‘Captain America’ comes off as propaganda, not good filmmaking

Amanda Wallace

Amanda Wallace

Captain America is a character that will have a hard time being anything other than propaganda. The hero is virginal, white-bread, corn-fed American values — a good-hearted boy from Brooklyn who doesn’t like bullies. That’s not inherently a bad thing. Just like Superman will always be a near-invincible alien and Spiderman a conduit for teenage issues, a man with a stars and stripes shield will always be, at the very least, patriotic.

The downside for the new movie is that there is a time and place for hardcore nationalism, and I’m not sure that the silver screen in 2011 is that time and place. It isn’t that we’re less patriotic now than we were in the 1940s (when the movie is set), though I’m sure the case can be made. It’s simply a matter of creating interesting story lines. Propaganda films are not known for deep characters or intricate plot lines. Captain America is a comic whose first issue featured the title character socking Hitler in the jaw. Subtlety and character development have no place in Hitler-punching — just ask Eli Roth’s “Bear Jew” in “Inglourious Basterds.” But that’s OK for Captain America. His character isn’t about nuance or depth. It’s about Nazi beating and the good ol’ U S of A. Good filmmaking, however, isn’t necessarily.

As a result, the movie is boring. Even if you haven’t seen it, you can probably guess the story — good fights evil, good gets the girl, and evil is “personally escorted to the gates of Hell,” in the words of “Captain America’s” Tommy Lee Jones. The superhero himself is a static character with little opportunity to grow. He is so good and so pure that there is never a question of him abusing his powers. The only course of action with a static character is to throw him or her into an unpredictable situation. Remove the superhero’s powers a la Superman. Transport them out of time or place. “Captain America” does none of those things. Instead, the audience is treated to two hours of Nazi killing montages without a chance for failure or growth. So, the audience never has a moment for true suspense either. The title guy is surrounded by a motley cast of characters only present briefly enough to be identified by their physical attributes — the Asian, the man with the ridiculous mustache, the Nazi doctor who looks like Truman Capote. You don’t get to know them, and you don’t feel bad when they disappear from the screen — either by death or by a screenwriter’s waning interest.

Don’t get me wrong, I love comic book movies. I have seen every movie released by Marvel studios since they took over the bulk of their comic properties.  So far, the change has been a welcomed one. The Edward Norton “Hulk” movie made it easy to forget the Ang Lee travesty ever occurred, and “Iron Man” made people forget how much they hated comic book movies. Yet, of the independent Marvel releases, “Captain America” is probably the worst. There is little to no human interest, because it’s almost impossible to identify with the character after he is transformed into a super human. The first bit of the movie is by far the most interesting, but even then the purity of soul and spirit is just shy of unrealistic.

Propaganda is meant to be watched by the already converted. It doesn’t have to be well shot or developed, because those watching are doing so to have their opinions and views validated. And for those people who believe in the infallibility of the U.S. government and the purity of the American dream, this movie probably would be interesting. For anyone who has been slightly disillusioned, it’s two hours of red, white and blue with a smattering of Nazi punching. However, if the end of the movie is any hint, I am excited to see the “Avengers” movie. I hope it will move Captain America from static propaganda to dynamic modern hero.