The Videogum Movie Club: Captain America: The First Avenger

On last week’s episode of Louie, during one of the comedy club stand-up routine segments, Louis talks about how it is weird/hard to live in a country with such a horrible history of racism and slavery. “How can you feel good about yourself as a country,” he said, basically, I’m paraphrasing, “when you know that you did a bunch of horrible shit in the past?” I bring this up only because it sort of reflects the inherent problem with Captain America as a character. Not only is he the superhero epitome of American military strength, but he proudly presents an almost painfully propagandistic image of that military strength, stripped entirely of any shadow of the suggestion that there are times in which we as a country and as an army have acted in less than noble fashion. (To all the comic book nerds out there, I’m sure there’s some 10-book arc in which Cap’ has a tearful realization about the atrocities committed in Vietnam, or whatever, but for the most part you know what I mean.) Obviously, this is all a bit much to expect a summer blockbuster–and a summer blockbuster striving to launch a new franchise no less–to deal with, and I’m not suggesting that there is any kind of moral failure in having Captain America boldly and unapologetically punch Hitler Red Skull on the kisser, but there is something boring about it, and ultimately I think that most of the problems with this movie came from the inherent problems with the titular character: in the world of Iron Men, Spider-Boys, and them mighty Thors, Captain America is kind of a clunker.

For one thing, there is an earnestness to Steve Rogers from the very beginning that borders on the annoying. I’m not saying he needs more 2002 “I live in Williamsburg and hang out at Galopogos” style ironic-detachment, but he could pull the stick out of his butt and try to have some fun every once in awhile. When your best friend invites you to a double-date at the World’s Fair, get a Choco Taco and ride the Ferris Wheel. You can try joining the army again tomorrow. It’s nine o’clock at night, is the recruiting station even open?! Come on, Steve. You’re being a real pill! And while I’m sure it is this same earnestness that is what makes him so “good,” I came to this movie to have FUN. As talented and compelling as Stanely Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones are in general, it is crazy how much they POP on screen when placed next to Chris Evans and his Captain American toast slice. This movie must have saved a lot of money on bounce screens since they could just kick-fill everyone else’s faces by shining the light against Chris Evans’s blank white face.

Not that his t-shirts weren’t tight! Don’t get me wrong, his t-shirts were very very tight.

And while the jingoism and IMAX Patriotism are to be expected, there was something almost insulting about the way in which the 1940s were portrayed as a United Colors of Benetton commercial about tolerance. When Captain America puts together his cracker jack team of war aces, there is an asian dude and a black dude and all of them talk like they’re hanging out at Paddy’s Pub on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Please. (And I know the guy with the walrus moustache was a nod to the comics, but who is HE supposed to be? He looks like an Irishman from the 1840s come to Deadwood to stake his claim.) I know this is a comic book movie and so reality is flexible and realism is not the point, but there are limits. I find it more believable that Odin’s energy-cube transported Red Skull out of his futuristic space-craft into the far reaches of the Middle World than I do that a woman would be placed second-in-command of the Army’s most selective elite force in 1943.

My biggest problem with the movie, however, was much more mundane and had less to do with single credit college survey courses about racial politics and much more to do with WHERE WAS THE ACTION?! After the scene in the factory, when Captain America meets the Red Skull for the first time, there is a quick debriefing back at base and what follows is a great two-minute montage of exciting Captain America action sequences. Wait, that’s it? It is almost as if the movie’s sludge of dialogue and plodding romantic intrigue is momentarily interrupted by a trailer for another Captain America movie that you’d much rather see. Hey, that movie looks neat, let’s go see that movie! As quick as it begins, it is over, and we are back to standing around arguing over who-kissed-who and whether or not Germans stink. (SPOILER ALERT: they do.)

Also: Steve Rogers’s tiny CGI body at the beginning of the movie fueled as much comic relief as Odin’s energy cube fueled skyships.

Captain America: The First Avenger did have some good parts! As I mentioned, Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci were really good in it. They are good actors! I hope someone finally recognizes that and puts them in some movies. I liked how Captain America started out as a corny patriotic propaganda machine doing burlesque shows to sell war bonds. The silliness of his name and costume were put front and center rather than being added to the Willful Suspension of Disbelief Pile. If anything, they could have done way more with that because it was probably the most “interesting” part of the movie in terms of the mythology and also dealing with the whole military poster child thing. Also, despite what I just said about the lack of decent action in the movie, the final action sequence was fun and exciting and well done. Oh, and the ending was great with the minor exception of the last line of the movie, which was stupid and cheesy and kind of ruined how good the ending was being, but in general, him waking up in an old timey hospital room but then it being a sound stage and running out into Times Square 2011 (because what better place to build an old timey hospital room sound stage for the recuperation of a super soldier than Times Square) was neat. “I had a date.” Oh shut UP, Captain America! You are single-handedly ruining this mediocre but mostly decent movie!

Actually, the very best part of the whole movie was how all of Red Skull’s mega-bombs were labeled with the names of the cities they were going to be dropped on (LOL) probably after the credits when they showed a trailer for The Avengers. Holy moly! Now THAT looks like a good superhero movie. Should we get in line now? Do we need to get in line right now? I want good seats, so maybe let’s just meet at the theater now. No matter what, Captain America: The First Avenger made a whole bunch of money at the box office this weekend so they are definitely going to make more of them. So there’s that.

Alright, enough chin music. Take it away, boys.