Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure boot camp/military movie comic adaptation Drama great actress history Introduction male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU men movie series origin story people Superhero

A Challenge

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) by Joe Johnston

It was just after this movie came out that I think I realized the scope of the MCU for the first time. That there would always be more movies and more stories. And I was reluctant to enter into something that asked for a commitment. So this is one of the movies I skipped at the movies and it wasn’t really a hard choice. I mean, with Iron Man I was curious what Robert Downey Jr. still had in him; The Incredible Hulk I also did not see at the movies because I really didn’t care and didn’t know the movies would be connected. With Thor, there was my interest in mythic stories (I’m more of a Greek myth person, really, but I don’t mind the Norse Gods at all) and it was directed by Kenneth Branagh.

When I finally did watch Captain America, I did like it and also him but my initial reluctance may actually be linked to a bigger problem the first avenger faces worldwide.

What happens in the movie?

Skinny little Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants to fight in World War II but being skinny and little are only two problems that have recruitment bureaus rejecting him. Seeing his buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in his uniform doesn’t exactly boost Steve’s confidence but then a chance encounter with Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) lands Steve one of the top spots in a very special recruitment competition – one to make a supersoldier.

Suffice it to say, Steve wins that competition – not by being the best or strongest but by being compassionate and smart. He becomes a supersoldier but he remains the first and only one because Erskine is assassinated right after making Steve big and strong. The army loses interest in an experiment that can’t be continued and Steve is forced to help the war effort by selling war bonds. Until the day he learns that his friend Bucky has been captured and possibly killed by the enemy.

It’s strange looking at the concept of this film and realizing how many boxes it ticks with me. I don’t necessarily come from a superhero-loving background but the 1940s have a special place in my heart – movie-wise. I’m also interested in history, especially WWII. And who doesn’t love an underdog story?

Captain America, though? The hero’s title doesn’t really invite international audiences, does it? You don’t need to be anti-American to be little enthused about a hero that seems to embody America’s special brand of patriotism. The German distributor of Marvel films actually chose to drop the Captain America-part for the second and third movies, calling them The Return of the First Avenger and The First Avenger: Civil War respectively. This first outing of Captain America made around 370 million Dollars worldwide, only The Incredible Hulk made less. Successful? Yes, but not an instant hit.

Many of us probably only started liking Steve Rogers when he became part of the avengers. It’s a pity, though, because Captain America: The First Avenger is a great movie. Steve is instantly likable, even as he struggles with multiple illnesses that keep him on the short side. He wants to fight, he thinks he has no right to stay home when others lay down their lives. He’s a good guy and that’s what makes him the perfect candidate for the supersoldier program.

The likability of the character is an important factor, especially considering international audiences. But it also makes Steve a little bit bland. He operates in a politically divisive climate and the filmmakers were very aware to make Steve inoffensive. This is not about killing Nazis, really, it’s about modern audiences viewing a time in which it was not just okay but necessary to kill Nazis. Having a good guy kill people (and Captain America probably killed more people than any of the other Avengers) is problematic. And so Steve is a nice guy, a guy we trust in to do the right thing. To further us being okay with him killing Nazis, they made Hydra a faceless mass (yes, they went a step further by making the main antagonist literally faceless), they’re just people in black combat uniform with masks over their faces.

I guess all this explains why the first avenger is also the last to arrive on the scene, just before The Avengers is released. So much was build on how successful Iron Man was but it was also crucial that the other avengers did well. Making Steve inoffensive, making Hydra faceless, at the same time making The Howling Commandoes more diverse (with an Asian-American, a French, and a British soldier in their mix) than they were in the comics, and going as far as giving Steve a Britsh love interest in Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), everything was designed to appeal to a wide audience. Only, in Captain America, it shows more than in the other movies.

It’s still a great movie, underrated I think. I really like Steve Rogers but I LOVE Peggy Carter. Maybe it’s because, thanks to the tv show Agent Carter, I’ve spent more time with her than with Steve or any of the other avengers. It’s really a pity that she’s stuck in her time period and thus less accessible to the wider MCU stories. They put her in as often as they could and I’m glad for it. Agent Carter should’ve had a longer run, Peggy’s one of my faves.

A little sidenote: I’m glad, Captain America: The First Avenger didn’t have American actors attempt to speak German. It’s really difficult to understand them in most cases because their speech rhythm is usually off. Instead, they opted for the ‘German’ characters to have German accents in their English. Hugo Weaving does an especially good job at this. They probably did it for English-speaking audiences but as a German viewer, I’m ever so grateful.

