Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Captain America, Superheroes, and Sequels

"Hey Mary, have you seen Captain America yet? It seems like your kind of thing." "Hey Mary. You like superhero movies, have you seen Captain America?" "Hey Mary, you served in the military, have you seen Captain America?" "Hey Mary, you saw the Avengers, Iron Man, and Thor, have you seen Captain America?" "Mary, you're obsessed with Agent Carter, what did you think of Winter Soldier?"

Cool posters?

After being extremely behind the curb, I watched both Captain America movies on Sunday. And okay, people who know me too well, I loved them. Yes. BOTH OF THEM. I feel I have to emphasize that because there seems to be a divide in the fandom over it. I loved both movies so much, I downloaded the soundtrack (because... French Horns and deep brass) and even on National Best Friend Day, I called over to one of my BFFs to be the Steve to my Bucky (for which she accepted).

Man, the fact that I placed myself as the Bucky... what does that say about me?

Captain America (and yes, Agent Carter) are my superheroes. I finally found them.

I say this because I have a love-hate thing with superhero movies. I like them, sure, but there are certain ones I'm not all that wild about. I'm talking about the Supermans and the Batmans and even to a degree Iron Man. I think part of the reason why that is, is at its heart, the superhero story really is a wish fulfillment fantasy.

Now, there is nothing wrong with it. One of the reasons Agent Carter is so for me because I wish I could be like Peggy. I wish I could be confident, not take crap from other people, have guys that even if they hate me still have a thing for me and me not give them the time of day. Have upstanding guys like Steve, Daniel Sousa, and Jarvis at my side and delightfully let the playboy Howard Stark know he can't have me. Also, just being super, super smart with always the right thing to say. Being Badass Normal with a pistol. Oh, and really have an awesome wardrobe.

"Okay, Howard, I get it, it's a ball. Stop making that pun"

 The same is true for all the other major superheroes. They embody qualities that all of us want. Guys want to be playboys like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark who have lots of toys to play with. Nerds for decades looked up to Peter Parker who is a nerd like them but as soon as he puts on the suit, he's a wise-cracking, web-slinging, vigilante. Sure, all super heroes have their dark pasts that they must overcome, but overall, their existence is a wish-fulfillment. And because of that, we read their comics and go watch their movies because we expect them to act in a super cool way. It is like we watch Game of Thrones because we want to see good characters fall from grace or bad characters redeem themselves. In superhero stories we know Tony is going to be a bit of an ass, but still endearing. We know Spidey is going to make a pun. We know Bruce is going to brood and be dark.

Yep, brood and dark

 And I think because we expect our superheroes to act that way, they rarely grow. I had a friend of mine say that you don't need characters to grow. Okay, maybe in one movie but when you have a franchise, there has to be some character growth or else, the idea gets stale -- at least for me. You can throw high powered villain after high power villain and have your superhero react accordingly to what makes the superhero popular. It will be a thrill and a good two hours at the movie theater but when I leave, I'm not going to take much of it with me. And that's fine. Not all movies have to be super deep to be enjoyable. Just it makes me less and less excited to go see those movies because I know what to expect.

Having said that, this is why Captain America and its sequel works for me. Generally, sequels, not just superhero sequels subscribe to the frame of mind, "Well, that was a fun romp! Let's do it again! In Space!" Or something like that. Superhero films usually say, "Well, that was a fun romp! Let's add this villain in next time." Captain America does the latter, but sort of twists the idea of it on its head.

Long Hair, make up -- Must be a hippie

Here's the reason why I defend the first Captain America. Yeah, it is filled with so much red, white, and blue you'll want to rise up against the commies and hippies. Yeah, what Steve did rescuing the 107th was... just extremely illegal and would have gotten him slapped with a court martial. It was over the top and silly at some points. And CGI smaller Chris Evans kinda freaks me out a little. But the movie did what it needed to do. It was an origin story for Captain America and perfectly framed the time Steve comes from. It is a black and white world. It is pretty obvious that the Nazis and Hydra are the bad guys. There is the good thing and the bad thing. There is no question on what that is. Even Steve's tragic relationship with Peggy is simple and sweet. The movie is really a throwback to those old WWII war movies, where soldiers are looked up to and admired. Where the people appreciated what the military was doing for them.

This is where Captain America comes from. And it is this experience and this world that shapes Steve Rogers and his glowing ideals. This is what we expect from Captain America as a superhero.

Then comes Winter Soldier. Steve is living in a much different world. People are lukewarm to the military at its best. Things aren't black and white anymore. Everyone is less about doing what is right and more focusing on the ends justify the means. To him, SHIELD seems like the organization for good and that would be the side he would work for. But then, everything starts to go to hell and he is baffled when Nick Fury tells him to not trust anyone. If the movie just stopped here and put in some generic Marvel villain, Winter Soldier would just be a Fish Out of Water Tale (which it is anyway) for Captain America.

But no, in walks the Winter Soldier who it turns out is Steve's best friend Bucky. Steve is forced to confront not only his past but his ideals -- everything that defines Captain America as a superhero. I know this is not entirely new as comics often toy with killing off superheroes or have them hang up the uniform for a while but come back when the world most needs them. But what is unique and was what made this movie for me was this movie was just as much an internal struggle for Cap as it was an external one.  Yeah, sure former friends of superheroes turned into villains is not new but Cap still has to make a choice to live up to his ideals or throw them away when he finally faces Bucky. His ideals are what define his schtick as a superhero. And it is because of that, I walked away from the movie STILL thinking about it and what I would have done.

Tie-ins. I love tie-ins

 The very challenge against what makes Captain America Captain America is why the sequel worked and didn't fall into the general ennui of other superhero sequels which has a tendency to throw a bucket of villains at the wall and see what sticks. Winter Soldier treats Cap not just another wish fulfillment fantasy but as an actual character. And I think because of that, both Captain America films (and Agent Carter) are my favorite in the Marvel franchise.


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