Throwing Punches Above The Intellectual Weight
Captain America is back once again, even amidst the rumours that Chris Evans can’t wait to be done with his 6 picture deal with Marvel Studios playing the Captain. Chris Evans has actually been lucky compared to the three actors who have played The Hulk, and is possibly benefiting from the hard earned success of the ‘Iron Man’ movies. The usual game plan with these superhero numbers from Marvel is a 90 minute action-packed, sort-of-suggestive-of-meaning costumed action romp. This one actually gets to a lot more topical political ideas than even ‘Iron Man’.
When you include the phantasmagorical success that was ‘The Avengers’, then this is the second Marvel Studio movie that hits a high water mark.
As usual, here’s the spoiler warning: ‘warning, spoiler alert’.
What’s Good About It
The first Captain America movies was rushed to screen in time to beat the release of ‘The Avengers’. Apart from the usual issues of origin stories, the first film seemed perfunctory and going through the motions. It really was a prequel for ‘The Avengers’ more than anything else and together with the first ‘Thor’ movie, felt like it was doing it by the numbers. The interest always lay in what la ahead, which everybody knew was going to be ‘The Avengers’. This film has the luxury of coming after the main event, so it has narrative space to explore the character a bit more, ad we do get shown the anxiety of a man out of his time.
The film is thematically strong as it explores the limits of the states’ powers when exercised through covert organs, as well as links it to the imperatives of winning World War II being the seed of the current state of affairs with spy agencies and security agencies running rough shod over citizen’s rights. It also comes with a compelling feel for how even a figure like Captain America might have to go rogue from a state apparatus hell-bent on control.
The thrills and spills of the combat scenes are there, and the story hurtles along from one set piece to the next and you really don’t feel the 136minute length. There’s enough story there to sink your teeth into and the effects are really good.
What’s Bad About It
It’s hard to pick a fault with corporate entertainment like this except that it is corporate entertainment, and as such, it never comes to truly dangerous conclusions.
There’s a scene towards the ed where Natasha Romanoff fronts up to some kind of Senate hearing and tells the politicians that they need her more than they need to lock her away and walks away. It would have been much better to engineer a scene where Captain America had to take the stand and answer political questions. It is such a missed opportunity, it ranks as a very black mark in the conception of the film. By letting the Senate question Natasha, the film never lets America confront itself. even though that is exactly where the story is pointing.
Where I come from, we call those a cop out.
What’s Interesting About It
One wonders what on earth the American security apparatus is up to every day. Just looking at something like the Ukraine and you know they would have agents and station chiefs and advisors and freelancing mercenaries on the ground being ‘security contractors’. We know this because the Americans had them in Cuba prior to the revolution, in all of Latin America for the better part of the last 120years, and even in South Korea and Vietnam leading up to the Korean War and Vitenam War respectively. It gives me no comfort whatsoever to know US intelligence and security people are doing their thing in Ukraine as we speak. Even if one of them actually was Captain America, I’d still feel the same un-ease.
And this is the exact un-ease with which Steve Rogers has to tangle in this film. The things that worked for the Americans in World War II didn’t necessarily work for them in Korea and Vietnam. Consequently, the manner in which America conducts its wars has become very different. The film is able to posit a kind of moral litmus test about the military might of America and the uses to which it has been put since World War II.
Captain America, the public persona is alienating for Steve Rogers. The film works in many ways to parse the gap between the persona of Captain America, as the man in that uniform, and Steve Rogers, a man who is transported 70years into the future through coldsleep. On some level, Steve Rogers’ anxieties are very much like the anxieties of Woody Allen’s character Miles Monroe in ‘Sleeper’. The main frustration comes from the fact that he recognises the America he left behind, but he cannot digest the parts that are different. Thus he is alienated not only from his public identity, but what that pubic identity represents.
A similar identity crisis overcomes Natasha Romanoff when she realises that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated and transformed by Hydra. The revelation robs her of the self-validating conviction. Nick Fury having to fake his own death also suggests nick Fury’s need to bury his public persona in order to work through the problem. We have seen superheroes in doubt prior to this film, but I don’t think we’ve seen superheroes who have been this alienated from their raison d’etre.
This disembodiment is not limited to the heroes. The Winter Soldier himself is a victim of brainwashing and has lost his original identity. Zola makes a appearance as a disembodied mind in 1970s IBM mainframe (sort of referencing ‘The Billion Dollar Brain’). The only person that seems well adjusted in all of this Robert Redford’s character Alexander Pierce. Of course, Alexander Pierce is very close to Alexander Pearce, the Tasmanian cannibal, so maybe this hints at Redford’s character being a total psychopath, in which case it would make sense that he is fine in his environment.
Where Are The Snowdens Of Yesteryear?
The most human moment of Captain America might be when he visits Sam, who is counselling a group of ex-soldiers for their PTSD. I’ve often wondered why superheroes don’t get PTSD more often, but I wonder no more. Captain America is clearly suffering from PTSD from his war time experience, but he chooses not to acknowledge it. This is entirely like Yossarian in ‘Catch-22’, especially the film adaptation which keeps cutting back to the scene where Snowden dies in Yossrian’s arm on the bomber. In one sense, the PTSD becomes undeniable when he realises the Winter Soldier is the transformed Bucky Barnes, who he lost in a mission in the first Captain America Movie.
This might be the most interesting aspect of the characterisation of Steve Rogers/Captain America because it plugs directly into the tragedy of a man taken out of time, but still asked to serve the state – and in this instance, a state that has been subverted by the very intelligence apparatus he is serving. Don’t look now, but Steve Rogers in this film at least, is the Edward Snowden in us all. it’s interesting how the name ‘Snowden’ matches up isn’t it?
Anyway, I think this might be a positive sign that the comic book movies can actually address the grownup’s ideas inherent in the stories. Certainly, these movies can afford to be more mature without losing their audiences.