The RP’s Weekly Web Gems: The Politics of Film (Reviews of Captain America and Beginners)

Captain America

I’m pretty good at Marvel superhero trivia. I was one of those nerds who was mad when the 2002 Sam Rami Spiderman film did not have mechanical web shooters, and was geekily excited to hear that the reboot would ditch the organic webbing. In the same vein, I was livid at what X-Men 3 did to the continuity of the comic book, and that Iron Man wasn’t really an alcoholic. I’m THAT GUY. But, for whatever reason, I don’t know that much about Captain America 1. I don’t know why, since he is one of the original Marvel heroes, but his story never interested me very much. However, that was a mistake on my part. It’s a pretty awesome story.

These guys are not stylish in the 21st century.

Making this film must have been tough. You have essentially a jingoistic, America is #1 in the world character who is campy and ridiculous–he has wings on his helmet and wears blue tights and has a shield. While during the 1940s, that stuff probably seemed really hip, it’s relevancy has certainly waned as time has worn on. America’s relationship with jingoism has really soured as the 20th century has worn on, and superheroes and tight quit being awesome after the original X-Men series went off the air. So, making a movie about Captain America that was both relevant and also respected the hero’s story could not have been easy. However, Joe Johnson really got it done with this film. They gave us the real story–the one from the comic book–and managed to make it relevant to today by adding several modern sentimentalities to the plot.

Hugo Weaving: The Villain of our Time.

The acting was top-notch, especially by the older guys. Hugo Weaving stole the show, in my opinion. His portrayal of the villain Red Skull captured the evil madman pitch-perfectly2. Not to be outdone, Tommy Lee Jones did great as Col. Phillips. Chris Evan’s portrayal of Cap was good–I think he fulfilled his duty of capturing the essence of Captain America–but it wasn’t as outstanding as Weaving or Jones. Evans is given to overacting and melodrama. The supporting cast did well also, especially Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugger and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark.

The film was not without its flaws, however. The love story felt shoehorned into the film. It was never very fulfilling or resolved, and the plot could have done without it. As I said earlier in reference to Chris Evans, the film is rife with melodrama–the script really didn’t help Mr. Evans out in this regard. However, the action was still good, and this is a movie a 24 year old superhero aficionado can watch and enjoy.

If you enjoy comic books and superheroes as much as I do, you need to see this movie. Even if you only like superheroes half as much as I do, you should go see this movie. However, if superhero movies have started getting on your nerves and you are starting to wonder why so many of them are getting made, this film will do nothing but frustrate you. When I reviewed Green Lantern several weeks ago, I said that there is still a future for comic book movies–but only as fan service, not as big-blockbuster pictures that merit gigantic media blitzes and multi-million dollar advertising budgets. Captain America may have been pretty ubiquitous in commercials and branding, but it is the type of movie that the future of comic book films need to be–a film for fans of the character. This film did a great job of getting me super excited for The Avengers next year. Joss Wheadon, you are up.

This Movie Is Good.


The film Beginners is absolutely fantastic. At its core, its a film about people who have no idea what to make of relationships–a subset of people which absolutely includes me. The film gives a treatment of relationships between lovers and family which is sweet and genuine and which has heart, and I think you should go see the movie, already!

In this film, Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, a man whose elderly father comes out as gay to him after the death of his mother. The ploy is threefold–it includes scenes about his father’s homosexuality and his eventual death from cancer, as well as scenes about his present relationship with a French actress with whom he begins a relationship, and scenes showing Oliver’s youth and his relationship to his mother. The film is able to weave these three time periods together in a way which is focused and meaningful–reveals are made about the past which relate to scenes the audience has already seen which take place in the present which provide us with greater nuance with which to treat the various characters. The skipping between time periods really works for this film.

Ewan McGregor does a fantastic job of portraying Oliver, a man who is obviously damaged by his parents strange relationship, which fiercely loving both of his parents. He and Melanie Laurent (who plays his girlfriend Anna) are also dynamic. We often hear of chemistry between lovers on screen referred to with terms such as “sparks” or “sultry,” but this relationship is very honest. It is hot and sensuous at times, and cold and distant at other times. All of the feelings seem honest and real, and that is a credit to these actors.

However, the heart of this film is in its treatment of LGBT issues. I have a lot of trouble empathizing with LGBT characters in film–probably because their experiences are very different from my own–and have always been frustrated by my lack of sympathy for their character’s unique struggle and the impossibility of me understanding the complexities and motivations of LGBT characters. This film, however, presents a straight man, dealing with LGBT issues. In this movie, I found a person who is grappling with the role which homosexuality plays in the 21st century with whom I could relate, and with whom I could empathize. This is the greatest gay film for a straight audience, in my opinion, and there is a lot of credit due to this film for that.

This film is one of my favorites of the year. I cannot recommend it any more than that. If it is showing in your city, I strongly suggest you make a trip to see it. You won’t regret it.

1However, I have been watching the cartoon The Avengers: Earth’s Greatest Heroes, which has caught me up a lot on Cap’s backstory. Like I said, I am a total nerd.
2The things I would do for a movie with Christoph Waltz and Hugo Weaving as European bad-guys are unspeakable.


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