Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Heroine for Our Times

I was on an airline flight a few weeks ago on the way to visit my father, who was very ill with lung cancer and who soon passed away.  It was a very grim flight, as I did not know what would await me once I arrived at my destination.  I usually forget to bring my earphones to watch the in-flight movie, but this time I somehow remembered to take them along with me.  The in-flight movie turned out to be "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011), which I had missed when it was playing in theaters.  I had heard it was good and decided to give it a try on this flight.  I was glad I did.  I thought it was a wonderful movie that was enhanced by its 1940s World War II setting.  Stanley Tucci was very touching as the scientist who creates the serum that gives Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) the physical strength he needs to become Captain America.  Evans himself did a superb job at underscoring the humanity, vulnerability, and emotional fortitude of Steve Rogers both before and after his transformation.  Tommy Lee Jones was hilarious as the Army Colonel who underestimates Rogers' gumption and mettle.  But what really stood out for me was the Kate-Beckinsale-but-who-wasn't-Kate-Beckinsale lookalike Hayley Atwell as British intelligence officer Peggy Carter.

What I admired about the role was how the filmmakers were able to integrate her into the storyline in ways that seemed organic to the plot and not contrived.  She did not just stand on the sidelines or wait back at home base for Steve Rogers to return from wherever he was fighting.  She, along with Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine, was among the first to recognize Steve Rogers's strength of character and special qualities.  She courageously pursued Dr. Erskine's assassin from the laboratory into the streets of New York.  She shows up during Steve's humiliating tour through Italy to entertain servicemen in order to urge him to use his talents for something more important.  She and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) help fly Steve behind enemy lines so he can rescue his friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as well as other allied soliders captured by the Nazis.  And she actively participates in the attack on the villain's fortified stronghold at the end.  I was just pleasantly surprised at how substantial her role was throughout the movie.  Hayley Atwell had a sophisticated, classy quality about her, that allowed her to appear very comfortably in the movie's 1940s setting, as well as an appealing intelligence and assertiveness that contemporary audiences would be responsive to.

More importantly, Carter and Rogers made a very endearing couple who I wanted to see end up paired at the end of the movie after the crisis had been resolved.  I liked the fact that she already seemed to care about him before he became physically stronger from Dr. Erskine's serum treatment.  As I was watching the movie, I looked forward to more "Captain America" movies set during World War II where Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter would collaborate on further missions to defeat whatever enemy stood in the path of Allied victory.  I am not normally a follower of comic book-based movies, but I realized as I was watching it on the plane that this one was clearly special.  (I thank the filmmakers for creating such a good film that allowed me a chance to get my mind off of worrying about my father during the flight.)  I was so riveted by the movie, I grew concerned when the airline pilot interrupted the movie just as it was drawing to a close to announce that the plane was about to land and it was time for everyone to put their tray tables and seats back in the proper position.  I was worried that they were going to stop the movie before I had a chance to see how it would end!

Which made the ending, once the airline pilot finished his announcement and turned the movie back on, kind of disappointing when I learned that Steve Rogers was cryogenically frozen for 70 years after the aircraft he was on crashed into the Arctic.  I didn't like that the movie ended with Rogers running through the streets of modern-day, 2011 Manhattan, only to be confronted by Samuel L. Jackson, who later returns in a post-credit scene to inform Steve that he is needed for another mission, thus setting up the follow-up "The Avengers" (2012).  I would have preferred it had "Captain America" stayed in the 1940s and the World War II milieu that we had started out with.  Just like the TV show "Wonder Woman" starring Lynda Carter lost a lot of its appeal when it abandoned its 1940s World War II setting after the first season and focused the remainder of the series in the 1970s, "Captain America" just seems less special when his surroundings and environment is as modern and familiar as it is to us.  I can never get enough of the 1940s, as it is a decade that I never had the opportunity to experience first-hand, so any movie that attempts to recreate it in such vivid detail is duly appreciated.  I can experience 2011/2012 American culture and milieu anytime I want. 

But the worst part of the ending, to me, is the fact that it prevents us from having any satisfying resolution to the Steve Rogers/Peggy Carter romance.  As mentioned, I wanted to see them together so they could consummate their relationship.  Having him wake up 70 years later prevents us from having that emotional catharsis that I was looking forward to throughout the movie.  I know that they are planning to do another "Captain America" movie set for release in 2014.  I just hope the filmmakers can find a way to substantially incorporate Peggy Carter into the story.  There simply must be a believable way for them to bring Carter back and still have her the same age as she was when Steve Rogers last saw her.  After all, this is a super hero story, and you don't expect the level of "realism" that you would see in other kinds of stories to take place here.  I hope they recognize the virtues that Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter brought to "Captain America: The First Avenger" and choose to bring back such a wonderfully modern, appealing heroine for our times. 

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