Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Post 9/11 Captain America

Last year, one of my last projects at University was to write a Dissertation on a subject in Film. I decided to write about the effect 9/11 had on superhero films, the official title being 'With Great Powers Comes Great Responsibility: Approaching and Reflecting 9/11 in Superhero Films'. (Yes I am a massive nerd.) One of the chapters in my dissertation was a study on 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' where I analysed it and compared it to a previous post 9/11 themed superhero film, 'The Dark Knight'. As we are mere days away from the release of 'Civil War' I thought it would be interesting post this chapter on my blog for you guys to see. Now remember, this was written a year ago and it is just one section of a larger piece of work however, it should be an enjoyable read by itself. It isn't perfect, academic writing wasn't always my strongest suit and if you read it all the way through you will see some of my own personal fanboy opinion seep through the cracks. It's something different and for those of you who do read it all, thank you and I hope you enjoy it! 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers - a superhero named Captain America from 1940’s who was frozen and then defrosted in the present day - as he adjusts to modern day living whilst working for a government agency whose ideals do not fully match up with his own. The film looks at the ideologies of the world security company S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), whose defences have had to be reassessed after realising the world is a lot bigger than they thought and now have to deal with the possibility of an extra-terrestrial attack after the events of the previous film in the franchise, Avengers Assemble. As with Man of Steel, the people of Earth in the Marvel universe have had a recent attack from a different life form, which has changed their world and their views forever. In their world, super powered people exist and what was once mythology and legend with the likes of Thor and his kind, are now a reality that they must accept. They have had their 9/11 like event and must now deal with the aftermath. The Winter Soldier does this in a way that sums up the main question raised post 9/11, should society sacrifice its freedom for security? The security company S.H.I.E.L.D propose a plan to use a computer algorithm that determines a person’s background and to have them eliminated if they pose a threat to society, even before they commit a crime.

It just so happens that S.H.I.E.L.D has been infiltrated by an old German Nazi division named Hydra, who believe that eliminating all these threats will be the way forward for a better society, but under their control.  Although this is a film with a heightened sense of reality, it is one that very much offers a critical response to the types of security innovations, which have started coming up in Western society post 9/11. Innovations such as the increase in CCTV cameras, the approval of the government to listen in to our conversations and also the ability track our whereabouts through our mobile devices. After Edward Snowden released documents to the press, it was found that the American government could even do some of these acts without a warrant, as reported by The Guardian: ‘The National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens’ email and phone calls without a warrant,’ (BALL & ACKERMAN, 2013).

            Captain America is a hero who is out of his own time. After crashing into an icy landscape during World War Two, he is discovered frozen, brought back to life and introduced back into modern time. His ideals are old fashioned, what some would refer to ‘the good old days’ when it was believed there were clear distinction between good and evil with no grey area, though his are even more heightened due to his sense of morality and his character being enforced as the epitome of good and what is right by the writers. This is represented in the first film Captain America: The First Avenger (JOHNSTON 2011) when he is asked ‘Do you want to kill Nazis?’ and replies ‘I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.’ In the sequel, after S.H.I.E.L.D lets Captain America know what they have in store with their plans, assessing who could be a threat and taking them out before they commit a crime,  he replies ‘I thought the punishment usually comes after the crime?’ He represents the side of the argument which feels that freedom should not be sacrificed for our security, should Western society be taking out possible threats before they have actually committed crime, is this not infringing on their freedom to make a different a more moral decision. As Captain Americas states in the films; ‘This isn’t freedom, this is fear.’

This is not the first post 9/11 film to represent this argument. In 2005, Christopher Nolan released his gritty and grounded in realism version of Batman with Batman Begins (Nolan 2005). This new and contemporary adaptation of the Batman story, saw the hero training with the Middle Eastern terrorist organisation ‘The League of Shadows’, before leaving and then having to fight off their leader, Ra’s al Ghul, who attempts to poison Gotham’s city’s water supply in order to cleanse the city of its scum and in turn, its crime. An ideology that’s not too dissimilar from Batman’s own of stopping crime but with a more brutal and lethal approach that does not go with Batman’s moralistic stance. Batman’s ideology is similar to the way Captain America would not hesitate to stop the bad guys but not at the cost of his country’s freedom. Like Batman, Captain America uses violent techniques to subdue his enemies. In one of the opening action sequences of The Winter Soldier, the Captain jumps aboard a hijacked ship before stealthily killing the criminals who have taken his fellow S.H.I.E.L.D colleagues prisoner. This kind of brutality shows that Steve Rogers is someone who will do what it takes to protect his country and its values; he has a different moralistic stance to Batman who does not kill under any circumstance, even for his country or for Gotham, but instead does whatever it takes to apprehend the threat. Superman is much like Batman in the sense that he does not want to kill - although he is pushed to do so in Man of Steel – In the comic his values are more like Captain America’s; ‘Superman represents not only an ideal of transcendent moral and physical perfection, but also a harmonious and ordered universe with clear distinctions between right and wrong.’ (HASSLER-FOREST, 2012: 38).

