An Introduction to Martian Sunrise and a review of “Captain America – The First Avenger”

I tend to be aggressive in expressing my opinions.  When I speak wearing the  mask of internet cowardice, my words tend to become venomous.  So I pray right now that I can serve anyone who wants to read Martian Sunrise, a place where the Gospel is brought to strange places, that I speak not only with passion but with grace.  If I dip into immorality I will right now ask for your forgiveness.  Sometimes God pulls back the curtain to show us who we really are apart from Him.  And it’s always a nasty sight.

So what is Martian Sunrise?  First, it already exists as a url for some dead WordPress site.  Since I couldn’t use it, I picked “Barrow Blade” as it captured the imagination and wonder that exists within Middle-Earth.  A Barrow-blade is a sword forged long ago and “wrought with spells for the doom of Mordor.”  It’s then lost and found much later (within the contemporary events of Lord of the Rings) in the barrow of a barrow-wight.  Once Merry wields the Barrow-blade in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, it proves ultimately useful in slaying the Witch King of Angmar.  So there is this idea of an ancient blade pulled out of a ghastly place that is designed to slay evil.  Does it sound familiar at all?

I can only call Middle-Earth imaginative and wondrous because of the Gospel behind it.  Christ left Heaven with the full intent of destroying Satan. To do this He died and rested in a tomb with the enemy cheering at His demise.  It would seem Satan could use the crushing of the Son to ruin any hope we would have in being reconciled back to God.  Yet the sword is pulled out of the grave and has destroyed death.

In the same way, we defeat death by wielding and trusting in Christ’s strength.  We are born into sin, it having already overtaken us, and condemns us to conscious, eternal Hell.  The only way to be rescued from Hell is to wield and stab with the Barrow-blade.  The Word that precedes from the mouth of the Father.  The Christ, that is.

So this connection I found, however intentional it was on the part of Tolkien, has been a symbol of what I take pleasure in.  God has given me a wealth of interest in stories of all forms because they, in some way, reflect their creator being image bearers of The Creator.  And it’s wonderful when they get close to the heart issues.

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are my favorite types of stories.  Today, their authors and audiences rarely glorify, or even acknowledge, the massive grace God has shown them in the person of His Son.  This is especially true with science fiction.  In the same way, the planet Mars is, to our current knowledge, a dead rock.  So when I’m saying “Martian” I typically refer to the strange, alien (and maybe dead) places the gospel (the Sunrise) has not transformed.  In this specific example I use Mars as a very convenient figure for the genre of science fiction but, overall, I don’t have to use it for just that.

So my goal with Martian Sunrise is to provide a place where I can discuss strange things in light of the Gospel, the Bible which tells us of it, and the God Who holds all things together.  A relatively easy way to do this is by reviewing movies.  I don’t have to draw some sort of specific parallel in each like I do with the Barrow-blade, but at least in some way show how this particular piece of art affected me.  For if God gave me the ability to think, to reason, and to feel, how am I not giving Him glory by displaying them?

Movies are easy because they are so short and easily accessible.  Count on me in discussing all sorts of other things like video games, poetry, novels, short stories, philosophy, music, comics, and (eesh) current events.  My goal is to describe exactly what went on in it, how successful it was, and (if possible) what it says about God.

Today I am not going to give you a traditional spoiler – free review because I’m questioning the legitimacy of the idea.  Sometimes it helps to see a very generalized impression (like a Rotten Tomatoes score) to see if it’s worth my time.  Sometimes it helps to just hear, “Go see it.”  So I can give you at least that.  Go see it.  I do enjoy reading some reviews and listening to movie podcasts (like MovieChatter) but I’m beginning to really think about the importance of going into a movie completely fresh to it.  I’m not even sure about trailers at this point.

When I walk into a movie I want to be able to judge it for myself.  I want to be fresh. If I’m predisposed to another’s opinion, it’s very likely my opinion will be in some way related to it.  And then it stops being my personal opinion.  If I want good acting in a movie, I don’t want to be told it’s good acting.  If I need to be told it’s good…it’s likely not good.  I place a high emphasis on giving the viewer a chance to use his own God given ability to watch and form an opinion.

