Despite our best efforts, the worlds of Marvel and “real” cinema continue to be at war. MCU fans still haven’t recovered from that one time Scorsese said their films were “more akin to theme park rides” than mainstream cinema, even though he’s right. Theme park rides are great, which is why they bring in billions of dollars every year. if slightly predictable chills, and that’s exactly what the MCU does. We know a lot of what’s about to happen before the movie even begins, but that doesn’t mean every nook and cranny doesn’t have us screaming for more. .
Here at TheGamer, we’ve attempted to unite these two warring factions with our weekly movie recommendation column. The idea is that MCU fans have a good starting point in films that Scorsese might consider “real” cinema, while cinephiles willing to despise Marvel might appreciate that despite the fairly similar thematic work of “the good guy wins, bad guy loses,” there’s more variety in the MCU than meets the eye. This week we’re at Captain America: The First Avenger, and if you like that, give The Great Escape a try.
There’s a plethora of WWII movies to choose from, and plenty of great ones I could reasonably suggest under The First Avenger’s guide sharing the war setting – but there’s more to it when it comes down to it. comes from The Great Escape. Come and See, Defiance, Schindler’s List, Letters From Iwo Jima, Casablanca, Fat Man and Little Boy…all great films made during World War II. But none of them have the energy of The Great Escape, and therefore The First Avenger.
The First Avenger is both a war movie and not a war movie. The first half of the film is set in New York City, and even after Steve becomes a super-soldier, we see him touring as a side show to boost morale rather than going into battle. However, the film’s third act sees Steve on the front line and infiltrating enemy territory to rescue Bucky and his unit. Few war films achieve this balance. Casablanca, for example, takes place in wartime but is not a war film. The Iwo Jima letters, on the other hand, categorically East a war movie – it takes place during active combat.
The Great Escape is set in a POW camp where – spoilers – prisoners try to escape. The ragtag group of prisoners resemble the Howling Commandos Barnes led during the war, while the enigmatic Steve McQueen is something of a Captain America himself. He may be more rebellious and less inclined to follow the rules than his namesake Steve Rogers, but he has that leading man charm that Evans always tries to project. Captain America has a poster of Steve McQueen on its walls.
None of the movies are on the war, not really. We see very little front-line action in either, both concerned with the behind-the-scenes affairs often overlooked in wartime stories. The Great Escape looks at prisoners and how time flies when you’re both far from the violence but trapped inside, and Captain America explores what it means to want to fight. Steve, at first scrawny and thin, wants to fight for his country, but is unable to because of his stature. Once he becomes a super soldier, he is unable to fight because he is too great an asset and has to be presented as a cheerleader. Likewise, the men trapped in The Great Escape are brave, smart, experienced, patriotic, and strong – but none are able to fight or do anything. Just as Steve rebels by rescuing Bucky, the prisoners rebel by trying to escape.
The First Avenger could do a little more to see how war affects people. We see typical images of war wounded but without real consequences, and even Bucky’s death turns out to be fake in the sequel. It also offers Red Skull’s easy exit and the implication that the Nazis weren’t real people, and therefore what happened during the war was the work of monsters and not a very human atrocity. Still, it’s one of the most colorful and interesting MCU films, contrasting the sepia nostalgia of 1940s New York with the glitz of Cap on tour before introducing the dull grays of life to the fore.
There’s a whole range of fantastic WWII movies out there, but if you’re looking for an avenue after Captain America: The First Avenger, check out The Great Escape. The fact that they both ride motorcycles also helps.
Next: MCU Meets “Real” Cinema: Like The Incredible Hulk? Try God’s Town
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