WARNING- contains spoilers!
So last night I went to see “Captain America” at the cinema. I went, simply looking to be mildly entertained, but not blown away by the latest Marvel creation.
Before getting onto my point, I should say that I enjoyed the first half of this film, as Marvel and Legendary Pictures continue their more gritty approach to the portrayal of their greatest superheroes. The second half? It got a little cheesy, a little less believable (yes I know, it’s a comic book!) but it just felt a bit silly as it moved on. Chris Evans did a very good job however, and I’d be interested to see some of his future work.
But watching this film got me thinking. On a previous trip to the cinema, I went to see “X-Men: First Class” (which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way!) and I noticed a new trend coming from our superhero films- placing our men of steel and women of wonder into History. “Captain America” is set in World War Two, “X-Men: First Class” in the heart of the Cold War- the Cuban Missile Crisis. The History geek in me nearly exploded during Magneto’s involvement in the quarantine border of the Cuban shore!
I should probably say, that incorporating fiction with non-fiction is not new for comics and superheroes. One of the finest examples is “Superman: Red Son”, a story which imagines what might have happened if Cal’el (aka Clark Kent/Superman) had landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States (a great read by the way!)
Is this a good thing for History though? I’m not sure. I want to say yes- that by watching X-Men or Captain America, people may want to know more about the real events behind the storyline. Now, whilst those searching for the “Hydra” group within the Third Reich of the Nazis would be disappointed, those looking into the Cuban Missile Crisis would, I think, be engrossed.
But a part of me is worried. Worried that people’s understanding of History may be affected by its fictional interpretations. I remember when I was studying at university that some friends of mine had taken an Ancient History unit which included a study of Homer’s Iliad. At this time, “Troy” came out in the cinema. We stayed up until 1am to see a special advanced preview the night before, which sadly was not worth it- not one little bit!
Anyway, as the exam approached, and mock answers had been submitted, the lecturers found it necessary to state that any reference to “Troy” in students’ exam answers would result in an immediate fail- because “Troy” in no significant way stays true to Homer’s original Iliad (it’s not all about Achilles’ Abs after all!)
Film is a fantastic tool for history- whether it’s “Schindler’s List” and “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” for the Holocaust or “Thirteen Days” for the Cold War, they can bring to life the textbook and paint vivid pictures in students imagination. Admittedly, there are many bad historical films too- “Pearl Harbour”, “Titanic”, “Alexander” or “The Tudors” to name but a few! Even good films like “JFK” or “300” haven’t exactly stayed true to the narrative!
But they are still a powerful resource. So if Marvel, Legendary Pictures and other companies are to continue down this line, and mix the fantastical with the historical, then they have my blessing. But if they directors, screen writers and film companies wish to make historical films, then please do me a favour- make them historical!