Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cap Week: The Main Event

The first thing I want to say about CA:tFA is that while I know it’s about a super-soldier bombarded with vita-rays who uses his indestructible shield to fight a super-Nazi with superpowers over a cube of infinite energy that fell out of Odin’s trophy room and who ends up harmlessly frozen in ice in the North Atlantic for seventy years, but…


You guys, aside from that, everything in this movie was great. Yes, the fantastic superhero/superscience/comic book elements naturally grate on the unpleasant, dire, and ultimately real qualities of World War Two. Fortunately, Captain America manages to find those fault points and jump over them quite deftly. The light-hearted world of colorful entertainment where Captain America gets to punch Hitler is held up directly against the tired, credulous soldiers to have to do the dirty work of fighting the war and it’s the character Captain America’s struggle to do the same thing that makes us aware that the movie Captain America has made a choice as to which side it’s going to lean toward and why. Now, it’s not a one hundred percent serious movie, and that’s to its credit, but instead of trying to break down World War II as something that Captain America can take on single-handedly with his Howling Commandos unnamed multinational, multiethnic platoon of badasses, it substitutes the evil, evil para-Nazi organization of Hydra, which Captain America and his multinational, multiethnic platoon of badasses proceed to break down. Is it a cheat? Yes. If you would rather have a complex, down-to-earth vision of World War II, you can watch Saving Private Ryan and just imagine Chris Evans leaping heroically out of an amphibious assault vehicle before taking a random bullet in the face.

There's an early scene at a science Expo that seamlessly introduces the setting’s superscience and inventor Howard Stark while providing a smooth transition to advance the plot. The first encounter between Red Skull and Captain America should be a template for hero/villain first encounters; it was believably personal, naturally timed, and convincingly part of a larger conflict. I mention these two scenes because they're emblematic of how so much of the movie is organically grown from an internally consistent setting that tells us about the world even while it builds on the central conflict between the hero and villain. I can’t think of any better examples of how well this thing was grown than the use of the Focke-Wulf Triebflugel, a zany German weapon concept from WWII put into execution by Schmitt; in CA:tFA’s universe, our imagination occasionally breaks the surface to become their reality; creating a fantastic universe of dreams come true.

Yes, even Nazi dreams sometimes.

Don't worry:
Nazis still lose.

Despite the focus on Rogers and Schmitt, the supporting cast of both get the kind of personalities and attention they deserve. Whether it’s Tommy Lee Jones being a cross between R. Lee Ermey, every military brass Hollywood stereotype, and, well, Agent K or Toby Jones playing Arnim Zola as a stand in for the German citizen who’s simply caught up in a machine of evil from which he feels there’s no way out, everyone shines, even if they’re just a badass member of a badass platoon with only a line or two of dialog.

It manages all of these things, plus lavish nods to the source material because the movie is slick. From how The Captain gets his helmet (yes, the one with the letter that doesn’t stand for France) to how they show he cares about civilians without slowing down the movie, it’s quick, it works, and it all meshes together to be fun.

Strangely, it also stems the tide of Steve/Tony slash by adding Howard Stark to the mix. Strangelyier, this isn't the most slashable image from the film.
Image courtesy of There and There.

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