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"Captain America" review: Old-fashioned propaganda or just old-fashioned?

by Anthony Kaufman
July 20, 2011 11:35 AM
27 Comments
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The final credit sequence of "Captain America," the latest Marvel superhero popcorn flick, starts with an image of that iconic Uncle Sam poster, with the logo "I Want You for U.S. Army" (followed by an array of propaganda images from World War II). The film itself isn't nearly as persuasive propaganda -- it's too formulaic, derivative and sanitized for effective political messaging. But it certainly reinforces plenty of old-fashioned American myths.

In the early part of the film, it actually makes fun of the "war effort," lampooning the U.S.O. (when Captain America is a mere prop) and the star-spangled spectacles that tried to convince Americans to buy war bonds.

Hollywood products are filled with such contradictions. On the one hand, such naive nostalgia is ridiculed; on the other, it's championed: When Captain America is transformed from spandex-clad "show-girl" to super-soldier, flinging his stars-and-stripes shield into the air and cracking heads, he is a propagandistic symbol, as blatantly jingoistic a caricature as when he's on a U.S.O. tour. But the difference, of course, is that now he's kicking ass.

For a film about one of the bloodiest wars in our recent history, "Captain America" is noticeably light on casualties. Sure, there's plenty of people killed, but the filmmakers make sure to keep all of the bad guys masked and dehumanized for easy guilt-free annihilation. And when the Allies get slaughtered, they are vaporized with an innovative new weapon invented by an evil German scientist (and Hollywood screenwriters) that dispatches humans without the messiness of splayed guts, blood, or body parts. (It's not unlike the masses of citizenry that evaporate into thin air when zapped by Decepticons in the recent "Transformers" movie.) Mass audiences enjoy mass death, but not in gritty detail.

As a recruitment tool for today's Armed Forces, "Captain America" is likely to succeed less for its thrilling depictions of combat--these sequences contain several war-movie cliches (including a multiracial-multinational brigade)--and more for perpetuating old-fashioned myths of the American hero: "I don't want to kill anyone," answers the young "compassionate" and chaste Captain America when asked if he wants to kill Nazis. "I don't like bullies."

America, of course, is never the bully in mainstream Hollywood. And in "Captain America's" view of WWII, the war ends not as a result of the U.S.'s firebombing and incinerating hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians and detonating atomic bombs on Japan, but as a result of the Captain's ability to defeat a madman with celestial powers. But, hey, it's just a comic book movie, right?

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27 Comments

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:34 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:33 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:33 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:33 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:33 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:33 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:33 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • laronnica | April 1, 2014 10:33 AMReply

    how do you make a propaganda poster and get people to buy it and believe it!!!i really need to know

    thank you.

  • Mike D | July 22, 2011 2:58 AMReply

    I love how you get these guys who go to a movie and come back to their desk, covered in failed attempts to write a novel and crumbs of pot all over and decide to review a movie on which they have never read the source material for the movie or the history on which its based on. GET A JOB YOU HIPPIE!!!! Its is a comic book!!!!!! It is a fantasy story loosely based on actual WWII events. The comic book was used to give people hope during this period of fear and horror. Then here you come with your wheat grass drink laced with weed and try to put an Anti-America spin on it. If America is sooo bad, there is the door, leave. It is a movie, no more, no less. Do yourself a favor and stop reviewing movies, you suck. Then I recommend you get an actual job and contribute to the American Society. If you find this to hard, then like I said, there is the door. Get on a plane and leave, your a strain on our economy. DAMN DIRTY HIPPIE!!!

  • dave r. | July 21, 2011 2:46 AMReply

    Sure, it's just a comic book movie. And this one will likely pass through the consumers' digestive systems with little notice.

    But comic book movies that attempt to promote American glory and self-righteousness will become increasing more difficult to sell. There is no glory in any of the US's current military projects. We've made a mess, burned through trillions of dollars and haven't gotten much out of the deal. I would also argue that with the use of predator drones right out of Star Wars which kill indiscriminantly, we are the bad guys in many ways.

    Yeah, whatever, the Nazis and the WWII Japanese were horrible. But killing them in simplistic movies ain't making anyone feel better about living in a slowly dying empire.

  • Seriously. | July 21, 2011 1:32 AMReply

    Wow, I just realised how incoherent some of it sounded.

    I was in a rush. Eh..

  • Seriously. | July 21, 2011 1:29 AMReply

    When people criticise America they need to clarify what aspects are being referred to.

    For me, the citizens and country of America are quite nice people. I'd say most are fairly ignorant, however, but that is the same for most of the world.

    It is the government and bureaucrats that give America that infamous name it holds today. The government system needs major change, not only in the U.S. but around the WORLD. Their is corruption in almost every country. But we see it moreso in America due to the power they hold internationally.

    In ALMOST every WAR, you will see that America only enters the war for their own selfish reasons. In WW2, if you did some more research, you will see that America placed an enormous amount of pressure on Japan to force them to attack them so that they can discontinue their isolationist policy. The citizens of America at the time were the ones to be congratulated. They showed widespread discontent for the governments proposal to enter the war and instigate WW2 but Roosevelt, the cunning politican (aren't they all), stated several times - something to the effect of: "America needs to be attacked for the people to be in support of the war effort". Then comes Pearl Harbour which America apparently could not predict despite all evidence beforehand pointing in that direction.

