Captain America: Why Superhero Movies Are The New Romantic Comedies
Last weekend I went with a few friends to see the sex comedy Friends with Benefits. I went because Will Gluck earned plenty of favorable points with me from Easy A, as much as it bugs me to admit it, I think Justin Timberlake has an entertaining screen presence, and after Black Swan, I’ll take a chance on pretty much anything Mila Kunis does. All of this thrown in with generally favorable reviews (after much wavering, it is finally certified fresh on Rotten Toamtoes) got me to the theatre that night. There were funny parts, a few good laugh-out-loud moments. But as the plot progressed, and everything went exactly as a romantic comedy is meant to, I realized I was duped. I felt stupid that I had somehow ignored the fact the movie is a formulaic romantic comedy, and I just spent twelve bucks on it. But the worst part is I had genuinely expected something different after a lifetime knowing differently.
I found myself in a similar situation with Joe Johnston’s Captain America: mostly postive reviews, a mediocre, but charming lead, and a few free hours on Friday afternoon. It’s a surprise to no one that superhero films follow a very specific formula. Protagonist starts out weak, has a remarkable encounter, overcomes personal and external obstacles to becomes, well, a hero. Anyone familiar with Bill’s superhero monologue in Kill Bill vol. 2 will recognize that Superman is, of course, the one exception to this recipe. In Captain America, this protagonist is Steve Rogers, a painfully thin, short, asthmatic with a medical problems history sheet longer than a hypochondriac’s. Chris Evans’ face is superimposed on a body double matching this description, until he’s injected with some sort of serum developed by a emigrated European scientist (Stanley Tucci) who has fled Hitler’s efforts for a racially pure Europe. It deserves to be mentioned here that this effect in particular is done remarkable well. Where were these graphic artists during The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?
While Rogers does becomes a superhero, his powers are comparatively moderate. When held up to his peers, Captain America is probably the only one whose abilities could generally be obtained after a few years in the gym and several rounds of testicle-shrinking Dianabol. Nonetheless, it’s his unwavering bravery and patriotism that truly sets him aside.
Captain America carefully builds a pleasing atmosphere. The sepia tones and nostalgia art production, reminding of a time when the American dream was in far better shape, is wonderful. Evans’ satisfying journey from unacceptable, to more than capable is one for which even those outside of the Marvel world can cheer. At some point, however, the film relinquishes it’s slow-boiled realism and spirals into the sorts of epic good versus evil that comic books are made of. Rogers, as Captain America and surrounded by a small, solid group of likable characters, goes up against an evil so horrible (helmed by the capable hands of Hugo Weaving), it eclipses the mass murders of the Third Reich.
For a moment, we’ll put aside the fact Captain America plays as one, long commercial for The Avengers movie coming out next fall (not to mention two more Captain America movies and an additional two Avengers movies in the works). Are there good things in Captain America? Yes. There are even some great moments. Is it better than your average summer fare at theatres? Probably not. But it’s perfectly acceptable. Do we need more of these movies? I don’t think so. Just as I feel like another romantic comedy is just as useless. How many times will I be expected to pay for the same story? The fact these movies are generally enormous moneymaking generators for studios who continue to support the likes of the Transformers movies guarantees I will have plenty more opportunities. But I refuse to be happy about it.
I would have been more angry leaving Friends with Benefits if I hadn’t been so embarrassed. I’m not to that point with superhero movies, but I will get there, I’m sure. Formula movies have a tendency to do that to most people who expect more out of movie watching experiences. What do you think? Am I wrong to be growing so weary of this genre? How many more superhero films will get you to pay full-price admission?