(Paramount Pictures) Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. But he likely invented modern life. He then used his fortune to build Greenfield Village, a park dedicated to the preservation of the horse-and-buggy world he had nudged to the past.
The further we go with technology, the more we have a fascination with the past. As the future becomes more artificial, we come to know the past as the only thing more grounded and authentic. So if the kids go online to buy vinyl records or swanky fedoras, it makes more sense than it appears.
With all the technological wizardry in filmmaking, nostalgia and sentimentality are increasing forces in this summer’s movies. The nostalgia wave extends from the Spielberg-retro Super 8 to the artiest of arties, Tree of Life. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the surprise hit of the summer, is a study of the joys and risks of living in the past.
Captain America: The First Avenger is the summer’s final sweet indulgence in sentimentality – a 3-D tribute to 1940s retro-futurism and patriotic nostalgia. It shares imaginative space with Spielberg’s Raiders flicks and countless World War II movies. The tearjerking ending of this endearing truffle will almost make you stand and sing “We’ll Meet Again” without a hint of Kubrick’s irony.
Captain America ambles along in this glorified past, when America believed itself an Arsenal of Decency and the nation believed in better living through chemistry. American power is undeniably beneficial. Science advances with flying car optimism. Love is something delayed in the name of duty. It is as if revisionism never happened, warmly embracing the nation’s most idealistic values.
Captain America is born out of this innocent time, when a science experiment to create a perfect supersoldier would seem like a great idea. It’s all the better to fight HYDRA – the Nazis’ scientific division – headed by the mutant Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who wants to teach Hitler a thing or two about mass murder. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a flimsy asthmatic chosen by a loopy professor (Stanley Tucci) to transform into a superhunk. Captain America becomes the model of humble power sticking up for the little guy.
With its amber-coated vision of burly GIs, saluting chorus girls, black-booted villains, and a wildly pretty compatriot fighting in the perfect red lipstick, Captain America is something more than a fun summer ride. It’s a yearning for the innocence of yesteryear. Just as much, it yearns for the ways that movies used to make us feel.
Why We Like It: nostalgic glow, theatrical style, an unusual superhero film