Movie News

History, as Interfered with by Superheroes

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Jul 20, 2011 | 6:42am EDT

Ah, history. Just saying the word makes me think of large dusty tomes and an wizened old man talking about even older stuff. That’s the problem with history though, it’s so final and in the past. Would history be so much cooler with, I dunno, superheros?

Luckily, Hollywood has answered that very question by slightly revising history with a few small additions. Sure WWII was horrific, but what if the bad guys were actually working for a demon from hell and we narrowly avoided complete domination thanks to one super soldier who the fortitude to stop evil in its tracks? I bet AP American History would’ve been a lot more fun to be in if that were the case.

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World War II was one of mankind’s most tragic events that still mars our collective conscious to this day. It’s an event that will never be forgotten and demonstrated both the capacity for human endurance and human terror. But you know what would make it awesome? A dude with a red skull.

Apparently in World War II, there existed a chemical that transformed a person into their peak physical and emotional self. Unfortunately Steve Rogers was the only one that was able to have the experiment performed on and that caused him to become Captain America. Throw in an indestructible shield and you have yourself a superhero. Who needs nuclear technology when you have a beefy Chris Evans? Just look at those pecs! Who would mess with that?

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Ah, the good ole 1960’s America. Nothing but peace, love, and racial tension.

But racial tension doesn’t draw in the big bucks (Oscars, sure, but hundreds of millions of dollars? No.) so instead let’s make it about mutants with super powers! And let’s kill the only black guy in the movie in the first five minutes of meeting him because we’re that cliche.

Now, I’ll give the makers of X-Men: First Class this—they did focus on the mounting tension between the US and the USSR and played with that fairly well while promising that the sequel will deal with more of the internal tension of the 60’s. But in the end all the great music, art, and culture of that time can’t compete with a painted naked Jennifer Lawrence.

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In most of these historical superhero movies, the writers treat the setting with a bit of magical realism. They want most of the stuff to remain the same save for the bits of superhero they throw in to make the story entertaining. Except Watchmen kind of throws that out the window and rewrites all of history—and history doesn’t like you.

Nixon is still the president. We won Vietnam. A Superhero killed JFK. There’s going to be another cowboy in the White House. Watchmen effectively deconstructed the superhero motif while at the same time deconstructing history itself. Not too shabby for a comic book.

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At least Captain America has the decency to recognize that the 30’s weren’t all peaches and cream. Combined with WWII, we also had the Great Depression to deal with and the fact that television wasn’t yet widespread. A really tough time to live in.

And yet, nostalgia is never one for accuracy, which The Rocketeer makes you think all the country ran on back then was gumption and can-do attitude (in fairness, that’s pretty accurate). Throw in some sepia tones and steam-punk enthusiasts went nuts.

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The United States of America has had it’s ups and downs. But one of the lowest points in our history was when brothers fought brothers during the Civil War. Terrible, terrible tragedies all around and of course the one superhero movie to be set around that time is one of the worst superhero movies of all time.

Apparently throwing in a former Confederate soldier who can talk to the dead doesn’t make the Civil War any more interesting. Nor does adding Megan Fox (but that helps). Nor does it make sense having Eli Whitney design a weapon, but that’s not the worst case of misappropriating historical facts. That honor belongs to..

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Granted, this is more of a literary fiction debacle than actual history debacle, but it still involves a lot of superheros trotting around Europe in the late 19th Century so that’s good enough for me.

Just how big of a mess was this movie? Well besides completely mixing up all sorts of characters and time lines established in their respective works (on top of having no understanding of basic Europe history or technology), it caused Sean Connery to retire from acting. And that’s a crime against humanity.

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Now I know movies are generally regulated to one time period and can’t encompass all of time and space, but TV can! And there is one television show that has sent it’s superhero to all corners of mankind’s history and had it’s way with it: Doctor Who. The show began as a children's educational show about history with a bit of sci-fi thrown in to draw in the crowds. But then the nerds got a hold of it and it became this huge event television show. But that didn't stop it from taking a stroll through all of history.

No, seriously. Name an event (or person) and Doctor Who has probably done an episode about it. Just naming these off the top of my head: Shakespeare, Dickens, Agatha Christie, Pompeii, the moon landing, Churchill in WWII, Titanic, Vincent Van Gogh, JFK, Nixon and Watergate, Queen Victoria, and Jack the Ripper. And that’s only from the last five years. Doctor Who has quite literally been there, done that, caused it to happen.

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What would a list of superheros be without one real life example? Christopher Lee holds the world record for appearances in movies but that hasn’t stopped him from totally dominating in real life. Not only did he play Saruman and Count Dooku, the man was an actual hardcore spy for Britain in WWII. No, really. He was in the Special Operations Executive which also employed Ian Fleming who then went on to write a few stories about this not-at-all special man named James Bond. When he filmed his death scene in the first Lord of the Rings, Lee gave a little too detailed description of what a man sounds like when he’s stabbed in the back. Yeah, pretty sure Christopher Lee is an actual superhero and it just goes to show Hollywood doesn't need to spice up history when real heroes are already here.

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