Of all movies, you'd certainly expect that Joe Johnston's "Captain America: The First Avenger,'' which I saw last night, would take a hard line against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The teaser poster above -- inspired by a famous comic-book cover that appeared eight months before America's entry into World War II -- practically promises it will out-do "Inglourious Basterds'' on this front.
My trusted colleague Kyle Smith will be reviewing this megabucks franchise launcher, which draws mostly yawns from early reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Besides the exemplary period production design, which struck me most about the film is its, uh, interestingly nuanced view of Hitler and the Nazis.
Though the screenplay is safely set in 1943 -- when the country was united against Hitler's Germany after years of debate, thanks to Pearl Harbor -- the film takes great pains to point out that the villain (played by Hugo Weaving) is a rogue scientist whose methods are considered too extreme even by the man who ordered the execution of eight million people.
Not only is the Holocaust nowhere hinted at in this comic-book version of history (something the similarly fantastic "Raiders of the Lost Ark,'' set in 1936, managed to do) Stanley Tucci's German refugee scientist is given a speech rationalizing the German people's embrace of Hitler.
Asked if he wants to kill Nazis, Captain American (boring Chris Evans) replies something like, "I don't want to kill anyone, but I don't like bullies.'' In point of fact, our hero doesn't technically kill Nazis (Weaving executes a couple), he kills Weaving's personal storm troopers. And the captain doesn't actually sock Hitler -- but pretends to sock an actor playing Hitler during a production number at war-bond rallies.
Suspicions that Marvel may be going to ridiculous lengths to avoid offending the German market are sort of confirmed in the press notes.
"Captain America'' co-creator Joe Simon is quoted as discussing the famous Hitler cover: "This was a time just before the war, and we were besieged by political activists who used to have big rallies at Madison Square Garden. There would be 50,000 people in the rallies. Some found out where we lived, and these very aggressive people would protest at us and spit on us. The FBI found out what was going on and they assigned agents to be at our offices, just in case.''
Would a 97-year-old Jew really refer to Bundists -- the American Nazi sympathizers who proliferated in the New York area -- as "political activists''? More likely, I'd guess that whoever wrote the notes edited the quote to avoid scaring away any potential audience for "Captain America'' or the followup that it so laboriously sets up, "The Avengers.''