Major Questions for a New Captain

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The success of the original “Iron Man” in 2008 heralded the coming of the new filmic “Marvel” universe and a resurgent slew of superhero movies, but one of the things that made it so compelling was the modern tonal realism of its opening: before any robots or monsters take the stage, we are introduced to our protagonist traveling with very-recognizable American soldiers in a very-recognizable Middle East before being captured and filmed as a hostage by masked and turbaned terrorists.

No longer were superheroes insulated from the current world of political conflict, or magically sublimated into a world similar to ours where the forces that would do us harm are always giant crocodiles or thickly-accented next-wave Nazis. The idea of a mythical hero-character who could engage with the complex actual threats of today transcended the inherent escapism and silliness of superheroes long enough for a wide audience to be intrigued.

By this month’s release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” that connection to actual threats of today has been lost, supplanted along the way by Norse villain-gods, alien armies, and – yes – Nazis, once more. What has not been left behind, however, is a concern with the ideological and political paradigms that young, liberal, contemporary audiences grapple with. The first plot shakings in the new Captain America pit an indignant Captain arguing against Nick Fury’s deployment of all-seeing, pre-emptive security-military giant flying warships. What? Guns aren’t always good?

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The Good Old Days, When Things Were Not As Good

Critics are jaded out of nostalgia for when they were less jaded. A common criticism of critics is that they no longer seem to enjoy anything: every movie, every band, every game, every book is cynically ripped apart. But we are all critics – I mean, we all watch movies, listen to music, play games, and read books looking for something that we’ll enjoy, and are disappointed when they aren’t “good.” But we’ve all gotten jaded.

We compare things today with great things of the past, or of our past. We remember when we fell in love with a movie or book or band and most things now just don’t cut it. But have you watched your favorite old movies lately? I’ll bet if you watch the movies you used to love objectively, in a new and critical lens today, you won’t be that impressed.

Yes, part of it might be that they were new in the world back then: for example, The Matrix was the first movie to have bullet-time action scenes but now that every action movie has them it seems a lot less special. I think its more important, though, that they were new to us. Continue reading