In the second instalment of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight, our hero must face the embodiment of post 9/11 fear, The Joker, a terrorist who has no other apparent motive but to cause chaos. His only goal is to push Batman so far as to make him kill him. Only then will The Joker feel he has won. In many ways, The Joker embodies terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda who launch their attacks in order to get a response and retaliation from the Western world, which would then turn more people against the West. John Ip says ‘The Joker himself presents as a terrorist figure who intimidates, threatens and inflicts violence and mayhem upon a civilian population in furtherance of his anarchic ideological purpose.’ (2011). The Dark Knight is very obvious in its political portrayal of a world post 9/11 and a lot of the imagery used in the film complements the themes, as discussed by Will Brooker:

The explicit description of Joker as a terrorist, and visual motifs such as the poster’s image of a burning skyscraper and the slow camera glide into the side of a building, punctuated by an explosion, that starts the film (2012: 200).

Unlike The Joker who represents fear and destruction. John Ip believes that Batman himself, throughout The Dark Knight, offers a commentary on the Bush administration after the events of 9/11, most particularly in a scene where Batman tortures The Joker in order to get information out of him. However, Ip argues that the ineffectiveness of the torture itself does not endorse the administration but instead criticises it:

The Bush Administration’s authorization of the use of torture and coercion during the war on terrorism, despite legal prohibitions both at the domestic and international level was perhaps the starkest indicator of the paradigm shift that occurred after 9/11... The Dark Knight’s depiction of the effectiveness of torture and coercive interrogation is therefore sceptical: at no point does it lead to the divulging of any useful information. Therefore the film is plainly not an endorsement of the Bush Administrations war on terror. Indeed, it is better seen as a critique (2011).

            As explicitly as his name suggests, Captain America is the symbol of the American way for a global audience to witness. Jason Dittmer argues this point and that Captain America represents nationalism at its finest:

Significant to this role is Captain America’s ability to connect the political projects of American nationalism, internal order, and foreign policy (all formulated at the national or global scale) with the scale of the individual, or the body. The character of Captain America connects these scales by literally embodying American identity, presenting for readers a hero both of, and for, the nation. (2005)

Dittmer goes on to argue, that characters like Captain America and other influential pop culture heroes, take events from our society and create ‘geopolitical’ scripts surrounding them, that; ‘mold common perceptions of political events, [to create a] key to a full understanding of both national identities [both American and foreign]’ (2005). This comes relates to Adorno and Horkeimer’s ‘Culture Industry’ theory, that films and other pop culture are no longer works of art, but cogs in a machine to throw out the ideologies of its creators to mass audiences in order to shape their understanding. Marvel Studios are a household name now, and though their comics have only reached a limited amount of people, their films have had global success (Box Office Mojo). Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political piece; it’s addressing what it means to be a patriotic citizen of the U.S.A in a time when the country’s values and freedoms are being redesigned under the pretext of improving security but at the expense of freedom, after such events as 9/11. The heroes of the film are the people who stand up and oppose Hydra’s ideology, not just the spy agents of the company but the small everyday manual workers, even though the consequence of this may mean death. This is shown in one scene where a S.H.I.E.L.D operator has a gun held at his head by a Hydra agent, demanding him to start the algorithm that will decide who poses a threat to society and then kill them. Even with a gun held to his head, this worker refuses, knowing that he will be shot, because he believes in Captain America and the American way, he says ‘I’m not going to launch those ships, Captain’s orders.’.

