A movie throwback to the era of the Little Guy
Defining what constitutes a superhero movie can be tricky. Does Darkman count? Do the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? By my narrow and perhaps idiosyncratic reckoning, Hollywood released nine real superhero flicks in the 30 years from 1970 through 1999, or about one every three years: four Batmans, four Supermans (forgot that last one, didn’t you?), and a Captain America that went virtually unseen. In the 12 years since, by contrast, there have been—again, by conservative estimate—about two per year: Five X-Mens (including Wolverine), three Spider -Mans, two Hulks, two Batmans, two Iron Mans, two Fantastic Fours, and one each of Superman, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Watchmen, Thor, Green Lantern, and, as of today, Captain America. And that’s not to mention next year’s The Avengers, which will assemble its heroic talent with the promiscuity of a 1980s rock supergroup.
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Given the superhero genre’s ever-more-central role in the pop-cinematic imagination, it was perhaps inevitable that some actors would have to start performing double duty. (In more innocent times, Randolph Scott averaged three or four cowboy films per year.) Ryan Reynolds was first out of the gate by a nose, having played Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and, just last month, protagonist Hal Jordan in Green Lantern. But Ryan at least had the decency to do his moonlighting in different comic-book universes, one Marvel, one DC. With Captain America: The First Avenger, Chris Evans—who played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies—has bent the space-time continuum more radically, offering his second performance as a Golden-Age Marvel hero. (If the studios eventually get desperate enough to plunder a 1950s-era, anti-communist storyline teaming the Captain and the Torch, they’ll need Winklevossian technology to get enough Evanses up on screen.)
While this may not be Evans’s first foray in tights, the result this time out is a good deal more satisfying. Captain America is not in the top tier of super-flicks, with the Dark Knight cycle and the better Spider-, Iron-, and X-Men, but it is near the top of the second, evidence that a genre that intermittently feels taxidermied (viz. Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Green Lantern) still has some life left in it.