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Cinema in Focus: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ Packs a Punch

Skillful writing and directing take the Marvel action hero to new heights

3 Stars — Wholesome

The skillful directing of Joe Johnston (Hidalgo, October Sky, Jumanji) is enjoyed once again in Marvel’s summer hit Captain America: The First Avenger.

Based on the 1941 action hero created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, this enhanced human is both courageous and endearing. As a symbol of the American soldier during World War II, Captain America stood for the ordinary man who was willing to give his life to stop evil.

But what is interesting about this tale is that the villain is not Adolf Hitler, but a former Nazi officer, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), whose longing for occult power becomes demonic. No longer fighting against flesh and blood, Captain America is fighting against the deformed Schmidt as the “Red Skull,” whose power comes from a crystal believed to have been given by the gods.

Playfully poking fun at other action films, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely capture just the right blend of humility and conviction in portraying Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). He is first seen as a small asthmatic teenager who will not back down from a bully, and subsequently as Captain America who has the ability to defeat even enhanced bullies.

Having been previously paired to write the scripts for the Chronicles of Narnia films, Markus and McFeely explain that it’s what is inside the person that defines them, not how they appear on the outside.

Dr. Abraham Eskine (Stanley Tucci) is a Jewish scientist who had fled from Germany when the Nazis wanted to use his research to create a super soldier to dominate the world. He defected to America to continue his work. As he is looking for heart rather than physique in the new recruits to use for his experiment, he providentially overhears a conversation between Rogers and his best friend, “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Approving Rogers for his select group of men who are going to be physically enhanced, Erskine begins the transformation process with Rogers first.

The transformation is witnessed by the beautiful American agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Having connected with Rogers before the transformation, it’s clear that she’s also more interested in the heart. But that is not to say that her response to Rogers’ new body is one of indifference. As the assistant to the brusque Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Carter is instrumental in giving Rogers an opportunity to use his new skills to fight Schmidt.

We won’t spoil the plot by saying more, but the path is both predictable and surprising, yet ultimately entertaining.

Though war is always vicious and the loss of life horrendous, it has long been the belief of courageous people that bullies on the playground as well as bullying nations must be confronted. This “just war” belief recognizes with all humility that the lives lost on both sides of such confrontations is unbearable, but letting evil destroy both bodies and souls unchecked is considered to be even more immoral. Captain America is thus a symbol for the American commitment to take on the demonic in all its manifestations throughout the world.

This pledge may be difficult at times to defend or to accomplish, but it is the message of this film and agrees with Tolstoy’s (or Burke’s) observation that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The question is, what should good men do? Captain America gives one answer that works well in a world that is clearly black and white, and good wins over evil with comic book clarity.

In our world, the issues aren’t always so clearly good versus evil, nor are the solutions so easily accomplished when good does not prevail.

Discussion:

» The message that it was Steve Rogers’ heart that made him a great soldier is countered by the fact that he had to receive a new body to accomplish what his heart desired. What part do you think is played by both inward and outward factors in a person’s success?

» The relationship that develops between Rogers and Carter is more believable because of her attraction to him before he is physically transformed. Do you believe this happens in real life, or is this merely film fantasy? Why?

» The defeat of the “Red Skull” is made possible by the assistance of “normal people” helping Captain America. How are you fighting evil?

» The “just war” ideology believes that we must fight evil to stop a greater evil. Do you believe this? If not, what do you see as the solution to evil?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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