I’d like to open with a kind of history. This history takes many forms and surfaces in many different places with the names of the actors sometimes replaced. Occasionally, the role of the nation-state is assumed by religion and at other times it is the gods of classical antiquity who take the lead. Regardless of which iteration of this history you have heard, its narrative will be familiar to you for it is a narrative of loss.
Once upon a time, people lived in tribes. These tribes were small social entities made up of a number of different family groups that pooled their resources. Members of tribes lived together, worked together and died together and this permanent state of communion with others made their lives meaningful. Of course, human nature being what it is, tribes could not peacefully co-exist and the tribes soon began conquering each other until their dominion extended over millions of people and thousands of miles of territory. Because these abstract tribal groupings were a lot harder to manage than a couple of families that had been living and working together for generations, tribal elders began reinventing themselves as governments who began to rule over abstract political entities known as kingdoms and principalities then as nations and states. Of course, nation states were never anything more than a way of referring to the territory under the control of one particular government but they stuck around for long enough that people began to forget their tribal loyalties and began to see their nationality as a fundamental fact about themselves, a fact no different to their sex, their gender, their sexuality or their race, a fact that took the form of a noun.
Continue reading →
0. A Capsule Review
Despite concerns about both the character and the decidedly uneven quality of Marvel’s cinematic output, Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger reveals it to be one of the most engaging superhero films to grace the silver screen since Sam Raimi’s masterful and genre-defining Spider-Man 2 (2004). Aside from engaging central performances from Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving as Captain America and his nemesis the Red Skull and a perfectly serviceable script by Narnia alumni Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, the film benefits hugely from an impressive directorial turn by Johnston himself.
Johnston began his career as concept artist and special effects technician George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) before going on to win an Oscar for his effects work on Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). From there, Johnston graduated to direction but while none of his previous films stand-out as particularly worthy of praise, his work on period superhero flick The Rocketeer (1991) clearly stood him in good stead when Marvel went looking for a director to deliver Captain America from the depths of comics obscurity and into the centre of the media frenzy that will be Joss Whedon’s 2012 Avengers film.
As might be expected from a director who worked on both The Rocketeer and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Johnston delivers a film that walks an elegant line between rich period detail and fantastical anachronism. Unlike the Wagnerian belle époque of Branagh’s Thor (2011) or the muscular modernism and Gee-whizz Californian cool of Favreau’s Iron Man (2008), Johnston’s Captain America fails to break new ground but is all the more visually engaging for it. We have seen these sorts of gizmos and sets a dozen times before but Johnston does it better and more beautifully than most.
Aside from its impressive visuals, Captain America also benefits from a well-paced plot buttressed by some well-shot action sequences that help the film’s somewhat excessive 124 minutes slip by almost unnoticed. In an age where every Summer blockbuster feels the urge to edge further and further past the 120 minute-mark, Johnston delivers a film that wears its extended run-time like a well-fitted demob suit.
While all of these ingredients contributed to my enjoyment of the film, what really won me over was Captain America himself. Prior to the film, my experience of the character was limited to (a) the old animated series, (b) a few issues of Cap’s collaboration with the Falcon and (c) Ed Brubaker’s entirely over-rated run on the comic. Taken together, these created the impression of a character completely ill-suited to the modern world. Indeed, Brubaker uses Captain America’s origin story as a means of re-inventing the character as an isolated figure whose memories of the past alienate him from the people around him. However, returned to his original timeframe, Captain America’s old fashioned heroism somehow seems strikingly original and fresh.
Indeed, Captain America: The First Avenger features an origin story whose complete absence of angst is nothing short of revolutionary. Indeed, Captain America is the first cinematic Superhero to not be a slave.
Continue reading →
Last night, I went to see Tower Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet and, having never seen Hamlet performed live before, I was appropriately blown away by the sheer complexity of the text; the complex but detailed and intense emotions, the philosophical insights contained within the body of the text and the sheer ontological complexity of plays within plays and madness within madness and how everything mirrors and echoes everything else. However, what really struck me was the fact that you do not get many tragedies these days.
Continue reading →