Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger ★★

I remember watching this in theaters and not quite being able to articulate all my objections to it. On rewatch now, it’s much clearer to me what I found so frustrating about it all. This Captain America embodies not the high ideals of American exceptionalism but the disquieting reality of the American bias towards rewriting history.

It’s infuriating to watch an historical fiction where the filmmakers strategically plant Black and Asian faces throughout the film, positing an American history where overt racism was virtually nonexistent. This sorry attempt at representation also utterly and predictably fails to give any of these minority players actual character names or substantial screen time. It’s the kind of tokenism that actually invalidates the very real experiences of discrimination suffered by minorities of the time period. That’s offensive enough, but it’s not quite as offensive as siccing our fictional WWII-era protagonists onto a secret subset of REALLY evil uber-Nazis—never mind the real Nazis, the film says, they weren’t really an issue. The priorities at work in this film are just totally out of whack.

Politics aside, Joe Johnston’s telling of this not quite iconic character’s origin is diverting at best. Nothing particularly surprising or smart or elevating or deeply felt happens; it all just sort of takes place, with characters careening from one soundstage to another. And pursuant to the film’s historical revisionism, it all feels exceedingly unconvincing—from the bad facial replacement effects to the sloppy CG to the utterly anachronistic sci-fi hardware, it all just feels flimsy and insubstantial. There’s not a moment of real bite or edge or tension here, just a whole lot of fakery.

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