Well, if you can make time and give this a rewatch I’m sure you won’t regret it. In light of what happened in Endgame, I think it’s nice to see how Steve and Peggy’s romance started (I like them together, of course, if I had a say in it I would’ve liked for Steve to be with Bucky and Peggy to be with Angie but as long as it has to be heteronormative…).

Next: The Avengers (where everything comes together)

Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure auteur comic adaptation Drama male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU movie series mythology origin story Superhero

God Among Mortals

Thor (2011) by Kenneth Branagh

Upon first reading that Kenneth Branagh had directed a comic book movie, I was a bit confused. Mind you, that was before he did Cinderella but after he did most of my favorite Shakespeare adaptations. The fault wasn’t really with him, I guess, but with me, because I considered comic book movies mere action movies (considering I’d watched Iron Man and Iron Man 2 up to this point, who could fault me?). I guess you could say that I wouldn’t have bothered if Branagh hadn’t been the director. You can read my early thoughts on Thor here, though my scope was admittedly a bit narrow back then.

So, let’s try again:

Odin (Anthony Hopkins) tells his sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), about the time he beat the frost giants on Earth and took the source of their power from them. Years later, on the day that was supposed to make Thor king of Asgard, a small group of frost giants tries to steal that power source back – and fails. But the event spurs Thor to forget his father’s warning and go to fight the frost giants once more – and almost loses but for the fact that his father intervenes.

Odin takes Mjolnir (the source of his power) from Thor and casts him out – he falls onto earth where he’s hit by a car. Three scientists, among them Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), try and support Thor on his quest to reclaim Mjolnir while in Asgard, Loki makes a grab for Odin’s crown.

In my other review, I said Thor was entertaining yet forgettable. I hadn’t yet grasped the connection between this one and the movies I had already watched (as I said, I was a babe in the woods), and the friend who tried to educate me had only done a superfluous job (or wasn’t aware of all the implications yet). Anyway, of the first outings of all our favorite superheroes, this one is far from forgettable. It’s actually quite epic.

And here comes my astonishment over the director at play because while Kenneth Branagh might have been an odd choice of director for a comic book movie, he certainly isn’t an odd choice for a director of an epic (almost Shakespearean) tale. Thor is a story about Gods, about power, about scientific exploration, and Thor learning humility. It has several well-told layers to its narrative, going way back to the time of the Vikings here on Earth and combining it with our time where Thor falls to Earth just to be hit by a car.

Where you have Branagh, you have visual splendor and you also have a great cast: Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Colm Feore are recognizable veteran actors who star alongside newcomers (at the time) Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, and Idris Elba. The list goes on.

I can think of few directors who could’ve introduced us to Asgard in the same way Branagh did, and yes, I’m kind of a Branagh fan. He’s got a rather vintage style, very elaborate, a little bit show-offy, and I like it – mostly. There’s a certain amount of ego that usually makes it onto the screen with him and I think it’s no coincidence that Thor’s beard is more reddish than blond in this one – Branagh probably would’ve liked to play the God of Thunder himself.

Of course, Chris Hemsworth is more impressive, physically. His good looks and physique go a long way in representing what Thor is about. But he also makes him likable, charming. Hemsworth may not have the acting chops some of the other heroes in the MCU have but he makes one fantastic Thor and by next year he’ll be the only one with four solo movies.

I’m focusing a lot on the actors here. I guess with this kind of franchise, where there are already fans of the original text, it’s especially important to have the right actor play the part. Can you imagine Tom Cruise playing Iron Man? Do you want to? No, I don’t think so. The actors make these roles, or as in Edward Norton’s case, they don’t. Norton was a great Banner but he gave the role up and fans seem to like Mark Ruffalo way better in the part. People were probably critical of a no-name playing Thor but Hemsworth won everyone over.

Thor is a very impressive film. You have lots of protagonists and changes of places. I’m sure I didn’t follow the whole plot when I first watched it and was very impressed last night by the sheer magnitude of the film. It’s huge, not just from the visual point of view (it’s magnificent to look at), but the narrative is complex and we have multiple sets of players in multiple scenes. Branagh directed it well and it’s a pity that he withdrew from Thor: The Dark World.

If you haven’t watched Thor in a while, give it another go. It’s really worth watching again. It’s a great origin story for the God of Thunder and we may not see him in this way again.

