Friday, May 9, 2014

"Captain America - The Winter Warrior"

Here’s what you have to remember, and by “you”, I mean me.

Movies need to be evaluated in their own categories.  You do not judge There’s Something About Mary against Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Strangelove against Waterloo Bridge.  I mean, you can, but, you know, don’t.

Because movies are movies and they are all shown in the same kind of place – there is now some segregation with the Landmark chain up and running but it’s not like a supermarket where the produce is isolated from the Corn Flakes even though it’s all generically “food” – oh yeah, and because there’s an annual awards show pitting movies against each other as if they were all comparable, there is a tendency to forget how many different kinds of movies there – action pictures, romantic comedies… I’m not going down the list; this sentence is way too long already, but you know what I’m talking about.

Which brings me to Captain America:  The Winter Warrior.

Wait, not yet. 

First a confession. 

Not about movies, about which I know as much as the typical moviegoer but little more, but about comedy, about which I know more.  Though that does not keep me from engaging in egregious comedic discrimination.

There are some forms of comedy that I continue to judge on my own terms, rather than on theirs.  (“Even though I know better” being subliminally understood.)  “Stupid” comedies seem stupid to me, and I have considerably difficulty distinguishing the  “classic” stupid comedies from stupid comedies that are simply an enormous waste of time.  Sex comedies make me uncomfortable and, feeling uncomfortable, I am unable to separate the innately clever ones from the ones that make me want to ask for my money back and go home.

(By the way – and I slip this in here because it is apropos of the previous sentence though not of where I am going with this today – traditional sex comedies going back for centuries, it seems to me, were less about sex than about the extreme inappropriateness of the partner with whom the sex was being conducted which, if it were culturally sanctioned, could easily lead to a duel.  American sex comedies are about “doing it.”)

Which brings me – and this time I mean it – to Captain America:  The Winter Warrior.

A tradition has developed in which I see comic book-derived movies with my son-in-law Colby.  He’s into them, and I’m into doing stuff together.  Also, I am curious about these movies.  Because they’re popular.  And I’m not.

I recall seeing Tron, though I have no recollection of it other than that the characters all wore helmets (possibly with visors) so I could not tell them apart, which, along with the impenetrable plot, made things difficult for me to follow.  (I believe this version was a sequel, which supplemented my comprehension problems, having been deprived of the illumination of the setup.  Though I’m a not entirely certain it would have helped.)

I have seen The Avengers, and two or possibly three Ironman movies.  They were all fine.  And Robert Downey Jr. is a particular hoot to watch.  (You can almost hear him thinking, “I am stealing money here.  I mean, did you see me in Chaplin?)

My favorite character in The Avengers was Captain America, and now here he is – for the second time, though I missed the first outing – with his own movie.  And it’s really…quite…not bad at all. 

I mean, the storyline is obligatorily overheated – the film’s message, boiled down, seems to be “Our fascists are better than your fascists” – but you can pretty much follow it, partly, at least, because – except for “The Winter Soldier” for a while, until he takes it off – nobody wears a helmet.  (Except for Captain America, but you can still see who it is.)

“Captain America”, a product of the Marvel Comics stable of superheroes, emerged as as America’s (comic book) answer to the Nazi “super-race” propaganda during World War II.  An ordinary American gets injected with some serum and he’s suddenly, as Wikipedia puts it, “enhanced to peak human perfection”, in order to fight the Axis powers, their perfection the product of racial purity.  (Except, apparently, for Hitler, who ruled to roost while contradicting the physical prototype.  And nobody in Germany seemed to notice.)

The thing I like about the character “Captain America” is his earthbound humanity.  He seems like an entirely regular person, decent, unaggressive unless severely goaded, reflecting the humility and the appealing “squareness” of an idealized version of a pre-war American.  Or, putting it in contemporary terms, a Canadian.

The actor who plays “Captain America” (Chris Evans) is equally normal, and winningly unflashy in his performance.  Which does not mean dull.  (As it does not {necessarily} mean dull being a Canadian.)  His entire persona projects the relaxed ambiance of a homegrown hero, in stark contrast to a young man replicating the abilities of spiders, or a “strange visitor from another planet.”

Captain America – “The Winter Warrior” is loud (which my aging ears do not care for), violent (in a harmlessly cartoony sense, though that does not keep me from wincing when innocent bystanders are mowed down by ricochets, or their cars get landed on by a bus), and morally uncomfortable (there is no solution to aggression other than aggression by righteous warriors who happen to be better fighters.)  But there is also an unforced intelligence and a welcome infusion of pomposity-skewering humor leavening the proceedings.

There is this climactic moment when Captain America makes his impassioned “Big Speech” about…I no longer remember what, but it was probably freedom, and when he finishes, his sidekick sidles up to him and inquires,

“Did you write that down, or was that off the top of your head?”

At that moment, you could almost hear the film’s writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) chuckling as they make fun of themselves.  They knew they had just written proclamational nonsense, and they were generously sharing that awareness with the audience.

At this point – and I am almost done – it – meaning this post – gets a little confusing.  I start out by asserting that movies should be judged on their own terms, meaning, for example, that mindless entertainment ought to be evaluated as to whether it is a superior version of mindless entertainment or a lesser example of the genre.

Meaning, it does not need to reflect the intelligence, humanity and humor that I personally prefer.

Then I go on to praise Captain America:  The Winter Warrior for being an “Action Picture” I enjoyed because of its intelligence, humanity and humor. 

Did I just sneak in my own values where they do not legitimately apply?

And if I did,

What just happened here?

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