In the same way, I don’t like the how some people view movies as a chance just to turn off their brain.  This is sometimes called “unwinding” and “letting off stress.”  A lot of times, any future discussion of the movie is discouraged.  And I think within that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to unwind.  Fishing is unwinding because it is simple, pure, and serene.  At no point does your brain turn off in the midst of it, it just relaxes.  You start thinking about deeper things.  The Earth that God gave you.  How you have dominion over it and the fish in the water.  You might even look back into your childhood with fondness.

If movies are meant to “unwind”, typically someone means that they want to suspend thinking.  And I heartily challenge that idea.  Because in no other area of life do we encourage that kind of behavior (in fact we call it dangerous).  So when you’re watching a movie (or after it), why not consider what’s going on?  Do the actors love Jesus?  What about the director?  Is it filmed with shots that both make sense but, at the same time, are not boring?  What about the end of the movie?  Can you see it coming?  What about afterward?  Did it make sense?

I find myself in the midst of “good” movies not thinking normal questions like this and more of trying to absorb every detail of the fictional world.  When a character does something morally complicated I may consider where the director stands in regard to the issue.  But overall, I build the frame of my opinion as I go along and then build the rest of the home afterward.

What I’m encouraging for you who have basked in the Sunrise: use the brain that God has given you.  You use your hands for making dinner.  Why not use the brain that God gave you to dive into art?  If you’re not going to be using your brain, did you even like the movie?  Or are you asleep?

So I can’t really do much as far of spoiler – free review.  If you have not seen “Captain America – The First Avenger” then I strongly recommend you don’t read…any…further.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

You have now adequately been warned.

My experience with the characters of Marvel comics has been somewhat limited.  When I do read comics books, I feel more comfortable with DC because:

1. Batman.

2. There are no X-Men

I became interested in Captain America when he was killed in Civil War. I thought, “Wow! A superhero that is decades old and they off him?  Gutsy!”  So part of my interest in superhero comic books was ignited by the idea that the publishers were interested in telling stories that actually mattered.  And then the Batman “RIP” story arc was just kicking off and I once again thought “Woh..they’re going to kill off Bruce.  The franchise is actually evolving.”  It’s hilarious how mistaken I was in my assumption.  If there is one thing I have learned about major comic book characters is that they rarely ever die or change.  Death is only a revolving door that is lubricated by the reader’s wallets.

When DC made the choice to dazzle readers by killing off Bruce (and I can say with confidence they did so in a spectacular fashion), does it not ruin everything by bringing him back?  Does it not make the original story not matter?  It’s only been a couple of years since Bruce was sent off into the abyss and (as of this blog entry) he’s on the verge of reclaiming the cowl.  Steve Rogers was also recently brought back to life and reclaimed the title after Bucky was “killed” again.

I do enjoy superheroes.  But I realize there are very few places you can take them without it all being retconned or reversed to oblivion.  I like limited series like “The Dark Knight Returns” because, as it’s a self contained series outside of the main DCU continuity, things can and do happen.

Recently superheroes have invaded the movie theater.  In a way, they are closer to the limited series like DKR because they are self contained, outside, and will only last for a limited time.  Imagine if in the upcoming Batman movie, Bruce gets permanently crippled by Bane at the finale and yet still manages to beat him somehow.  Would that not be an epic way to end the trilogy?  If Christopher Nolan actually tries something so gutsy that would possibly prevent the creation of any future Batman movies within his continuity, then he will have made art.

Of the Marvel movies, I’ve typically been satisfied with their quality.  The best thing they’ve put out is the original “Iron Man” because it’s tightly paced, fun, and the casting was near perfect.  I remember when it came out I heard whispers of a big monstrous “Avengers” crossover coming out once Marvel introduced all the characters in their various solo movies.  “Captain America” is the penultimate act that’s supposed to set up the last bits before the team is assembled.  So how does it do?

I kept on telling myself while watching “Captain America – The First Avenger” that it is a movie with “some magic.”  What makes it special isn’t always obvious, it usually works against it as if it’s embarrassed at how good it could be, but sometimes…you can see it.

