Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Captain America Vs. Cowboys & Aliens: Philosophy Without A License Edition

I think I have made a startling discovery.  Captain America: The First Avenger and Cowboys & Aliens are the same movie.

Both protagonists gain access to advanced alien technology and use it to help destroy an existential  alien threat.  Both movies also have benign and dangerous aliens.  Further, both protagonists have have been redeemed:  Steven Rogers has been saved from being a perpetual victim whereas the love of a beautiful woman turned Jake Lonergan, the Daniel Craig character from a life of crime.  Both movies have characters with a healing power make the ultimate sacrifice to bring down a dangerous flying machine, and both contain resurrections although in Cowboys & Aliens, the resurrection is only implied.  Finally, both films make use of every cliche available to them.  Captain America uses war movie types including a gruff colonel, leggy USO girls, and a corps group of loveable, battle hardened vets.  Cowboys & Aliens contains a gruff but wise preacher, a bully who is the spoiled son of a rich cattle baron, a saloon piano player joyfully pounding the keys, and the drifter who saved the town rides away alone.  Fans of Westerns couldn't ask for anything more.

I'm not enough of a movie critic to comment about each movie's use of lighting, color, sets, or boom mikes.  I think that Captain America tells its story better than Cowboys & Aliens, but not enough better to justify that fact Rotten Tomatoes finds that only 44% of critics give Cowboys & Aliens a positive review whereas 78% give Captain America a positive review.

Instead, the difference stems from the fact that Cowboys & Aliens jars sensibilities in ways that Captain America doesn't. Those alien flying machines shouldn't be buzzing across those quintessentially American vistas

More importantly, Captain America is clean and shiny; the film's garbage cans are clean and shiny; the Red Skull's prison cells are clean and shiny.  Were I feeling cynical, I might allege that even the dust and mud in that Steve Rogers crawls through is clean and shiny.  On the other hand, the Old West cowboys, gang members, Indians, and townspeople, and even the evil aliens are scarred and grimy.

In Captain America, the Asian, the Irishman, the African-American, and the kid from Brooklyn come together with not problems.  In the alien infested West, the rich rancher, the career criminal, the townspeople, and the Native Americans struggle with what is at best an uneasy alliance.  The former is comforting, the latter a touch too close to reality.

Most importantly, the aliens invade the Old West and steal bodies, memories, and metaphoric souls to get gold.  The subtle reminder that the United States displaced Native Americans for the same reason may make some a bit uncomfortable.  A Nazi obsessed with Teutonic mysticism is far easier to hate.

I'm not saying that Cowboys & Aliens is a better film that Captain America.  I enjoyed Captain America more.  Both films are important, however.  Captain America shows Americans at their best and reminds us what we should strive to become.  Cowboys & Aliens reminds Americans that we're flawed humans with vices that prevent us from becoming the virtuous people we tell ourselves we want to be.


caheidelberger said...

I've seen neither, but I'm intrigued by your comparison. I see potential for a great side-by-side action-film unit the next time I get to corrupt an English class with a unit on cinema! Very enjoyable film essay.

Andy V. said...

I've seen both of these movies and I would say the average of their Rotten tomato reviews would be sufficient.

Captain America was too cliche for me. Out of all the Marvel movies, I would rank it last. Especially among all the Avenger characters. The development of the plot felt too fast. I understand they had 2 hours, but this one really needed 3 hours if not 2 movies, to really develop the plot correctly. It started well with Captain America starting off as a weak small man who is picked on and fights with anyone for justice sake, but once he becomes Captain America, it becomes cut after cut of battle scenes and before you know it, he's in the plane killing the villain and crashing. They could have done better. Only because I am a huge patriot for this country I give it a 6 out of 10 stars. Otherwise it would be 5.

With Cowboys and Aliens, the plot was developed a little better, except the part of why the aliens were there in the first place. Now, when it comes to alien movies I know to put on my illogical hat but some of the scenes were a little too super human. Its not like the alien gun gave him supernatural strength. Over all I did like this movie. Again, the story could have been developed a little longer, but I would give it a 6 out of 10 starts.