Captain America: the New Breed of Super Hero

I watched Captain America: The First Avenger over the weekend, and I really enjoyed the movie. What did I like specifically? I liked how it was almost a war movie first, and a super hero movie second. I think I would have liked it even more if they’d increased the war aspect more, but that might just be a personal preference. The effects are well done (aren’t most tent pole movie effects that way these days?), the characters are fun, the action engrossing, and it’s a well-shot movie. (Joe Johnston, the director, also helmed The Rocketeer, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji, and Hidalgo–quite the spread.)

But there have been so. many. super hero movies out over the past few years, and I’m starting to question Hollywood’s penchant for the origin story. (I mean, we’ve got the reboot of Spiderman coming next year, just a decade after the enormously popular Tobey Maguire version. Too soon!) It’s like Hollywood knows that super heroes are popular, but no one in Hollywood is willing to read past the first issue of a series. And so we get film after film focused on hapless outcasts who somehow manage to find the courage and the grit within them to overcome insurmountable odds (as long as they have the requisite blast of Vita-rays or spider bites or what have you).

Even the non-reboot of Superman still had Superman coming back and questioning the need for himself, instead of–you know. Being a superhero.

Are comics popular because they’re all about origin stories? I’m not the world’s biggest comic geek, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Super heroes do things on a big scale. They save the world, sure–but they also live complex lives and confront very understandable conflicts. I want to see super hero movies where they’re super throughout. Where villains are big and bad and deadly–but not comical–and it takes everything the hero has to win the day.

That’s sort of what Captain America was for me. Red Skull was a tad too campy for me. He wasn’t complex enough. He was evil–we knew that because he was a Nazi, and that just seems to be lazy writing. Maybe some of the reason that these comic book movies aren’t working for me all the time is that the villains aren’t strong enough. You had Loki from Thor, and he was basically a whiny spoiled brat. Scary. Lex Luthor is always coming up with some crazy real estate scheme to make himself a lot of money at the expense of lesser mortals. Oh no.

Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.

That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.

I don’t mean to complain. I’ve been enjoying all the comic adaptations, and I’ll continue to watch them–as long as they stay good. But I’m worried the rest of the world will give up on them soon. When they do, it won’t be because “comics are dead.” It’ll be because “comics were beaten to death by greedy producers trying to make a quick buck.” Saturate the market, and it becomes harder and harder to convince movie watchers that this super hero movie is actually good.

Captain America is. Three stars.

2 thoughts on “Captain America: the New Breed of Super Hero”

  1. Very solid points. The reason I loved “The Incredible Hulk” is because it WASN’T an origin story. They cleared that up in the opening title sequence. “The Spectacular Spider-man” cartoon didn’t do an origin story until the last episode of the first season!

    The problem with Red Skull wasn’t that he was campy (although he was); the problem was that there was never a personal connection between him and Cap (unlike Loki and Thor, as you point out).

  2. Good point on Incredible Hulk–I’d forgotten that one when I wrote this. (Shows how many superhero movies are coming out, when I can *forget* the Incredible Hulk.)

    Good point on the relationship with RS and Cap, too.

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