In the opening scene there is way too much talking.  Far too much.  See the opening of the original “Alien” for a superior way of opening a movie.  I’m not saying that all movies have to be operatic and slowly wake up as the characters do… but in “Captain America” I felt bombarded with characters that didn’t really matter taking the stage as if they did.  There are a million ways to show characters treading upon a frozen legend.  But we don’t need the one way that builds anticipation by telling us how special it is. We have to clearly understand that the whole world  changed in that one instant just by looking at their faces.  Don’t just have them be kinda rattled.  This has to shock them.  Slow things down.  Show don’t tell.  Let the viewer feel the magic.

When we are brought over to Norway things get slightly better.  The tank…dozer…thing busts through the wall unexpectedly.  The headlights of Schmidt’s car are malicious slits.  It has a hood ornament with a skull and tentacles.  We know this guy is evil before we even see him.  I say to myself “Okay…good, good.  This movie might not be terrible.”

Yet the moment he opens his mouth I can tell he wasn’t the right man for the job.  Schmidt doesn’t sound like a Nazi.  He sounds like Hugo Weaving.  I loved Hugo in the Matrix.  Not so much here.  He could not communicate a believable German accent.  It was very thin.  Perhaps it was just my pessimism thinking for me, but I think even in some points he dropped out of the accent completely.

And then we’re brought to poor little Steve Rogers.  The guy is so skinny my dad thought he was a polio patient.  The CG in transplanting his head onto a shrimp was very well done.   While watching, I considered if Chris Evans was crazy enough to be a method actor like Christian Bale and actually drop all that weight and gain it back again.  But he didn’t.  And it wasn’t as real as I thought it might be.  And I like to be fooled.

Steve Rogers is a guy with heart.  He lives to defend his country even though he is awfully scrawny.  When we see him in boot camp and they do the “grenade test”, I really knew who he was when he jumped on it.  It emphasizes how tough he is on the inside so much that I started thinking about the Christian experience.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Matt 23:12 (ESV)

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” ~ James 4:6 (ESV)

Steve is a perfect illustration of this principle.  He would be a liability on the battlefield because he’s so weak.  He can’t do anything that the army can put to use.  So why does he make the perfect candidate?  The movie makes the point that while there is a distinction between buff and frail men, the greater distinction is between courageous, compassionate men and brutish, arrogant men.  Sort of like faith and works.  If we do amazing things in God’s name with no inward change…are we really filled with the Spirit?  So it is then the inner man that always takes precedence over the outer man.

Stanley Tucci was a great fit for playing Dr. Abraham.  When they bring Steve underground and are loading him onto the table, I noticed how Dr. Abraham suggested that Carter might be more comfortable in the viewing room upstairs.  When I realized he was concerned about Carter’s safety in the possibility of this machine horribly backfiring, I didn’t just like the man but I knew him.  Shortly later he is killed off and the death is weighty because I knew the man.  And that’s efficient storytelling.

With Carter I wasn’t as impressed.  She was a pair of lips with an accent.  The only real moment of depth (aside from possibly the ending) comes whenever she blasts away at the Cap when he gets his shield.  I remember being bombarded with this scene in the trailer.  It got annoying.  It’s the sort of thing that always appears in the trailers. “Come see our movie, it’s got explosions and guns and dames!”  Trailer trash.What made the scene work was just how furious she was.  In the trailer, Carter is eccentric and brutal. In the movie she was consumed by anger and jealousy.

Her parting from the Captain is quaint and bittersweet.  It would have been ruined if they were sobbing and dropped the “L” bomb in the conversation.  And a good last line in the flashfoward.  I’m okay if we never see her again.

Now Bucky.  I remember really liking him in the Brubaker comics.  He was much shorter than Cap and knew his way around a combat knife.  It was even alluded that he had some sort of blood-thirst inside that made him extra violent.  I don’t know much in the comics outside of what Brubaker  has done, but what he did was enough to give me a real encounter with some of the characters.

In the movie I wasn’t as impressed.  Bucky is not different enough from the Captain.  He’s a decent friend (not a great friend like Sam to Frodo) and is…just kinda there.   We never really see him pursue Steve as a friend.  It was cool to see him wield the shield (foreshadowing perhaps?) but outside of that…meh.  When he went over the edge into the ravine I felt no sense of loss.  And they will likely bring him back as the Winter Soldier.  Because that’s how comics work.

