Sunday, 7 August 2011

Captain America

In general, I don't have a great to add to MGK's take on this: it's basically somewhere between an updated Boy's Own adventure and a militarised Indiana Jones film, with the bonus of some very strong acting.

One thing I did want to say though was how pleasantly surprised as to how little America mattered in the film.  It mattered a great deal as a place, of course, and only-just-post-Depression New York made for a very effective and atmospheric backdrop.  Moreover, Colonel Phillips, Senator Brandt, and Howard Hughes Stark all positively drip '40s America in their own different ways.  Finally, the stage routine Steve ends up being dumped into is a brilliant rendition of US WWII propaganda.

But all of this is about how America was.  It's just set dressing.  What I was worried about was how the film would make Steve Rogers Captain America, as oppose to, say, Captain Britain or Captain France, or even Super-Soldier I.  If there was ever an opportunity to show numerous interminable Independence Day-style speeches about the indomitable nature of Americans, this was it, after all.

Captain America doesn't do that.  Indeed, by giving Rogers his nickname as part of a corny fundraising tour/USO show, the film flirts with the idea that calling him "Captain America" is really kind of silly.  This isn't a film about why America needs Captain America, it's about why America needs Steve Rogers - the legend of Captain America is just a by-product.

This refusal to use Cap as a metaphor for the States is a welcome idea.  One of the film's best moments comes when Doctor Erskine tells Steve that Erskine originally hailed from Germany, and asks whether that's a problem.  From Steve's reaction, I'm not sure that question had ever occurred to him before.   Steve has no interest in a war between Americans and Germans.  He's desperate to join a war between bullies and those who won't let bullies get away with it.

Obviously, that's a very simplistic view to take, even if the film sidesteps issues of moral grey areas by  introducing a group of fascists that even Hitler thinks are kind of dickish, but the point here is that Erskine isn't looking for an American, he's looking for a good man; the fact that Steve is American is entirely irrelevant.

This is what I loved about this film.  It's pro-America not because their namesake super-hero defeats Hydra and punches out fascists left, right and centre.  It's pro-America because the man smart enough and good-hearted enough to become the symbol of hope and goodness was born and raised there.  Erskine created the super-soldier serum, but America created Steve Rogers.

One could fashion this into a larger point, actually, regarding the horrible tendency of American nationalists to believe that their claims of superiority justifies their actions, rather than realising that their actions will be used to justify (or not) their claims of superiority.  I'll save that for another post, though.  For now, though, we should just note that this film is clear in its message: it is Captain America that lends weight to his homeland, not the other way around.

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