            As in Man of Steel, there is also 9/11 like destruction in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This destruction comes in the form of three Hellicarriers – similar to flying versions of aircraft landing ships – that crash over Washington, two into each other before falling into the sea, and one straight into a building. Unlike Man of Steel, this destruction has purpose; it’s the only way that Captain America and his allies can stop a lot more people being killed. It is also a representation of the downfall of a terrorist ideology that has infiltrated American security company S.H.IE.L.D. The Hellicarrier that crashes into the building, crashes into the main headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D, the organisation that has been hijacked, that was the main defence in global security. As with 9/11, this event shakes the world, without this security who will protect the world from threats beyond the Earth’s arsenal? Man of Steel uses destruction as a spectacle and even though in The Winter Soldier it is also something which looks great on the big screen, the special effects are on a smaller scale and characters relationships are the moving force of the action rather than big explosions, they are used as a means to an end. The people involved have been explored, from the S.H.I.E.L.D workers who have had their friends and colleagues turn on them, to the Winter Soldier himself, an old friend of Steve’s brainwashed into carrying out Hydra’s demands, to main villain, Alexander Pierce the conductor of the event, so convinced by his own ideologies that he sees no other way to save the world. The film shows random workers stand up for their country, they are not merely cannon fodder but innocents trapped by Hydra. Most get out, but for those who don’t, the audience is moved by their situation, there are real perils at stake when it comes to watching the destruction play out on screen.

            As discussed in the first chapter, Captain America has always been a piece of propaganda, from his first issue to his latest; he has always worn the flag as his costume in one form or another. It can be argued that, in The Winter Soldier, he is not as blatant a piece of propaganda. His costume is less bright, no longer wearing the colours of the flag, this could represent how America has lost its way and doesn’t stand for what it should anymore. He is faced with many obstacles throughout the film, but none of them deter him from being any different a person by the end of the film. He has no character arc and other than he cannot be changed, and that is what makes Captain America special. Even though his views are old fashioned, and this gets in the way of him dealing with 21st century life, this also means he offers a historical perspective on the war on terror, one that sees his country’s freedom being sacrificed, and this is not okay with him. The directors discuss how they made a conscious decision to make this an integral part of the film:

We were all reading the articles that were coming out questioning drone strikes, pre-emptive strikes, civil liberties—Obama talking about who they would kill, y'know? We wanted to put all of that into the film because it would be a contrast to Cap's greatest-generation [way of thinking]. (RUSSO, 2014)

The Winter Soldier is not your standard superhero film; in fact it is more a political thriller than anything else. It is about change and what is the right and moral thing to do during that change. Many things changed whilst Captain America was frozen, but he still sees a society of good people who have been through a lot. He symbolises a time when his countries values were considered at their best and America truly was fighting the good fight against evil, his character being in the present day and struggling to deal with fact that this has changed represents that America is no longer good and walks the line between good and bad. This is what he stands up for, to keep society level headed like it was 1940’s. This may mean that he stands for a Western society that makes him a form of propaganda, but that does not mean that he is necessarily a negative piece of propaganda. Because he stands for good and what is right, he is a good character that we should all aspire to be like, he wears the American flag as his costume because that’s what he wore in the 1940’s, his change from a dark blue and then back to his classic costume by the end of The Winter Soldier shows that he is not happy with the change in society during his time away and that things should revert back to his generations way of thinking.

ADORNO, Theodor W. and HORKHEIMER, Max. 1944. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Social Studies Association Inc.

BALL, James and ACKERMAN, Spencer. 2013. ‘NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens’ emails and phone calls’ The Guardian. [online] Available at <> [accessed 15th April 2015].

BOX OFFICE MOJO. 2015. Marvel Cinematic Universe. Box Office Mojo [online]. Available at: < > [accessed 11th May 2015].

BROOKER, Will. 2012. Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman.  London: I.B Tauris & Co.

DITTMER, Jason. 2005.  ‘Captain America's Empire: Reflections on Identity, Popular Culture, and Post-9/11 Geopolitics’ in Annals of the Association of American Geographers. [online] 95(3). Available through: Falmouth University Library Website < > [accessed on 10th March 2015].

HASSLER-FOREST, Dan. 2012. Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age. Croydon: Zero Books.

RUSSO, Anthony. 2014. ‘Soldier showdown: Joe and Anthony Russo take the helm of Captain America franchise’ in Film Journal. [online] Available at: <> [accessed on 2nd May 2015].

JOHNSTON, Joe. 2011. Captain America: The First Avenger [Film].
NOLAN, Christopher. 2005. Batman Begins [Film].
NOLAN, Christopher. 2008. The Dark Knight [Film].
PYUN, Albert. 1990. Captain America [Film].
RUSSO, Joe and Anthony. 2014. Captain America: The Winter Soldier [Film].

SNYDER, Zack. 2013. Man of Steel [Film].

