The other day I was doing research for an upcoming Geek Gun column and I decided to re-watch Captain America, a film I recall enjoying in a casual sense when it came out 10 years ago.
It hasn’t held up well.
I’m sure part of my dislike comes from what the MCU has evolved into and Disney’s increasingly amoral, slave-labor using, Communist-friendly cash grab.
This wasn’t so clear at the time, and the film was also part of the remarkable multi-part storyline that would culminate in the first Avengers film. All of which is to say that like the Star Wars prequels, one was more apt to suspend judgement at the time of release simply because the story arc wasn’t yet complete.
World War II Anti-Nostalgia
In our increasingly woke world, the Second World War holds a special place insofar as it was The Good War, the one waged against Actual Nazis and Literal Hitler, which makes it okay (it was also waged against the Japanese and Italians, but we’ll sweep that under the rug for the moment).
Captain America has several good chuckles at wartime propaganda, which is really grating to me. I think it’s the height of arrogance to laugh at people who sustained hundreds of thousands of casualties and lived essentially at the subsistence level for years to give us more than half a century of peace and prosperity. It’s bad enough that we take it for granted, but to treat the people responsible for as clueless rubes is a bit much.
That attitude stands out in this film with the “Exposition of 1943” which not only didn’t happen but couldn’t have happened. New York at the time was under strict blackout rules and tight fuel rationing. You think the COVID lockdown sucks? Try doing it in the dark.
Everything was rationed: food, clothing, fuel. The movie treats scrap metal drives like make-work for little kids, but the amount of materiel consumed by war industries was staggering and it had to some from somewhere. Just one heavy bomber cost as much as several family homes – and we were losing them ten at a time (along with their aircrews). But hey, those pep talks are corny, so let’s get a cheap laugh!
Sucker Punches and Worn-Out Tropes
Captain America is riddled with tropes, starting with the Mouse with the Heart of a Lion. Steve Rogers is a scrawny lad with a ton of disqualifying health conditions, yet given a chance to go through Army training, none of them seem to really hold him back. Oh, he falls down, is 20 feet behind everyone on the march, but that’s just typical weakling stuff, not the actual deadly conditions on his physical. Seriously, asthma can kill you, it’s not just an arbitrary line the Army draws because they are mean or something. So without ever showing how crippling his disabilities are, we can’t really grasp his transformation. Truly a waste.
Because the film is set in the 1940s, we have to also sit through the obligatory Girls Are Strong, Guys Are Pigs public service announcement featuring Agent Peggy Carter, and it’s so obnoxious it succeeds in making the opposite point it was intended to. You see, if you’re going to have the raving sexist jerk tell off a woman, she has to defeat him in a fair contest of skill. Sucker-punching a guy standing at attention makes her look bitchy and weak. (It’s also illegal – General Patton was removed from command for merely slapping a soldier – a closed-fist punch would have ended his career.)
Yes, yes, I’m taking it too seriously. Still, it’s a bit jarring to see a British officer pull out a German pocket pistol in pursuit of a Hydra agent and then proceed to deliver shots that have the range, accuracy and hitting power of an anti-tank rifle. Oh, I know, James Bond used a German pistol, but that was after the war. I wonder of anyone has done a riff of that scene, where the Hydra guy pulls out his Walther and then Peggy pulls out her Walther and they compare notes on which shoots better. (“Yes, the 7.65 doesn’t have the hitting power of the 9mm, but I like it. The fixed barrel really improves accuracy. Watch me bullseye this taxi.”)
A Plot Hole the Size of a Flying Wing
Anyway, by the time I watched Hydra “secretly” field more troops than a German Army Group, I figured we’d reached peak silliness, but then the Armored Flying Wing showed up. Weird thing about airplanes – they are actually quite flimsy. Air, as some have noticed, isn’t really all that dense, so you need lightweight materials to use it for lift. These tend to be very delicate. You know what else is delicate? Engines. Propeller blades. All of which is to say that bringing down an aircraft trying to take off is pretty easy. Ah well, I guess the plane has to take off so we can have the big boss fight and the dramatic crash scene.
Boy, sure is a good thing that Capt. Rogers got flight qualified on one-of-a-kind jet-prop hybrid that are notoriously unstable and dangerous to fly! I mean, it would have been nice if we could have established that Rogers had even a little flight training. Ah well, superhero license and all that. Frozen arctic planes don’t freeze themselves, you know.
Of course the whole movie is just a setup for The Avengers, and is there to prove that Steve Rogers is a Really Good Guy and will also be a Fish Out of Water (funny!), so at least we have that to look forward to.
The Woke Snake Devours Its Tail
Even with its woke tropes, could a movie like this could even be made today? Much of the flag-waving is meant to be ironic, but some of it is sincere. Hydra is so evil that even the Nazis don’t like them. Still, having Captain America as a hero is very problematic, and it probably should be canceled.
Along with this movie.