I liked having Howard Stark in there but I was a bit confused about how old he is supposed to be.  Tony is in his late 30s in his movies.  So he might be born in 1970.  Howard’s actor in this movie, Dominic Cooper, is 33.  If we assume this is the character’s age (or least close to it), then he had Tony when he was 61. That’s certainly not impossible (especially for men) but people typically get married and children before that age and we are not lead to believe Tony has any older siblings.  I’d have to go back and rewatch Iron Man 2 for further information (maybe compare tape quality to Howard’s age as to guess when it was filmed), as something feels off.  It might have been easier to just say he was the grandfather.  Or maybe he was.  Dominic Cooper doesn’t think so.

But since Howard, like his son, is something of a disrespectful woman chaser he might not actually mature enough to settle down until much later in life.  It kinda makes sense now but, in the theater, I was very confused and thinking Howard was actually Tony’s grandfather.  It’s possibly a case of fridge brilliance.  Or just an error.

(reference here)

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FridgeBrilliance

The movie also did a good job of weaving together the worlds of Iron Man and Thor.  Since the Iron Man franchise is about things at least looking scientific and Thor is so fantastical, having the Nazi occult scientists utilize the power of the gods for their inventions was the perfect mesh.  I can talk about the  flaws within the movie all day, but one thing they did exceptionally well was create a sense of logical harmony across the movies.

The only real problem is that, with their solution, I became too familiar with the villains and they lost their menace.  At no point was I really absorbed in the conflict between Steve and Schmidt.  I knew everything was going to be neatly tied up in the end.  And the Hydra salute (while it makes sense with the different “heads”) hilariously ruins the tone.

Once Steve buffs up and emerges from the “tomb”, Carter is humorously enthralled by the results and the movie gets dumber.  While the commandos are fun, it loses the Christian intrigue of the setup.    There is very little inner conflict left in Steve.  He still wants to fight but is held back as a stage performer for the troops.  He wears that ridiculous costume (paying a snarky homage to the earlier comics)  and eventually gets a better costume (looking more like the Ultimate version of the Cap).  He pursues the girl throughout the movie and has her for but a moment.  These issues are interesting, but they don’t speak as deeply when we see Steve getting bullied and refusing to stay down out of honor.  All the good stuff is packed into the first quarter.

The dynamic growth of a character should not be stuffed into the opening of a movie.  It should start low, crescendo throughout, and then end on a high note in the climax.  We don’t get that here and there’s not as much to look forward to.  Perhaps the Super Soldier Serum worked too well.  At least the fights are cool. *shrug*

Now my above review is the clearest way I can express my opinion.  But in the interest of categorization (and not truncation) I feel compelled to give it a rating.  My reviews that score at the top (or even somehow beyond the top) will have a chance to put into a special Martian Sunrise Hall of Fame. Or Canon.  We’ll see.

Actionbutton.net is a good website for interesting video game reviews.  In particular, I like their scoring philosophy.  The range is 0-4 stars (with halfsies) and 1 star is average.  Rather than having a more academic system with 70 somehow being average or passable, why not reward accomplishment rather than failure?  With a bigger high end, we can have greater precision when discussing the really, really good stuff.  Besides, Sturgeon was right when he said that 90% of everything was terrible. I shouldn’t have to spend as much time thinking about how bad something was.  90% of everything is, at worst, only two steps away from average.

“Captain America – The First Avenger” gets 2 stars (**/****) from me.  Chris Evans does great in the lead but, unfortunately, doesn’t have enough to work with after his transformation.  Bucky’s death is of no real consequence (because we know he’ll be back and he wasn’t that interesting to begin with).  The villains have very few teeth but are in no short supply of double raised fists.  This movie has some heart in it but it’s difficult to find.  The ending was well done.  The beginning was not.  The stinger after the credits (or as I call it: the biscuit) got me pumped for what was to come.  Now it’s time for Joss Whedon to work his devil magic next summer.

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