Captain America 2 and Institutional Power


I was supposed to take my family to see CA2 next Wednesday but, while that’s still going to happen, I didn’t want to wait. So I caught an early matinee on Friday when I was supposed to be writing.

It’s a fun superhero action movie, and Chris Evans is better than anyone would ever have a right to expect him to be in the lead. Johanssen is just as great playing Black Widow as she was in The Avengers, but that’s what I’d expect from her. Evans is a happy surprise.

Spoilers for the rest:

The film aims for that twisty “trust no one!” spy thriller feeling–and achieves it for a short while–but once the Hydra bad guys start coming out of the woodwork, that starts getting pretty thin. Yeah, it’s fun to see the SHIELD Q-branch style gadgets, but for a movie that’s about invasive surveillance, there isn’t a lot of technological surveilling in the plot.

One thing that does work, and works really well, is the careful way the goals of SHIELD and Hydra harmonize. Both want super-weapons in the air. Both want surveillance that will take out enemies *before* they create problems. The real difference is who they want to take out.

Steve Rogers, heroic good guy, is (spoiler!) against that. One thing that’s not stated explicitly in the film (because who wants to badmouth superspy and incredibly popular character Nick Fury) is that Hydra has been doing its damndest to scare the hell out of the world and Fury, with his “We do what we have to do” ethos, is playing right into their hands. Being the hard-eyed tough guy who believes in hitting first? That isn’t a virtue. Real virtue comes from trusting and inspiring people, for which see the first name in the title. That’s not something you’re going to get from the institutional exercise of power, especially power without checks and balances.

One thing I like about this movie was that it didn’t undercut Steve Rogers’s basic decency to make the movie seem cooler, the way the last Batman movie did. The big inspiring speech (which could have been more inspiring, I’m just saying) turned the good guys at SHIELD around and gave them a chance to do right.

And how deadly-tense was that scene with the technician being told to launch immediately? that was a great little performance in that scene.

And then there’s the power-fantasy aspect to it.

Obviously, a huge appeal to superhero movies is that they’re power fantasies, in the same way a James Bond or Sherlock Holmes movie is. It’s tremendous fun (if you’re me, and you may not be) to watch a superhuman do superhuman things.

But the power fantasy aspects undercut the spy thriller parts. Rogers doesn’t just get jumped by trained assassins, he gets jumped by an elevator full of them. Ordinary threats, like a trained killer with a gun on a crowded street, are simply not challenging enough. It has to be an entire squad, or a quinjet, or an inbound missile. “Don’t trust anyone or else!” is not so effective when the “or else” is “or you’ll have to take them out with one hard punch.”

Still, I can’t really get over how effective Evans is in this role. I’ve always liked Captain America, more or less depending on who’s writing him, but Evans really makes it work.

Finally, AGENTS OF SHIELD is supposed to tie in with the movie this week. Sitwell was called away from the last episode to be in the opening of this one. I’m curious how they’ll tie the plots together, especially since the solution to SHIELD’s invasive spying program was to do a Wikileaks-style info dump of all their secrets right onto the internet. At the start of AoS, that was what Chloe Skye wanted, yes? We’ll see if she gives a fist pump or if she’s bought into Coulson’s mandate to the point that she thinks its awful or whatever.

Anyway, to the extent that the Marvel movies are product designed for the masses, this is decidedly high quality corporate entertainment. I wonder if watching it a second time with my family will make me like it more (as I did with Thor 2) or less.