Captain America: The First Avenger

52 Movies: Week 20

I’m changing up the format here. This is obviously not the movie poster, rather a classic Alex Schomburg cover from my own comic collection.

While I have a lot to say about Captain America the character, I don’t have a lot to say about the Captain America the movie.  It was pretty much exactly what one would expect going in.  The cast was excellent and I love that they made it a period piece but the script was very by the numbers.  Out of all of the movies leading up to The Avengers, Captain America felt the most like a bridge to that feature film rather than a feature film in it’s own right.

This is not to say that it was a terrible movie.  I thought Captain America’s origin was well told but, once we got past that, there was not much in the way of dramatic tension.  I wonder how much of this is the fault of the character?

It’s funny — From a philosophical point of view, Superman and Captain America are two of my favorite characters.  I like my heroes to be, well, heroic and, despite their super powers, in the case of both superman and Captain America, it is their strength of character that makes them true heroes.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rodgers tells Dr. Erskine, the scientist developing the super soldier serum that he wants to enlist not because he is particularly anxious to kill anyone but because he hates a bully.  Later, Dr. Erskine tells Steve Rodgers that he was selected for the program because a weak man understands the value of strength.

Superman does not share Captain America’s meek origins but his adopted parents raised him with similar values.  Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were both the children of Jewish immigrants and their hero, created in the 1930’s, was a populist crusader, protecting those without a voice and fighting against tyranny and oppression in all its guises.  Similarly, Captain America was co-created by Joe Simon who came from a poor Jewish family and whose father had also immigrated from Europe.  Far from being a jingoistic symbol of nationalism, Captain America also fought for those noblest of American values that early 20th century immigrants valued so highly — Freedom from oppression, opportunity for all and social justice.

These are the values that make characters like Superman and Captain America so much more appealing to me than vengeance fueled vigilantes like Batman. I like the heroes who are Boy Scouts because they appeal to the better angels of our nature, their values reflect my world views and they, quite honestly, inspire me.  Unfortunately, all of these features that make them so appealing to me on a personal level, also make them somewhat boring on a dramatic level.  It’s hard to write compelling fiction featuring heroes who are so perfect and I can count on one hand the number of Superman or Captain America stories that managed to find the right balance.  By contrast, there are countless compelling stories featuring Batman and his ilk, with Christopher Nolan’s soon to be completed trilogy being just the latest example.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Avengers this week.  Writer/director Josh Whedon is a master of group dynamics and if anyone can grab hold of what is essential in Captain America’s character and integrate that into a team-based story, it’s him.  While Captain America: The First Avenger, managed to nail Cap’s origin story, the latter half of the movie ran afoul of the challenges inherent in wringing dramatic tension out of such an iconic hero.  Accordingly, I can only give the movie three stars.


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