Just seen Captain America, and a review shall shortly be forthcoming. I shall say I greatly enjoyed it, and it continues a trend of Marvel movies being terrifically well handled. However, it continues a trend that I very much approve of - thematic linking of the antagonist and protagonist. This, I figure, deserves a look on its own. Keep in mind I've not seen Iron Man 2. Warning: minor spoilers ahead!
Firstly we have Iron Man. This is the weakest of the films in my opinion, and this is reflected in the relationship. Tony Stark decides to become a man of charity, redeeming him from his beginnings as a super-millionaire weapon weapon dealer. His antagonist is a man who embodies the greed of his past life. By fighting against a man who is this, he's actively battling all of what he used to represent and thus helping to reduce what he used to represent. It's easily the worst example, however, because it's a rather unimaginative and often seen in most action movies. The link somehow doesn't feel as personal, and thee bad guy is not well fleshed out. He feels like generic baddie No.7, a man that, really, could be anyone.
Secondly, we had Thor. This is where things get interesting: in music there is this thing called contrary motion. Contrary motion describes when two melodic lines move in the opposite manner to each other, and in Thor that is exactly what we get. Thor and his brother Loki go on the opposite journey, ending up where the other was at the start of the story. Thor is Odin's golden boy, but he was also a violent, impatient and hotheaded. Not only is his wiser and more considerate brother looked over, but he is not even Odin's real son! Loki tries to emulate Thor, to become like his errant brother, and as such hope that this'll make him usurp Thor in Odin's eyes. Whilst Thor's intensity was down to naivety, Loki's are part of his very capable machinations, and as such they go too far. Thor, on the otherhand, goes to earth and learns humility, being taught that he must consider his actions and that violence is not really an answer.
Like Iron Man, by defeating Loki Thor is exorcising his earlier flaws and defeating them, but more than that the two have real relationship. Loki is jealous of Thor, and rather insane, but they are still brothers and they are brought into conflict by their relationship with their father. Loki, in this respect, is the far more complex figure to look at than our archetype of a hero, but their complex and very understandable conflict brings a thematic depth to the movie that really raises it above your average.
Captain America has an antagonist that is, in marked departure from Loki, basically fucking evil. Red Skull has no real motivation beyond "POWER!" - no, not exactly like Jeremy Clarkson. Actually, both are linked strongly, despite meeting only twice, by their similar physical enhancement at the hands of the same scientist. Both interpret their gifts in differnet ways. Before his superpowering up, Captain America was physically weak but personally the manifestation of compassion and heroism, and he uses his physical enhancements as another to express and fight for these concepts. The Red Skull, however, is the manifestation of bullying and self-centric egomainia. It is only implied, but he sees his scientific intelligence as something that makes him better than everyone else, and when he is physically enhanced it proceeds to persuade him that he has risen above humanity. They represent the opposite in moral philosophy and application of power, and there is a very personal link created by the fact they are the only two super soldiers.
Also, and this is very much in implication only, I like the idea that two have dynamic that somewhat resembles the Thor/Loki one. Both are the product of physical enhancement by the same doctor who definitely functions as a sort of father figure to Captain America at least. He is responsible for both of their physical enhancements - and moral enhancements that are mentioned - and Red Skull's actions could be seen as a way of trying to prove that his ideas are correct, jealous of the way that his morals were rejected but his superhuman brother's was fully embraced. It's not canon, but neither is it particularly contrived, so I think it adds a bit more depth to the movie.
So yeah, that's it for the first part of this analysis. Next time I'm going to be looking at X-Men: First Class and counterpointing it with The Dark Knight, and talking about the practise in general. Hopefully been interesting so far.