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Saturday, July 23, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

Well, color me stunned. After a plethora of movies based on Marvel Comics heroes over the past decade-plus, they finally made one that's a completely solid winner from start to finish. I enjoyed THOR a hell of a lot and IRON MAN was great until its utterly rote final act, but CAPTAIN AMERICA is a note-perfect confection that gives the faithful exactly what they want while introducing the classic character to modern movie audiences in an engaging and compelling way.

The narrative gives us Cap's origin yet again, but tells it in a way that really lets us get to know and care about scrawny, 4F wannabe soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) before he gets anywhere near his star-spangled battle togs. Cap's story takes us from the streets of Brooklyn to WWII's European theater of operations, paralleling his development as America's first super-soldier with the world-conquering machinations of Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), aka the Red Skull, an insane and megalomaniacal Nazi super-soldier who was the first success of the super-soldier process' inventor, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). The Skull has gotten his hands on an ancient Norse — read "Asgardian" — artifact of unexplained but vast power (comics fans know it's the Cosmic Cube) and it's only a matter of time until he harnesses its powers for use in taking over the world — first stop, New York City — and usurping Hitler's Third Reich with the super-scientific ordnance wielded by Hydra, an organization spun out of Nazi Germany's special scientific forces, so after a false start as a pitchman for war bonds, Cap takes the fight to the Red Skull. Over the course of the film, Cap proves his mettle as a warrior and hero, aided by the capable likes of old neighborhood pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), British special agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and the Howling Commandos, and his wartime exploits come to a climax that results in him literally becoming a man out of time.

I've left out the details so you can witness it all for yourself, but here are the points of note:
  • Director Joe (THE ROCKETEER) Johnston crafts a retelling of Captain America's origin that will sit quite well with modern audiences while piling on the WWII period charm that lends the proceedings the feel of an old school adventure serial, only one of feature length as opposed to a thirteen-episode chapter play.
  • A good deal of time is spent establishing Steve Rogers as a patriot who wants nothing more than to serve his country, and there's not an ounce of corniness found in how his sentiments are portrayed. This character development unfolds in considerable detail and I'd say it's at least a half hour into things before Rogers undergoes the process that turns him into America's first (and only) super-soldier, so don't go into this film expecting wall-to-wall, non-stop action and ass-kicking. Which is not to say that there's a boring moment in it before said ass-kicking starts.
  • Chris Evans is simply perfect as Steve Rogers and his performance here is just as right for the character as he was wrong for the part when he was cast as the unbelievably douchey and assholish version of Johnny Storm as found in the two atrocious FANTASTIC FOUR movies. I look forward to seeing him reprise Cap in THE AVENGERS and the inevitable sequels to this film. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Evans as Cap is the most likable and decent hero to grace the screen since Christopher Reeve's debut as Superman, and that is not a compliment I hand out lightly.
  • Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull is just as perfect as Chris Evans as Cap, and the makeup appliances that turn him into the character are without visible flaw.
  • Hayley Atwell as British agent Peggy Carter is a memorable and welcome change from the female characters often found in WWII adventures in that she's just as professional and badassed as any of the military men surrounding her. When the inevitable sequel happens, I hope they set it in WWII so we can see more period derring do and more of Agent Carter. She's too good to leave as a one-shot.
Agent Carter takes the fight against Nazi scum to the streets.
  • The film feels like a 1940's adventure film made today, and that's only a good thing. It does not concern itself with trying to make its fantastic elements fit into a "what if this stuff existed in reality" context, thus rendering it, as my buddy Big Black Paul so aptly pointed out, a true comic book movie, replete with retro hyper-technology and all that jazz. All of the other Marvel films have hit that particular pitfall, presumably in an attempt to make this stuff more appealing to those who neither read nor like comic books and superheroes, and each has been somewhat the worse for it, even the genuinely good ones.
  • As previously stated, the film includes the Howling Commandos among its roster of heroes fighting the good fight, and I welcome their bigscreen debut wholeheartedly. I've loved those guys since I was a kid and I hope their appearance here proves popular enough to earn them their own movie. And for those in the know, we even get to witness Dum Dum Dugan letting fly with a signature "Wah-Hoo!"
The Howling Commandos, bigscreen style.
  • Another supporting character of interest is Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), genius inventor and father of Tony Stark (better known to the masses as Iron Man). He supplies the tech side of the super-soldier process, as well as giving Cap a disc of pure Vibranium (look it up) that will come to serve as his combat shield (as opposed to the prop version used during his war bond spokesperson days). It's also cool that while the shield itself is basically indestructible, its paint job most definitely is not.
Cap receives his shield.

Bottom line: CAPTAIN AMERICA is a rousing bit of entertainment that looks to deservedly be a hit. I enjoyed it immensely and it is in my opinion the acme of what a superhero movie should be. This, folks, is the Marvel Comics movie against which all others should be measured.

1 comment:

Hellbilly said...

I liked Captain America more than I expected. This was the first hero movie I caught this year, and my expectations for hero movies tends to be pretty low as of late. I loved that they anchored the movie in the 1940s, with lots of nods to Marvel's golden age, and the era's pulp fiction and serial movie adventurism.

I wasn't as won over by Evans portrayal of Steve Rogers as you, but I can't think of any current actors who could have done better. Great supporting cast - Hugo's Red Skull was the best, truest translation of a comic book villain I've seen yet.