Thursday, June 7, 2012

How Captain America can change the modern screen hero

I was thinking the other day how the superhero movie landscape has changed with the success of the Marvel-produced superhero movies. One non-Marvel hero I really love from my childhood is Superman (a DC comics character), but I've been dismayed by talk from Warner Bros., and even fandom, that Superman is an antiquated character with an outdated do-gooder, boyscout personality that wouldn't appeal to today's audience. People who make this argument labour under the assumption that society is so bad that we cannot accept characters in our fiction that do good deeds and help people simply because People who make this point believe that characters like Superman are not believable, because if you had powers, would you help people or would it be more believable that you would go on a power trip of death and destruction simply because you can? People who think that Superman is too much of a do-gooder might also think that cops, firefighters and doctors help people simply to get paid, rather than sincerly wanting to save lives, and people like Gandhi and Mother Teresa are merely anomalies. Batman is believable because he's prepetually tortured by tradgedy and beats up villains, and Superman is not believable because he doesn't have angst and uses his powers to help rather than hinder -- and who the hell would do that if they had super powers? Right?

I've always been troubled by the assumption that Superman could not work on screen anymore (even though he has in the past --  to legendary success) because nobody believes in moral superheroes anymore. And then Captain America: The First Avenger came out last year and, frankly, showed how to do a moral character right.

Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) was depicted in Captain America: The First Avenger as an honest, true hero who didn't want to kill but would still fight for his country because he "hates bullies". He's shown defending the troops in combat during WWII when a heckler disparages the war effort in a movie theatre during rousing images of troops fighting Nazis in a news reel. Rogers is a skinny, short guy and has no chance against this heckler, gets beat up by him eventually, but still stood his ground. Later, a grenade is tossed at Rogers and a bunch of army recruits, and while the grenade is not live (unbeknownst to anyone), every troop scatters to save themselves while Steve Rogers throws himself on the grenade, sacrificing himself to save his comrades. Through out Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers is portrayed as an honest hero with morals and ethics who would lay down his life for truth, justice and the American way -- and at no time at all was there an eye-rolling moment of cheesiness, corniness or jingoism. There was not one uncomfortable moment which felt out-dated or out of touch with today's view of heroism. Captain America: The First Avenger proved that there is room for morally altruistic heroes at the box office. It doesn't have to be protrayed in a corny way. People lay down their lives to save others every day, from the Red Cross sergeon in a war torn country to the cop on the street.

Superman: The Man of Steel is currently in production (as of this writing) for a 2013 release. So far, the Marvel-produced films have displayed heart and an uncanny ability to portray their characters with personality, charm and heroism in a way that isn't forced. I really hope Warner Bros. is taking notes and that Superman isn't needlessly "edgey" and panderingly "cool" in a manufactured way in Superman: The Man of Steel. I really hope the character is good natured, moral and fights for truth, justice and the American way. Captain America: The First Avenger proved that a superhero doesn't have to be dark and brooding to be a success at the box-office. Hopefully, Superman can follow suit next year.


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