Of Course Captain America took the box office this weekend even though the weekend isn’t over. All that’s left is the final total where we’re all meant to stagger backwards – shock and awe at the size and hardness of that GIANT MEMBER — I mean NUMBER.
We are in a hamster’s wheel of these super hero movies. Remember when Comic-Con was on the fringe? Remember when super hero movies were for geeks? No longer. They are the meat and potatoes of Hollywood now and they are mostly interchangeable. By many accounts, Captain America is one of the good ones. But one can’t help but lament this trend as it just feels tired by now. Nonetheless, nothing is stopping it. Sequels and reboots — anything that’s familiar as we move towards a system that offers less choices. Good movies are still being made, of course. They’re harder to finance, harder to keep afloat but here’s Oscar island taking them in like refugees in the storm.
It really takes a great film critic (and they are disappearing too) to notice this and have the balls to comment on it. I wonder if, by now, Manohla Dargis is getting death threats. I imagine she’s being called old and out of touch – I imagine that her gender is being called into question. I hope she flips them all the bird.
A simple link to her review on Twitter launched a full on debate about how film critics dismiss super hero movies the same way they’d dismiss, say, westerns or horror films. Perhaps that might be true for one or two movies back in the day. You can point to a dismissive review of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, for instance, that complains about it being a popcorn movie that dumbs everything down. These reviews pop up now and again throughout film industry. The difference was those films did not threaten to consume and destroy everything that was around them. There was variety because adults were still buying movie tickets rather than sitting home watching their giant, beautiful HDTVs. And so it goes.
But Dargis’ simple critical act of defiance in the face of the new normal is worth noting – she likes Captain America just fine, as do most. It does what’s required of it plus a little bit more. Whatever’s happening in cinema that’s exciting it isn’t within the super hero genre which has become far too predictable and branded to be exciting anymore.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane — oh, wait, it’s Captain America.
The costume looks different, of course, as does the looker (Chris Evans) squeezed into the form-fitting corporate brand. But, gee, it can be hard keeping track of all the men flying and fighting in the superhero cinematic universe. Next up is yet another Spider-Man movie, and then come the X-Men, and then the Guardians of the Galaxy, and then (again) the Avengers, whose numbers include Captain America. So, he’ll be back. Meanwhile, he has another movie to call his own, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” one that, like many others of its type, gets off to a kinetic start only to lose steam before blowing everything up.
Yet one of the problems with Captain America, who was introduced in 1941, is that he didn’t cross over into the mainstream until three years ago with “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Directed by Joe Johnston, who wisely kept the irony in check, “The First Avenger” hit the origin-story marks by tracing the metamorphosis of a 90-pound weakling into a World War II hero while showing that Mr. Evans could wear the suit and throw a punch. It was amusing, old-fashioned and ponderous, just like its protagonist. The sequel, which was also written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, suffers from some routine blockbuster sins, including an excess of plot. But it, too, doesn’t make the case on screen for why Captain America should have been taken out of mothballs.
Despite Mr. Evans’s stated lack of passion for playing super-characters like this one and despite the genre’s creeping exhaustion, Captain America seems likely to keep running and jumping. Unlike the James Bond movies, which have dribbled out fairly slowly or a series like Harry Potter, which has a finite number of exploitable titles, there appears to be no end in sight when it comes to superhero movies. Warner Bros. has introduced Batman twice in separate franchise cycles and Sony has done the same, at a faster clip, with Spider-Man. In other words, superhero stories have become, or at least some would claim, the Hollywood equivalent of, say, Shakespeare: a well that they return to again and again to reboot, remake, redesign and resell until death (ours, the art’s, the planet’s) do us part.
I do want to see Captain America. It does look like a fun couple of hours at the movies. I do hope, though, that the younger generation of film writers, bloggers, whatever you want to call them can see their way clear of this being the only kind of film Hollywood wants to make.