Friday, July 29, 2011

Stan Lee, Immortal Douchebag


Captain America: The First Avenger, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on comic-book stories by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Mark Gruenwald, Steve Engelhart, Steve Gerber, Jim Steranko and others, directed by Joe Johnston, starring Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Hugo Weaving (Schmidt/The Red Skull), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Erskine), Toby Jones (Arnim Zola) and Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Philips) (2011): Director Joe Johnston won an Oscar for his effects work on Raiders of the Lost Ark and directed the flawed but period-detail-rich superhero movie The Rocketeer; those two things seem to have informed this Marvel movie, which is flawed but rich in period detail, mostly old-fashioned in a good way, and possessed of a villain with a supernatural weapon that rivals the Ark of the Covenant. Raiders even gets alluded to early on in the movie.

Steve Rogers is a 4F orphan repeatedly rejected for U.S. military service in the early days of America's entry into WWII. He's idealistic, tough, and hopelessly weak of body, though strong and loyal of heart. Dr. Erskine, working on a U.S. supersoldier program to counteract Nazi Germany's super-scientific Hydra organization, picks Rogers to be the first of America's super-soldiers because Erskine, who escaped Nazi Germany after accidentally creating a super-soldier for Hitler, wants to see super-strength in the hands of someone with a good heart.

And after various complications, Captain America is born and unleashed on the world...to sell War Bonds and entertain the troops. There's only one super-soldier, and the military brass don't want him getting killed. As this isn't actually a subversive comedy, Cap soon demonstrates his astonishing combat and tactical abilities and, with a Nick-Furyless group of Howling Commandos, takes on Hydra so that the rest of the Allied military can concentrate on the parts of WWII that actually occurred in 'our' history. Given that Hydra actually seems to be at war with the Axis as well as the Allies, I'm assuming Victory-Europe Day in this universe involved everyone celebrating the defeat of Hydra.

The movie is actually fun, and some of the period (or pseudo-period) stuff is pretty neat -- we get a flying wing, and we get those destroyer-sized Hydra super-tanks that the villainous Red Skull loved so much in Marvel Comics of the 1960's. Hugo Weaving plays the ambitious Nazi super-soldier -- he's the Red Skull but never actually called that in the movie -- who basically declaares war on everybody in 1943 thanks to the occultish power source that resembles the Cosmic Cube of the comic books but is actually some sort of tie-in to the earlier Thor movie and the upcoming Avengers movie. Weaving is great, the supporting cast is solid, and Chris Evans surprises as Captain America. He's still not big enough to be Cap, but he does a good job with the earnest, straightforward heroics of the role.

Some have complained that Cap doesn't really fight Nazis in the movie, which is pretty much true -- Hydra goes rogue pretty early and operates as its own entity. In this, the movie parallels the Captain America comics of the 1960's, which had Hydra galore and in which Hitler generally seemed to be working for the Red Skull, rather than the more (vaguely) historical Cap comics of the 1940's, in which Captain America battled saboteurs, Nazis, Bundists, and the Japanese empire. And vampires and werewolves working for the Axis. Oh, real history, why are you so boring even when you're occuring?

Captain America was, of course, created by writer/artists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and not by some faceless monolith named Marvel or, even more egregiously, by Stan Lee, though Stan may have been sharpening pencils in the office when the first pages of Captain America showed up at the (then) Timely Comics. One of the great ironies of many iconic mainstream superheroes is that they fight for truth, justice and the little guy while themselves being concepts stolen from their actual creators to make enormous amounts of money for businessmen, gigantic corporations, and the apparently immortal Stan Lee, who cameos here as a general. Will Stan Lee ever die? How much life force did he steal from everyone who worked with him?

The script for this movie was assembled from the comics work of a lot of fine writers and artists, and I'm sure the screenwriters made more for cannibalizing those writers than all of those writers and artists made from their entire careers at Marvel. Welcome to the American Dream, True Believers! Excelsior! Nonetheless, recommended, though if you want to avoid shitting any more money into Marvel's coffers, by all means find a bootleg copy of the movie.

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