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Mon Capitan – Captain America and International Audiences

With The Avengers universe building up – Marvel’s plan to introduce a bunch of comic book characters through solo films and tie them together into one big team-up movie -, there is one of the prequels (if we can call them that – they aren’t really prequels or sequels and some aren’t even origins) that I am really interested in. It isn’t Favreau and Downey’s Iron Man 2, nor is it Branagh’s Thor. I am most interested in how the Captain America movie comes about – particularly at the moment. This has nothing to do with the charmingly awful version we saw about twenty years ago. This is more to do with how the most blatantly American superhero will do overseas.

America, F%!& Yeah!

America, F%!& Yeah!

Granted, I doubt the movie will deal head-on with any of the deep political and philosophical questions that arise from America’s place in the world. We’ll leave that to Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. I imagine it will be light summer fare. Still, most of the good Captain’s rogues gallery are international or non-American ideologies, so odds are it would be quite difficult to pull off a film without alienating somebody.

So, the film will apparently be a “period piece” set during World War II. Baring in mind the last superhero period piece was Watchmen (set in an alternate 1986, but still 1986), that doesn’t really bode well for mainstream audiences embracing Captain America. Still, it is being pitched as Indiana Jones with superheroes, so it might just work, but I can still see there being various objections to the depiction of Captain America saving the world’s ass and punching out Adolf Hitler.

It looks like Marvel is way ahead of me on this point, though. At Comic Con, Kevin Feige was quick to point out that apparently Captain America wouldn’t be going it alone…

“Also, setting it in World War II — the Marvel version of World War II — I think is gonna open it up in another big way … What’s funny is it will actually end up being, I think, our most diverse and our most international film, in terms of the content of the movies itself. It takes place overseas much more than any of our other films do. In terms of the cast, there’s a group that Steve works with that will have an opportunity for many more international actors than any of our other films.”

He is, of course, talking about a group known as The Invaders – which extends as far internationally as a British superhero Union Jack. I can sense unfortunate implications. Even if they can master the notion of an international cast, I’m not sold on the idea of making the film an ensemble. I doubt a few token appearances by non-Americans will convince audiences to see a movie headlined Captain America. It may also dilute the movie itself, in the same way that cramming every mutant and their mother in X-Men III and Wolverine weakened those films substantially. Though maybe I am wrong.

American movies obviously do well overseas. Even superhero ones. Even ones about American arms dealers. So maybe it’s not an issue. Even if it is, maybe there’s a chance to turn Captain America into a symbol of hope – a blockbuster symbolising the Obama government, like JJ Abrams tried to do with Star Trek? Apparently Europe at least has warmed somewhat to the change in foreign policy that has emerged since the election last year. The Middle East may remain more on the fence, but perhaps it indicates that the big blue Avenger may be more welcome than some would think. Maybe the resurrection of the “killed off for real” Captain America in the comic books is symbolic of something.

The comics have (at various times) had the guts to differentiate Captain Americ from the American government. He even took on a pastiche of Richard Nixon. The point that the comics tried to emphasise was that the Cap represent the American ideal, not the government. It’s an interesting idea and a relatively gutsy and morally complex concept – but I can see that Marvel might be a little afraid of running with this angle (or politicising the film at all). My problem with this approach is simple: Captain America is inherently political. That’s why he’s so fascinating. I doubt he’ll be stripped of that political nature so easily.

I’ll admit I’m greatly anticipating the movie. I wouldn’t mind an honestly political superhero film, one that critically looks at American foreign policy – as The Dark Knight so cleverly question its domestic policies – but I doubt that’s what we’ll get. I’ll be satisfied if we get a solid and interesting character flick. If they can make it as light and fun as those classic Spielberg films, then I’ll be equally impressed.

Though, from all we’re hearing about people tip-toe-ing around the patriotic implications of the character, we’re unlikely to hear this great one-liner replicated on the big screen:

“Surrender? You Think This “A” Stands For France?!”

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