MCU Meets ‘Real’ Cinema: Like Captain America: The First Avenger? Try The Great Escape
Despite our best efforts, the worlds of Marvel and 'real' cinema continue to be at war. MCU fans have still not gotten over that one time Scorsese said their movies were "closer to theme park rides” than traditional cinema, even though he's right. Theme park rides are great, it's why they make billions of dollars each year. They provide exciting if slightly predictable thrills, and that's exactly what the MCU does. We know a lot of what's going to happen before the movie even starts, but that doesn't mean every dip and corner doesn't have us screaming for more.
Here at TheGamer, we have attempted to unite these two warring factions with our weekly column of film recommendations. The idea is MCU fans have a nice jumping off point into movies Scorsese might deem 'real' cinema, while film buffs ready to pour scorn on Marvel might appreciate that despite the fairly similar theme work of 'good guy wins, bad guy loses', there is more variety to the MCU than meets the eye. This week, we're up to Captain America: The First Avenger, and if you love that, try The Great Escape.
There are a plethora of World War 2 movies to pick from, and a lot of great ones that I could reasonably suggest under the guide of The First Avenger sharing the wartime setting – but there is more than that when it comes to The Great Escape. Come and See, Defiance, Schindler's List, Letters From Iwo Jima, Casablanca, Fat Man and Little Boy… all great movies set during World War 2. 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 takes place back in New York, and even after Steve becomes a supersoldier, we see him touring as a morale boosting sideshow rather than actually marching into battle. However, the film's third act sees Steve on the front lines, and infiltrating enemy territory to rescue Bucky and his unit. Few war movies strike this balance. Casablanca, for example, is set during wartime but is not a war movie. Letters From Iwo Jima, on the other hand, categorically is a war movie – it takes place during active fighting.
The Great Escape is set at a POW camp where – spoilers – the prisoners try to escape. The ragtag group of prisoners resemble the Howling Commandos Barnes leads during the war, while the enigmatic Steve McQueen is something of a Captain America himself. He's more rebellious and less inclined to follow the rules than his namesake Steve Rogers perhaps, but he has that slick leading man charm that Evans always tries to project. Captain America has a poster of Steve McQueen on his walls.
Neither of the movies are about the war, not really. We see very little frontline action in either, both concerned with behind the scenes affairs often ignored in tales of warfare. The Great Escape looks at the prisoners and how time passes when you're both away from the violence but trapped inside it, and Captain America explores what it means to want to fight. Steve, initially weedy and scrawny, wants to fight for his country, but is unable to because of his stature. Once he becomes a supersoldier, he's unable to fight because he's too important an asset and must be paraded as a cheerleader. Similarly, the men trapped in The Great Escape are brave, intelligent, experienced, patriotic, and strong – but none are able to fight, nor to do anything at all. Just as Steve rebels by rescuing Bucky, the prisoners rebel by attempting their escape.
The First Avenger could stand to do a little more to look at how war affects people. We see typical images of war wounded but no real consequences, and even the death of Bucky turns out to be fake in the sequel. It also offers the easy out of Red Skull, and the implication that the Nazis weren't real people, and therefore what happened in the war was the work of monsters and not a very human atrocity. Still, it's one of the most colourfully interesting MCU movies, contrasting the sepia toned nostalgia of '40s New York with the glitz of Cap on tour before introducing the drab greys of life at the front.
There is a whole swathe of fantastic World War 2 movies out there, but if you're looking for an avenue in after Captain America: The First Avenger, check out The Great Escape. The fact they both ride a motorbike helps too.
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