October 6, 2011

Summer of the Super Hero - Part 5: The Value of Strength

by John-Brian Paprock

This is a review of one of super hero movies during the summer of 2011.

Captain America:The First Avenger
Released July 22, 2011 , 2011 Runtime: 124 min
Rated PG-13 http://captainamerica.marvel.com/
DVD/Blue Ray release date: October 25, 2011

This is essentially the origin story of an ideal American hero of World War II in the 1940s - who starts as the fabled "98 pound weakling" of early comic book body-building advertisers.  In the advertisement, those "weaklings" usually had sand kicked in their face. The advertisers promised that they too could become big and strong so that they would no longer be the victim of bullies.

In many ways, Captain America is the ideal expression of what a "weakling" might do with the same strength of bullies.

The movie takes time to develop Steve Rogers' plight in weakling mode putting up a losing battle against bullies, trying to boldly stand up as he is knocked down over and over again.  It seems to be clear that violence is bad, even evil, and that whoever is stronger will use their strength to dominate the weak.     

However, the movie does not hide from the notion that strength is actually a neutral quality separate from the character, separate from morality.  But it also treads a thin line where violence is also neutral.

The story begins with Steve Rogers, in weakling mode in Brooklyn, wants to volunteer for the armed services duty in World War II.  Even though he is continually rebuffed and caught in his lies while trying to enlist, he keeps trying. His persistence is noticed by Doctor Abraham Erskine who is working on a covert "super-soldier" project that combines a special serum with "Vita-rays."  He picks Rogers for his experimental work.

The German Jewish Dr Abraham Erskine defected to America to give his support against the Nazis.  They, too, were working on a "super-soldier." 

In the movie, Dr. Abraham Erskine talks about his choice of the weakling Steve Rogers: 

     "Why someone weak? Because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power..."

Then, as if to clarify the underlying theme of Captain America, Dr. Erskine explains the intent and purpose of his research and experiments:

     "The serum amplifies the inner qualities of its taker, as well as their physical attributes. Good becomes great... bad becomes worse."

The making of a "super-soldier" sounds like the work of an alchemist working on a special talisman or exilir.  Alchemists, the predecessor of modern laboratory scientists, of ten combine the spiritual and mystical into the potions and processes of the Great Work - transforming lead into gold. Lead was recognized as the densest and darkest of all metals. Gold was seen as the brightest, capturing the sun itself in the metal.  So, alchemy, in its Great Work, was also a spiritual task of transmuting the densest and lowest qualities of humanity into the golden virtues of divinity.  It may be noted that many of these alchemists of the 15th and 16th Century were also familiar with the Jewish mystical teachings called Kabbalah. 

Steve Rogers is transformed by serum (a scientific term that sounds like a magical elixir) and the bombardment of "Vita Rays." Vita = life: so he is bombarded with intensified life force

But instead of going to war, he becomes a public relations gimick, "Captian America," to sell war bonds.  When he travels with the USO in Italy, he finally proves that he was destined to become an actual hero, a real super hero - although he maintains his gimick costume and shield.  The shield becomes his trademark. 

We discover that the Nazis have created their own super soldier, but, as so often happens, evil distorts the energy.  The recipient German officer Johann Schmidt is played especially well by the bad guy of the Matrix films, Hugo Weaving.  He takes the super-villian name "Red Skull."  We find out, like all evil, that this eveil wears a mask to hide his true face.

Although the movie does not have any overt occult notions, the evil Nazis and especially the archenemy super-soldier, the Red Skull, incorporate European pagan mythologies. Some of these emerge in the movie in the distorted notion of world domination from strange divinations. Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull, admires a wooden Norse carving in the movie, saying "Yggdrasil, the world tree... the fountain of knowledge... the giver of power." 
He, as a true believer in the pagan mysteries, finds a source of immeasurable power to fulfill his desire for world domination - even over Adolf Hitler's Nazi forces.

So the movie becomes a battle between the good and pure and the distorted and evil; the pride of evil and the humility of good. Even with equal strength, we are shown, good's qualities makes Captain America stronger or maybe just "luckier?"

During one mono a mono fighting sequence, we have this exchange:
Johann Schmidt: What makes you so special?
Steve Rogers: Nothing. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn.

Although the movies stresses a underlying science to super-powers, it leaves a distinct idea that science is not where the power truly resides.  The movie seems to ask: is there something intangible that give an edge to the side fo good? Is it in the timing, the choices, the hope, the righteousness? or something else? love?
Just before Steve Rogers is about to receive Dr Erskine's treatment and become Captain America, Dr. Erskine wants to be sure he has chosen the right person.  He asks, "Do you want to kill Nazis?"

Steve Rogers, in his 98-pound weakling body, responds "I don't want to kill anybody. I don't like bullies; I don't care where they're from."

Dr. Erskine pats him on the shoulder and smiles - and so do we.

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