Next: Captain America: The First Avenger (which I didn’t see at the movies)

Categories
action movie adaptation (literature) adventure anti hero comic adaptation Drama female hero Introduction Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU origin story personal Superhero women

What’s Missing Here

Black Widow (2010) by Absolutely Nobody

Before I go on to talk about Thor, I wanna take this space to talk about a missed opportunity. Because between Iron Man and Thor, there should have been Black Widow. Ideally, an origin story but I think many of us would’ve even gone for whatever happened in Budapest with Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Barton (Jeremy Renner) – now we’ll never know.

And it still makes me mad, to be honest. The one thing, the DCEU did right (and better than MCU) was not to sideline their female hero. They were positive that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) would sell and sell she did – in a movie that most people (me included) would consider their best so far.

I already talked about how little I liked Black Widow’s introduction in Iron Man 2 but the problem got bigger from there because Marvel chose to ignore it. I came to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a babe, I knew nothing about the characters and only by chance did I become a fan. What always irked me, however, was the treatment of the female heroes, how they were seemingly forgotten. I’m aware this doesn’t just apply to female heroes, it applies to anyone who’s not white and straight, but for me it was most striking with Black Widow because I didn’t recognize her as a hero.

This doesn’t often happen to me. I usually very clearly identify people’s rightful place within a narrative but when Romanoff came out of nowhere in the donut shop (in a black latex catsuit, no less) I was at a total loss what Tony’s (Robert Downey Jr.) assistant was doing there. I mean, I was kinda aware that Natalie Rushman was something else, maybe a corporate spy or something… but a hero…

All right, you may say that she’s not technically a hero with her background of being a double and triple spy. Or maybe you simply don’t think of her as a hero because ‘well, she works for S.H.I.E.L.D. and also they didn’t give her her own movie’ (I hope you read that in annoying internet troll fanboy voice). But that’s exactly the point. Marvel chose not to give her a movie, didn’t even think she needed one. And that was their mistake, not Black Widow’s.

She’s a hero and Marvel did her dirty. They’re trying now to remedy that fact with a kind of cinematical homage but too long they have ignored us telling them we wanted a Black Widow movie. In about two months, there will be a Black Widow movie and I’m going to watch it, too. But I do feel that at this point it’s bound to disappoint. Because almost ten years have passed from when they had the perfect opportunity to introduce us to Natasha Romanoff, ten years!

We saw her in Iron Man 2 and after taking out Hammer’s complete security team we were like: ‘WHO THAT?! WE WANT!’ But they did not give, instead they made her out to be some sort of personal bodyguard/spy to Nick Fury and eye-candy within the film. They basically assassinated her character before they even told us that she was an assassin.

This is one example of a bigger problem, though. Marvel has pushed female characters into a margin early on. We have the Pepper Potts-characters – love interests to the hero and in a way certainly reward to the hero. And then we have the Christina Everharts – secondary female characters who’re little more than eye-candy, can also be the comical relief or even the villain, I guess. And that’s basically it. They didn’t make space for a female hero. Maybe they thought along the line, maybe, there would be a Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), or a Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), but can you honestly tell me that they even planned to give any of them their own movie? Had DC not made Wonder Woman would there even be a Captain Marvel movie?

I think not, and that’s a problem. Yes, now they’re trying to remedy that fact. With a Black Widow movie, with an Eternals movie (where some of the male characters have been made female), with putting Wasp on the same level as Ant-Man. But it’s so late. Equal representation is not something you sit and wait on, and that goes for all types of humans. If you plan to open a universe, don’t sit on more than 50% of your characters… and I can’t believe I still have to spell that out in 2020!

Can you imagine the kind of stories we could’ve already had, had they put out an early Black Widow movie? And origin story for Black Widow – and have you read about her origin, holy shit! Or an extra-cool spy thriller! Or maybe both? She could’ve killed so many world leaders already! (That last one is my special brand of humor, deal with it!) The Maximofs could’ve had their own movie, Hope Van Dyne could’ve been the Wasp all along… missed opportunities.

If you think that all this is redundant, you’re welcome to your own opinion. But I think as long as this doesn’t change, and one female superhero movie doesn’t mean change – it’s more of a bandaid, really – it must be said. As much as I love Marvel movies, I hate that they dropped the ball on this.

So, Marvel, dear Marvel, give me more female heroes. Make so many movies about female heroes (and black heroes and brown heroes and queer heroes) that their numbers equal those of straight white heroes. Because everybody goes to the movies and everybody likes to see themselves represented (and might actually watch a movie with their special representation more than once).

Next: Thor (for real, this time)