Well I guess I should talk a bit about it, Captain America the first Avenger. This is not so much a review of the film as more of a study in what was going on in my mind while I was watching it. Yeah I was thinking which is not a good sign. So at the risk of making many enemies and never working again in Hollywood I will start the first of my film thoughts.
In the First Avenger, the first half hour or so of the film did a better job than the rest of the film. There were some good scenes with skinny Rogers that were heartfelt and handled much better than the stale action that was to come.
One of the things about origin stories, or creation stories as I like to call them, is how they set up the ground for the rest of the tale that is to come.
They tell us how fast, how high, how large, how evil, the characters and the world that we are about to enter behave, they tell us the how and the why, they have the hard job of feeding us information while at the same time entertaining us.
Sometimes things are left unsaid, and that in turn gives a sense of form to the story, in the same way that negative space shapes the outlines of the figure or objects that we draw.
We do not have to know the origin of Darth Vader in the first film, but we do know by his actions that this man/machine is going to be trouble. Most important we know what the Death Star can do. We see it in action, stomping a planet into balls of flying molten rock that our heroes have to fly through. In the Guns of Navarone, the guns on that cliff blast and pound away at men, ships, Islands anything that wears the allied flag, while the clock ticks away at the invasion that is coming. Mystery and death!!
In turn I still have no idea what that giant plane in the Captain America film was going to do to my town New York. Was it going to blow it up? Turn us into Red Skull zombies? Give us a bad rash? If so how? Did we ever see that ship do anything other than fly around and make cool noises?
Imagine if the Death Star had not blown up a planet. Luke’s flying down the trench would have felt a bit odd. If we do not know what the stakes are, we will not care.
Now the Red Skulls ship could have blasted some Navy carriers, or U.S. tanks, or a couple of villages, etc. The point is, when the shadow of that giant ship comes over our fighting forces, we lose all of them. ALL of them. Who will stop this beast from eating us all?!! Think about this question and we start to picture many great adventure stories.
We need to feel pure terror, as the giant winged shadow blocks out all the light, men look up in pure shock, as the Red Skull laughs from above. We need to see this coming doom otherwise as a storyteller we are not doing our jobs.
On a character note, Rogers goes from skinny Rogers to Muscle Rogers and he knows how to fight and lead men, within seconds. Early in the film we are show that Rogers can think for himself, hell he can jump on a grenade faster than anybody, want to lower a flag from a pole, call Rogers: but thinking for yourself is not the same as leading men into battle. Captain America was an icon of leadership in WW2, somehow he had to learn that, how did he learn that?
If we had been shown in the first half of the film that skinny Rogers was collecting those little judo books sold in those days, or if he had a collection of books at home with every battle that was ever fought committed to memory, then I would have taken that quick transformation from geek to hero a lot better. We needed to see Rogers home, what his room looks like, what he reads, what he does when he is not applying for the Armed Services. Maybe, Rogers holds tactics and strategy to all the famous battles from Alexander to WW1 in his skinny head, I would even throw in some Baseball game scores and stats, something they could have used to make that ending more smoothly. If only Billy Wilder had written this film, if only someone had written this film.
How about if there had been a training sequence where the General takes him under his wing and shows him to lead men, and how to fight with his new strength. Captain America is a product of many hands, he later becomes the icon that he is, but at first he is really dependent on the many hands that formed him. Sort of like those big battleships that Rosie the Riveter used to make.
Now on a personal level, the idea of a film all in WW2 with Cap is strange to me. Sure it seems natural but it’s not necessary. We know who won that war. We know who fought and we know how men died, it was a brutal, horrible fight, but to me that does not make a good Cap story. That does make fantastic Cap sequences. Cap storming a beach, Cap fighting in france, Cap jumping off a plane over the desert, Cap in the jungles of the Pacific.. throw in some giant robots and some crazy gadgets, I am in heaven. But as nice as those shots are, they do not make up an interesting story for our time. If you are going to make a WW2 based Cap story it better mean something when Bucky dies, otherwise.. what is the point.
What makes Captain America a great character is that he is Rip Van Winkle with steroids, he shines a light into our present society. The more time that passes between WW2 the more interesting Cap becomes, his story starts in another age, but is told in ours. Start with that iconic shot of a full figure of a man frozen in the ice, he is thawed out, and as he gains his memory we get to learn who he is through old newsreels, stories, and as he visits those old men still alive. We learn his creation as he relearns it. Tell us what he can do, how far he can run, how fast, how strong is he? How did he train? Now develop the current threat and bring him into our modern day. Set him lose on our society, and let us see how he reacts to the change. What is the threat from the past that is destroying this new world around him? What is eating us that only Rogers can save us from?
He holds up a light into what we used to fear, what we fought, how far we have come and maybe how far we might have fallen.
Have a great day everyone.
P.S. Sorry did not have time to draw a Captain America piece like I wanted so here are some Rocketo New World panels. Next this week, I will tell the story of how I just got back from vacation in Florida and from the encounter I had there.
PPS.. I UPDATED a quick lunch time sketch of Cap just for the blog. Whew back to work.