impressed. Nice blend and lots of wisdom with some gags to get us in a good, period piece of Captain America. Like the previous films of Spider-Man and Iron Man, this is not QUITE the historical America, but Marvel Comic's version of it: replete with super science biggies fighting behind the scenes - SHIELD [sort of} and HYDRA.

It was a good set-up for the Avengers movie next year. And yes, we saw the trailer/teaser - it looked good.

Actors - did they pull it off?

Yes. Chris Evans did for Captain America what Christopher Reeve did for Superman the Movie back in 1978.

You see, Christopher Reeve made Superman so emotionally vulnerable, you liked the fact he had powers, but it was his heart you could see - and that made him WONDERFULLY approachable.

If you do a movie about a super soldier, and make him tough as nails, you will get a lot of "Hell YEAH!" from the fairly stupid fanboys who think Punisher, Wolverine and Robocop should all be in one film together killing things - I mean people - as worthless objects.

I can enjoy that mentality - for about 15 minutes. After that, my anger wanes, my bloodlust is satisfied and I'm wondering what else to do with my time.

Chris Evans plays a heroic, had-no-time-for-girls-they-had-no-time-for-me, geek who loves to read, can draw and is willing to stand up for what is right - even if it means getting his face punched in. While Superman PRETENDS to be Clark Kent, Steve Rogers IS Clark Kent!

And THEN he becomes a super soldier.

Look, I cannot gush on and on, but Chris Evans nailed it. Steve will grow and become the dynamic "never say quit" guy later on, but this origin points PRECISELY to WHY he is that way. And the fact that he has a wise Jewish doctor, Dr. Abram Erskine [played by Stanley Tucci], speak into his life, really makes this movie shine.

I wish we had seen more Nazis. I wish Steve's costume for the battlefield looked a little more realistic or had come together more serendipitously.

I wish it had a little more Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers realism - but I guess the filmmakers wanted to keep it lighter. I can see that.

You will never forget the Red Skull. Hugo Weaving was awesome.

You LIKE Steve Rogers BEFORE he becomes Captain America. You are GLAD he is picked.

Tommy Lee Jones almost steals the show with a not-quite-period deadpan world-weary attitude and hound dog eyes.

From Brooklyn Antiques storefront, to Phineas Horton's artificial man [nee The Human Torch] at Howard Stark's World Fair Expo, to Cap's Shield serving as a motorcycle windshield, there a PLENTY of 'fan boy' Easter eggs known only to those who grew up with Cap in the 60's and 70's.

But the ending has just the right amount of surprise and pathos.

Cap can't stay in World War II, you know. And the fact that they spent 98% of the film there made the ending all the more impactful.

You see, Cap does not have one origin. He has two.

He went from being Steven Rogers, frail and helpless to Captain America, super soldier. No problem.

But then Cap goes missing in action in World War II and was never found. He is M.I.A.

Until he is found, decades later - originally by the Avengers, now by SHIELD - and brought screaming into the modern era - the 21st century.

His country is no longer the same. His family is gone. He is an American, but of another time.

What this character does - and thank you Marvel for doing it - is remind us of the values, style and heroism of men of the last century. Men who put their country and lives ahead of their personal comfort. They felt far less 'entitled' and had a different set of morals they espoused.

You respect them for that. You really do.

They saw evil in the flesh and fought it. They were flawed but they were willing to be trained and to change. They fought, but for peace. I suppose Stan and Jack were thinking of this when they brought him in - or at least as middle-aged men they saw the 60's a bit different than the younger adults.

Cap gives us a touchstone to timeless truths we accept - or have accepted - as a nation.

Justice as Cap
I went to the premiere dressed up as a "Southern style" Cap - with shorter sleeves and blue jeans tucked into black boots. Had helmet and shield too.

When I walked into the 90% full theater, I had only one thing to say to the sudden comments on the costume: "OO-RAH!! Semper Fi!!"

Yeah - its the Marine Corps chant, but everyone loved it. As I went up to find a seat, I saw a lot of appreciative smiles and comments "cool shield Cap!" and then one guy said "Hey Cap - what do you think about our troops in Viet Nam - AFGHANISTAN?"

I turned towards him, feeling very suddenly the challenge of playing a character that has to show patriotism without being a mindless flag waver. The challenge of standing up for a country that is flawed but you love. He about 20, lean and with a very short 'high and tight' haircut. Very possibly military himself - or friends who were. Possibly even now serving.

As a jail minister, I have to answer some tough on-the-spot questions about God, and this was one about our policy in the Middle East. From a solider.

I 'heard' the reason behind the question, because the question is NOT the question. The REAL question was 'Do you think its RIGHT to send our young men to die in some God-forsaken desert for a people who probably will not change nor even care because their leadership has such a evil grip on them?'

I responded respectfully: "I want every American to come home safely."

He nodded. "I can agree with that!"

We all can.

I had thought about this even as I worked on the costume - what if I ran into a real vet of WW2? Would he like it or think I was insulting him? Being a soldier has a cost.

But those who pay that cost wear the distinction of being labeled as heroic and loving. They loved their country, their people, their home.

And to take that away from a man, not once but twice, and is what makes the fictional Steve Rogers such an awesome Captain America.

Cap is a super soldier - but because of his heart, not his abilities.

And I think, in my opinion, every man in uniform has that honor for serving.

Well-played Marvel. Well-played.


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