Year Released: 2011
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving
(PG-13, 121 min.)
"Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men." General George S. Patton
We have to travel back to World War II to do it, but this action film reminds us of our better angels. Captain America, a 98-pound weakling transformed into a super soldier hunk, wows us more with his character than his exploits, a red, white and blue package of courage, patriotism, and innocence as invincible as his Vibranium shield.
And it is this emphasis on inner strength that sets this super hero film apart from many others. During a large part of the film Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is seen as a puny, narrow-chested waif unflinching in his attempt to set his soaring spirit free from its inadequate body. He won’t give up trying to enlist in the army. That 4F is stamped on paper not his soul.
Finally, one doctor gives him the okay. Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) sees beyond the fragile body to a soldier’s heart and offers Steve a chance at boot camp. We watch him struggle through the physical tests, always huffing and puffing and lagging behind.
Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) offers his cantankerous charm to the recruits:
We are going to win this war because we have the best men. And they, personally, will escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of Hell.
But he just doesn’t see Private Rogers as part of that escort. Only Dr. Erskine sees that weakness as an asset, “…because a weak man knows the value of strength.”
Then Steve sets himself apart with a few acts that demonstrate his plucky valor, and the boy soldier almost lost beneath his hulking metal helmet becomes an instant physical marvel, no pun intended. His metamorphosis as he is strapped to a platform in the middle of a laboratory is reminiscent of that famous scene in Frankenstein, sans the bolts of electricity. And oh, yeah, this experiment has significantly improved results.
Perhaps the only ironic indulgence in the film is what the army decides to do with the new super soldier. He becomes part of a song and dance troop decked out in a garish costume and billed as Captain America, singing and dancing his way around the country selling war bonds.
Not quite the nefarious government black ops conspiracy meted out to Jason Bourne, but not a resounding endorsement of military effectiveness either.
Finally, Captain America loses the tights and makes himself into a real soldier, going after a villain so dementedly evil, even the Führer himself cuts him loose. Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) also known as Red Skull, is the result of premature attempt to create a super soldier for the Nazis forced on Dr. Erskine against his better judgment. As such, Red Skull has the physical prowess to match Captain America, but a soul as repulsive as the hideous mug that has prompted his nick name. In that sense, the confrontations between the two remind us a little of those between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, a good man pitted against what is left of one distorted by his lust for power.
And in this epic battle between the powers of good and evil, we cannot help but reflect on how the tone differs here from that in the recent Harry Potter saga. Harry Potter himself, physically diminutive and endowed with super powers of his own, is certainly as courageous as our Captain America, but he is the reluctant hero, drawn in by a sense of duty. One cannot help but think that the embattled students and staff of a besieged Hogwarts reflect the quiet desperation of Britain as it faced the devastating bombings of World War II.
Captain America has that brash eagerness, the bold Yank’s hankering to be “over there,” a determined call to duty not darkened by the grisly realities of invading armies and raining bombs. Thus, the bold colors and vision, as well as an overriding sense of optimism.
It is also nothing short of amazing that this film is so unabashedly patriotic. Even the title is something we might have predicted would be laughed out of Hollywood just a few years ago, when it was so firmly fixed on rendering blame, doubt and despair upon our military in such critically acclaimed films such as In the Valley of Elah, which ends with Tommy Lee Jones hanging the American flag upside down from his front porch. I much prefer his deeply etched scowl exhorting young recruits as he does in this film.
I also find Captain America, who can’t even say he wants to kill Nazis –“I don’t wanna kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from” – a palate cleanser after the graphic and brutal violence almost gleefully meted out to German soldiers and civilians alike in Tarrantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
Captain America reflects the American idealism this post war baby boomer grew up with. Perhaps we cannot completely achieve it, but it is still a goal that we should never, never, never give up.
“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn,” Captain America tells his Nemesis Red Skull. And that’s says the most important thing about him. Underneath those bulging muscles, he is still the same skinny kid who maps his Brooklyn boyhood with memories of all the alleys where he has been beaten up.
Let’s drink to his undaunted courage with this cocktail hailing from that common man’s borough.
“The Brooklyn, a variation on the Manhattan, is a rye-based drink that uses dry rather than sweet vermouth and adds a few extra ingredients to make things interesting.”
- 2 oz rye whiskey
- ¾ oz dry vermouth
- ⅓ oz maraschino
- ⅓ oz Amer Picon (or substitute, such as Ramazzotti)
Stir well with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange zest twist.
Recipe Source: Oh Gosh.com