Last Saturday, I watched Captain America: the First Avenger at a beachside movie theater. What says summer more than sand, the Shore, and adolescent movies where good guys beat up bad guys in ever more imaginative ways? I never read comic books growing up, but I enjoy fantasy and morality tales where good conquers evil. Hollywood’s recent decade of bringing comics to the screen has therefore provided me with several opportunities to indulge in low brow entertainment, though my comic book ignorance probably keeps me from appreciating much of the films’ eye candy and allusions.
So far, The Dark Knight has been my favorite “superhero” movie, though the comic purists that I know dislike its departure from the DC Comics original. I would not know, but I love the movie’s portrayal of how the city relates to its savior. It is a creative instantiation for fanboys of The Republic, The Apology, and the gospel of Saint Mark. I also like its predecessor, Batman Begins, for producing the genre’s most admirable villain, Ra’s al Ghul, who delivers some delicious lines, including “Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding.”
While Captain America lacks the script and depth of the “dark” Batman movies, it has a great look. Anything set in the 1930’s and 1940’s automatically has a style advantage. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was a rather stupid movie, but it satisfied us lovers of sights and sounds. Combine that sharp looking period with a good lead, competent direction, and a fun story, and you strike adventure gold with Indiana Jones.
Furthermore, the cast of Captain America does a fine job. Evans deftly plays the ideal American soldier—likeable, unassuming, fair, steadfast, loyal, and brave. This avatar of our national spirit artfully incarnates Americans’ obsession with power and superiority as well as our paradoxical commitment to the underdog. Steve Rogers cum Captain America satisfies both cultural desires, and Evans handles himself well blending and transitioning between both roles. Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell delight, too.
Another thing that I really like about the movie is the character Dr. Abraham Erskine, played by Stanley Tucci. Dr. Erskine strikes me as the antithesis of judenhasserisch propaganda—a walking stereotype of positive Jewishness. He is a brilliant, mild mannered, self-effacing scientist with a sense of humor, great compassion, and firm moral principles. In a movie that features Nazis as the bad guys, the Jewish refugee is surprisingly stoic and thoughtful. He notes that the first country that the Nazis invaded was their own. Of course, the National Socialists rose to power constitutionally. Yet, in a metaphorical sense, they invaded Germany by supplanting the traditions, culture, and regime of the previous and contemporary Reiche. In addition, Erskine repeatedly baits Steve Rogers by asking him if he wants to join the army so that he can kill Nazis. Rogers finally responds: “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.” This pleases Erskine, and his pleasure pleases me. We do not see the vengeful, hateful Jew of Nazi posters but rather a magnanimous Jew who exemplifies humanist and common decency.
Tucci is, as far as I can tell with the palantír of Google, of non-Jewish Italian stock. He portrayed Adolf Eichmann in Conspiracy as well as many less genocidal characters such as Paul Child in Julie & Julia and Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada. However, Jews are indeed behind Dr. Erskine. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg), both of the tribe, created Captain America during the Second World War. I do not know if the comic book Erskine comes across as nobly as the film’s character. If he does, Simon and Kirby’s comic book vision was good for the Jews.