If you made it this far then well done! I hope you enjoyed this post and if you did let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Jungle Book

These Disney live action remakes of their animated classics are weird. I get them, but I’m not overly sure if I like them, or at least not until I saw The Jungle Book. This one kind of works.

Unlike most of recent Disney remakes, this one actually sticks pretty close to the original story, minus a few aspects. It’s pretty much The Jungle Book you know and love from your childhood. Bagheera and Baloo keeping Mowgli safe from Shere Khan. Which I guess kind of begs the question, was this remake even necessary?

I think in a way, it does feel fresh, the biggest selling point being the heavy blend of CGI and live action footage. You couldn’t have made this film five years ago; it would have looked really naff. For the most part now it actually looks really good. There is a kind of digital sheen over the whole film but some of the characters are very photorealistic. Shere Khan looks like a tiger, in fact he looks so real that he is just as scary in this film as I remember him being in the animated film when I was about 5. There are the odd minor characters or little one off animals that walk in and out of the frame that look a little more digital than some, but for the most part you lose yourself in this world without noticing the seams.

The film boasts a very impressive voice cast, some of them more genius then others, Idris Elba as Shere Khan and Bill Murray as Baloo being the standouts. The one thing I was worried about the most was, would you believe these realistic looking animals could talk but thankfully you do, the voice work is very solid. The one hiccup of the film, and I hate to nit-pick a child’s performance, is Neel Sethi as Mowgli. Child actors are always hit or miss and it is such a shame that for the most part here, he is not that convincing. Movement is fine, he does make you forget that these animals weren’t actually there, but whenever he said a line of dialogue I did not believe a word he said.

Pacing wise the film moves along pretty swiftly and doesn’t slow too much. Tonally it is a lot more serious; however in the second act it does struggle with whether it should be a musical or not which was a little weird. One of the songs is worked in well, another not so much... The soundtrack overall though was great and really works to add to your emotional reaction.

Overall it’s a good film which is very visually pleasing. It has its problems but for the most part it’s enjoyable and a film your kids will be sure to enjoy, however do be warned that Shere Khan is very scary, even as an adult I was little bit on edge around his scenes but he really is the standout performance and character of the film. I am rating The Jungle Book a 3.5/5.

Have you seen the film? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016


Whatever you call it (in the US it is Zootopia) (In the UK it is Zootropolis), there is no denying that this film is really good. I had an absolute blast watching this one in the cinema; it was funny, charming and heartfelt with its characters, story and messages. If you have a child or are a big child like myself, go see this film, now! Trust me, the kids in my cinema showing were loving it so much that one of them was doing the robot dance at the end... I don’t know why that was but I guess it meant he liked it?

Zootopia is set in a world like ours but instead of humans its animals. Prey and predator have evolved and put their differences aside to live together, the staple of this utopia being their main city, Zootopia (get it!). We follow Judy Hopps, a bunny who dreams big and works hard to become the first ever bunny cop. But things aren't as good as they appear and the animal kingdom laughs at her wanting to do a job those bigger and more intimidating animals usually take on. In order to prove her worth, Judy teams up with a sly fox, Nick, and together they work to solve a missing persons case.

It's harmless fun and even if it wasn't an animated film this would be a really solid buddy cop movie. You really fall for the characters, especially Judy, and you are invested in them throughout the story. It's light hearted but deals with a lot of big themes about our society such as racism, sexism and prejudice. However it's not so bogged down that it doesn't know how to have fun, this film is crammed full of it.

From its great comedic scenes to its background animal puns, there is something for everyone to laugh at here. This is what I loved most about this film; its writing is so clever. The plot is tight and although it may not be constant belly laughs, the film always has something in the background to snicker at as well. Which is a credit to the animators as well who built a very well realised and pun induced world for this story to be set in, I mean the animation is stunning!

The Walt Disney Animation Studios is on fire right now, they keep pumping out these really great family films that have some very powerful messages intertwined in them, at this point they are on par with Pixar for me. I hope they don't put a foot wrong soon because I will keep watching whatever they make.

This film is a credit to strong storytelling and brilliant world building direction. I never would have thought that I would prefer this film to Batman punching Superman in the face but unfortunately that is the case (that kid I talked about at the start had a Batman hoodie on, bet he didn’t do the robot at the end of that film, if he was even allowed to watch it). I don't care though, I loved this film. Keep this up Disney; keep this up because it is so, so good. I'm rating Zootopia (or Zootropolis) a 4.5/5.

Have you seen the film? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!