So today Marvel Studios releases its most ambitious project to date, “The Avengers,” which acts as a sequel to five other movies it’s produced over the last several years: “Iron Man,” “Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
It’s the last film on that list that interests us today. If you didn’t see it, the movie follows the adventures of a sickly man from Brooklyn who is unable to enlist in World War II until he’s transformed into a super-soldier. The character has been a mainstay in comics for 70 years as a symbol of American power. Note his first appearance from March 1941 (nine months before Pearl Harbor) where he is literally socking Adolf Hitler on the jaw:
But conspicuous by its absence in the 2011 “Captain America” film were any overt professions of American patriotism. He fights with an international (rather than American) team and he never even waves a US flag! Even “Captain America’s” sister film last year, “Thor,” seemed to have more overt references to Norway than “Captain America” did to America!
Cap also never delivers a soaring speech about America and its place as leader of the free world (which would have been perfectly appropriate for a movie set in World War II). Contrast this to “Independence Day,” the highest-grossing film of 1996. While ostensibly about all of humankind coming together to fight aliens, the film is unabashedly, nay pornographically, pro-America:
An obvious homage to the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” the ID4 speech still gets the patriotic blood moving regardless of how cheesy it is. If you’re American. One BBC reviewer lambasted this speech as “the most jaw-droppingly pompous soliloquy ever delivered in a mainstream Hollywood movie.” And Britain is America’s closest cultural, political, and military ally! If that’s what the Brits think about our flag-waving, imagine how much they like it in Indonesia!
Which is, of course, precisely why Hollywood doesn’t do that anymore.
The foreign box office is more important to Hollywood’s bottom line nowadays than the domestic one. The top 20 films of 2011 all did more business abroad than at home. (“Captain America” was 48%/52% US/foreign.) After just a week in foreign markets, “Avengers” has already made $281 million – before even being released in the US! Obviously in this kind of climate, producers are going to avoid content that repels people over something as trivial as nationalism.