So I took my twelve year son and my twelve year old self to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier (or shall we say Captain America: The Cool Sounding Subtitle That is Actually Little More Than a Pretty Cool Subplot?).
It was fun. Chris Evans is very engaging and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is a superb co-lead character and foil to the Captain’s straight-laced approach, Robert Redford is all the craggy and quite a lot of the slightly disconcerting confidence and Samuel Jackson is the coolest man alive OK so that’s an end to it. The action was well filmed, the plot was nimble and no more than averagely silly whilst also flirting with serious issues ala the NSA and Homeland Security. OK some of the nastiest aspects of that were lifted wholesale from Minority Report and the monster at the centre of the labyrinth was an absolutely hilarious attempt to out-strange Doctor Strangelove. And it had heli-carriers. Three of them! And they did awesome ‘rising from the waters’ and ‘blowing all sorts of holy shit out of stuff’. So that was cool.
Maybe I’ve had it with Superhero films. Well not with The Incredibles – that’s smart, funny, confident in its silliness, a cartoon (this may be significant) and actually pretty clever on the whole ridiculousness of Superheroes thing. It is the best superhero film. Yes superhero movies can be fun. But damn Superpowers are dangerous. Dangerous to a genuine sense of threat. Dangerous to the cohesion of ideas and plot. Dangerous to the film.
For example. Just how concerned can you be about the serious points being made in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when those serious points would play out very differently if the plot wasn’t skewed by Captain America being exactly as invulnerable as he needs to be in order to stymy the actually quite serious minded threat. The bad guys are going to win! Don’t worry Captain America (and the people hanging on to him) can survive a lethal fall by landing on his shield! The bad guys are going to win! Don’t worry Captain America will run through a lethal hail of machinegun bullets and survive by dint of every bullet hitting his (quite small) shield. The bad guys are going to win! Don’t worry. Captain America!
It’s the sort of required inconsistency that undermines the film’s own efforts to make Captain America’s doubts about his own agency pointless. It undermines the film’s own efforts to make the threat big and thoughtful because when it comes down to it Captain America will survive having a heli-carrier land on him. This doesn’t happen, but it might as well.
Superheroes are silly. And that’s fine. (Batman is less silly and is my favourite superhero because hey! Who doesn’t love a sociopathic, disturbed billionaire, vigilante who claims to be out to stop high level corruption but who also seems to spend a lot of time whacking on violent thugs and muggers from the bad side of the tracks… Oh, err hang on) The recent flurry of Superhero films have sought to widen the appeal of Superheroes as much as possible (because that’s where the money is) by making them more thoughtful and more serious. And that’s a good thing. I guess. But there’s nothing like moments of seriousness to point up just how ridiculous the rest of it is.
Will I go and see Guardians of the Galaxy? Yes I will. Of course I will; it has a tooled up, irresponsible raccoon in it. Will the makers try to make it serious? God I hope not.
And yes I’ll go to see the other Avengers movies too. But when they do ‘serious’ I shall stick my fingers in my ears and go ‘lalalalalalala’. Serious is great. But it is kryptonite to superhero films.