The Culture Beat

July 12, 2011

Movie Preview: The Captain is Coming

Filed under: Comics,Movies,Uncategorized — Alex @ 2:05 am

The summer season film I’ve been looking forward to more than any other is Captain America: The First Avenger, the third 2011 blockbuster based on the red, white and blue Marvel superhero and the second this summer produced by Marvel Studios’ brilliant team working since the first Iron Man film to create a cinematic Marvel universe of interrelated movies, mirroring the comic books’ continuity.

I read Captain America’s adventure as a boy when in the 1960s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby resurrected the World War II star spangled avenger that had been created by comics’ art king Kirby and Joe Simon during World War II. Then, in comics’ Golden Age, Kirby’s graceful, dynamic style (pictured at the top) had Cap’s lean figure literally bursting out of the panels as he took on Nazi scum including his chief nemesis, the terrifying Red Skull. One of the top titles of the era, Captain America and his young sidekick, Bucky Barnes, gave the Nazi’s heck, but after the war ended, so did Cap’s essential reason for being and a long twilight decline would finally end his run in the early 1950s.

The genius of Lee and Kirby’s revival of the Sentinel of Liberty, was that, in 1964, during creation of the Marvel Universe, having the newly formed Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man and the Wasp, and the Hulk briefly), discover Cap’s frozen body and his quick defrosting meant that Marvel suddenly had given itself a new anchor in history and the previously uncomplicated Cap was now newly able to fit into the comics company’s new world of complicated heroes. A man out of time, Cap’s need to find a purpose became his complicating factor. Even as a kid, reading about a supremely athletic hero who didn’t fit in made Cap more interesting. He wasn’t the strongest, fastest or strangest of Marvel’s growing staple, but he was the noblest and most experienced warrior who had the gravity of having served his country and lost his young partner, Bucky, on their last mission. Guilt, combined with a drive for justice made Captain America both a metaphor for American virtue and a very human, relatable character.

Putting Captain America into live action has proved daunting. During the 1940s, Cap’s popularity had earned him his own movie serial, but the more one watches those cliffhanging chapters, the more you see how little the producers kept of the character. For one thing, he’s not even Steve Rogers, the result of a secret Super Soldier experiment, working with our armed forces–he’s a stateside adventurer, District Attorney Grant Gardner, and there are many other departures. The costume is also changed in several ways as this trailer indicates. There were a couple of cheap TV movies in the 1980s that tried to do live action versions of the hero but are best left forgotten. A 1990 theatrical film, made for about $49 further disgraced the Living Legend of WWII and showed what a direct translation of Cap’s colorful costume would look like in live action cinematography–embarrassing. Something like the Universal Islands of Adventures cast member I took a picture of.

So the new movie, debuting the 22nd of this month, looks like Hollywood, with Marvel’s enabling, has licked the adaptation challenge with heaps of production values fueled by what once source said was around $140 million to recreate the halcyon days of the 1940s and to design a believable costume that honors the original but is realistic about how a functional costume would work. The flag’s colors are muted yet quite recognizable with a paratrooper built-in harness to motivate the red vertical stripes. This appears to be the final stage of the progressive development, throughout the film, of the WWII era costume. Cap’s uniform always had what looked like a chain nail shirt and the pads strapped around the shoulders functions similarly. Overall, it looks like this will be a successful adaptation that meets the challenge of translating what could have been a hopelessly cornball character into a believable live action superhero.


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