    The American GOVERNMENT is very selfish and cruel. They treat their people as assets not human beings. No, they treat the WORLD as ASSETS. We are merely objects in their eyes. They play God whilst we blindly TRY to live out our everyday lives - unknown of the bigger picture and how we play into their hands.

    Sorry for my rant. I'm open to refutes, I am not closed minded so please do provide an opinion on the contrary. I am more than happy to hear it.

    Peace, freedom, love. AND SUPPORT WIKILEAKS

  • ehren hei | July 21, 2011 1:21 AMReply

    fuck this and fuck that and fuck the world

    fuck you all

    fuck fuck fuuuuuuuuuck

    cant wait to watch this movie. very sexy

  • Matt Kaufman | July 20, 2011 8:25 AMReply

    Your quote "the war ends not as a result of the U.S.‘s firebombing and incinerating hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians and detonating atomic bombs on Japan"... can be put into context if it is prefaced by:

    "World War II really started when the Japanese invaded China in 1937, massacring and brutalizing local populations, including the "Rape of Nanking", when 300,000 civilians were killed and over 20,000 Chinese women raped by the Imperial Japanese Army. Even in the closing days of World War II In 1945, Japan still fielded an Army of more than a million men in China, in addition to forces on the Japanese mainland."

    In other words, the author of this review, whom I found via Rotten Tomatoes, should continue to use his Arts degree, and try not to comment on actual real world events. I wouldn't be surprised he thought WWII started because the American Navy caught the Japanese napping in Tokyo Harbor on Dec 7.

  • Jack | July 20, 2011 8:22 AMReply

    Why do you hate this country so much? Very sad..you need to find God.

  • Sean T. | July 20, 2011 7:21 AMReply

    I was going to say how terrible this review is but Scott McPherson's comment is just as laughable. Sounds like someone is still a tad upset over the World Cup outcome. Anyone who claims the firebombings are justified can not be taken seriously by me.

    But that's besides the point. Andy Kaufman clearly needs to do some research before spouting such dumb things.

  • Scott | July 20, 2011 7:05 AMReply

    Mr. Kaufman, what you've just said ... is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  • johan | July 20, 2011 5:24 AMReply

    You do realize this is based on a comic book right? You should judge the movie on it's source material, not what pathetic liberal "America is bad" message you wanted it to have. But I get it, you wanted an anti-American Captain America movie because that would be really ironic and if there's one thing hipsters love besides being blindly liberal it's being ironic. I'm guessing you haven't read this because of how busy you are listening to your indie bands and drinking your PBR to read this.
    Oh yeah, if you thought the movie should include mention of firebombing Dresden and Hiroshima I'm guessing you're one of the people that think the movie should leave out anything related to the Holocaust or the Bataan death march because those events were completely justified in your eyes.

  • Scott McPherson | July 20, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    Pal,
    Your revisionist history of World War II needs its own revisions. We were not the bad guys. Japan (among others) was. Japan attacked us first, without warning. It massacred millions of Chinese. It massacred tens of thousands of American soldiers. It was brutal, ruthless and atrocious. It was also preparing to use Nazi uranium to make dirty bombs to use on West coast cities. That is fact, unless you think the History Channel is bogus. The Japanese were given multiple opportunities to surrender. They were completely belligerent and unresponsive. The firebombings of Tokyo and the A-bombings were preceded by multiple calls for surrender. The Allies used these facts about Japanese atrocities as the basis for using the bombing options in place of the invasion of Japan, which might have killed a million GIs, including, possibly, the person who ultimately was responsible for your own birth. So for the sake of historical accuracy, learn what happened.

  • Nik Z. | July 20, 2011 5:11 AMReply

    "America, of course, is never the bully in mainstream Hollywood. And in “Captain America’s” view of WWII, the war ends not as a result of the U.S.‘s firebombing and incinerating hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians and detonating atomic bombs on Japan, but as a result of the Captain’s ability to defeat a madman with celestial powers. But, hey, it’s just a comic book movie, right?"

    You know what every comic book movie needs?

    Some brutal shots of Japanese civilians getting firebombed and then showing their skin melting after Hiroshima.

    I'm sure all of the parents taking their 10 year old's to see this for their birthday parties this weekend would really appreciate it. This poisonous Hollywood movie is totally going to make children grow up to think Captain America was the reason we won WWII!

  • Nik Z. | July 20, 2011 4:41 AMReply

    "But, hey, it’s just a comic book movie, right?"

    um, right. Exactly.

    This post is embarrassing. Sorry, so you think Hollywood would/should make a Captain America movie that has a "Saving Private Ryan" level of gore? What part of a man dressed in a blue costume after being injected with a super soldier serum screams "ultra realism" to you? Think they should have also added scenes of Cap liberating concentration camps that showed the horror of WWII genocide too?

    "For a film about one of the bloodiest wars in our recent history"

    um, again, it's not a film about the real WWII, it's a comic book adventure movie that doesn't take place, or even attempt to take place in our reality.

    I mean, I don't remember the "bloodiest war in our recent history" including a guy with a Red Skull and a bunch of zany gadgets. Or a cosmic cube from the realm of Asgard.

    Sounds like you need to go back to scouring the internet for images of dinosaurs in "The Tree of Life" and give up the nonsensical hipster complaints about a "Captain America." It's OK to have a little fun at the movies and it's OK to (gasp!) have a little non-politically motivated patriotism. After all, America is a pretty swell place to live.

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