July 25, 2011

Made in the U.S. of A.

And with that, the longest theatrical trailer of all time comes to an end. After two Iron Man flicks, a Hulk movie, and Thor, only one thing remained before Nick Fury's elusive team assembled. And now there's nothing left. Thankfully, Marvel goes out with a bang. Captain America: The First Avenger, while nowhere near a masterpiece, and certainly far from the best under the Marvel brand, is a much more superior film than you would initially believe. With a healthy amount of well crafted action, strong acting, and the smartest use of Avengers promotion yet, Captain America offers a solid and more than sufficiently entertaining bout of comic book mayhem. It's smarter than it needed to be, and more stylish than was required.

Mission Accomplished! Where's my apple pie?

It's World War II, so you know the sides already. There's the Allies, and there's the Nazis. Well, sort of. Since this is Marvel, there's actually Hydra, a Nazi deep science division, and... some American faction that makes super soldiers. Anyway, into this American program comes Steve Rogers, a thin, sickly man who possesses almost stupid levels of bravery and compassion. He is, in every sense except physical, a perfect man, and it is for this that he is chosen as the first to undergo a procedure that turns men into gods. An act of sabotage makes Rogers the sole super soldier in the group. But, since he's the most righteous man this side of King Arthur, he doesn't let this get to him, dons a shield, and takes the fight to Hydra, who, led by the evil with a capital E Red Skull, have risen up as a major threat to global security.

Captain America's story is refreshing because, and I mean this as a compliment, of its simplicity. There are good guys and bad guys, and that's it. Dear ol' Patriot Man doesn't have any demons or past transgressions of any kind. He's not snarky, he's not an asshole, and he's not a psychotic. He is just a good guy, while Red Skull is just a bad guy. He doesn't have any sort of sympathetic motivations. He's not trying to impress anyone or get revenge or anything like that. He is just a bad guy who wants nothing more than to conquer the world, just because he can. It doesn't hit you over the head with the patriotism, instead offering a pretty apt portrait of what it was like back then, complete USO shows, war bonds, and the like. The lack of irony is refreshing, and it's thanks in large part to that that the movie works so well. Indeed, the script is one of the best things about the whole thing.

Chris Evans. Who knew? Sure he's been ok in some things, good in others, awful in most, is awesome here, fully embodying Cap's almost comical levels of virtue and crafting a real character out of what amounts to no more than a template. He is, at times, hilarious, as when Cap is forced into degrading himself by becoming a USO poster boy, and, at others, badass, as when he takes on the equivalent of an army of Hydra commandos. He is front and center for the whole movie, and he owns the whole thing. it's the best work we've seen out of him yet, and it's because of him that the film works. Apart from the script, he's the best thing about it.

Other performers include Hugo Weaving, hamming it up behind a lot of CG as Red Skull, Tommy Lee Jones, über funny as Colonel Chester Phillips, and Stanley Tucci, adopting an absurd accent, as the genius behind the whole super soldier serum thingy. Haley Atwell shows up playing the love interest, and she does a bang up job, adding tons of snark and sass to the role. It's hard to take your eyes off her when she's on screen, although that may have more to do with the fact that, "HOLY SHIT, HALEY ATWELL IS GORGEOUS!"

Everyone, for the most part, excels, but the real star is Evans. He surprises as everyone's favorite American poster boy, and does the best work of his career in the process.

Captain America: Beating Guys to Death With the American Flag Since 1943

Director Joe Johnston hasn't amassed the greatest career of all time, having directed such hits as Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and The Wolfman remake. Ick. He does a fine job here, adapting what is, quite possibly, the most famous and iconic of the Marvel superheroes to film. Captain America: The First Avenger is a perfect example of a movie adaptation of a comic book that isn't trying to be anything more than a movie adaptation of a comic book.

Yes, I know. Christopher Nolan's take on Batman is wonderful in so many different ways, but it's not really an adaptation of the comics. It's more Nolan's interpretation of that world, and not so much the stories. Same with the X-Men movies, excluding First Class. Those movies especially are examples of how not to make comic book adaptations, regardless of how good or bad they are. They are, quite simply, too ashamed of their comic book origins, and try to distance themselves from them as much as possible, hence the blu grey color palette for all the movies.

Captain America: The First Avenger is not ashamed of its comic book origins. In fact, it embraces them. This flick is colorful, chaotic, campy, and just a little over the top, but that's the way it should have been. The action is fun and fluid, with Cap bouncing from adversary to adversary, sending his shield flying all over the place in the process. Red Skull is a man, so evil, that the Nazis kicked him out. I'm not one to judge character, but you would have to be a pretty sinister mother fucker if the Nazis want nothing to do with you. Cap steals into a Hydra base, all by himself, and next thing you know, the entire base is blowing up around him. This is pure, comic book storytelling, brought to life in the filmic medium. A guy who is practically invincible, and can take down hundreds if not thousands of faceless henchmen who are led by a bad guy who is so malicious for no reason except that he just feels like being a dick? Sounds like a comic book to me.

There are things to gripe at. Some of the special effects are good, such as whatever wizardry was employed to make Chris Evans skinny, but some can be really hit or miss, such as... everything else. A lot of the stuff in the action, like when Cap rides a zipline onto a speeding train, or any of the multiple shots of him jumping off a structure as it explodes behind him, look really cartoony. Red Skull, for all his machinations and scenery chewing, is, surprisingly enough, underused. We see too much of Cap as a USO attraction, and not enough of Red Skull laying waste to civilization.

As to the Avengers promotion, it's there, though not as much as in the previous movies in the continuity, since pretty much everything that need to be explained (Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., The Cosmic Cube, all the norse god stuff) was explained in the previous movies. So when Red Skull picks up a small, glowing box, you know what it is, and can just coast along without having to stop and ask what it all means. The post credits scene is there, and it follows the tradition of the other movies in the setting up the next film in the series. Iron Man 2 set up Thor, and Thor set up Captain America. The next film in the cannon is The Avengers, but rather than tease audiences with a secluded scene, what we are graced with is ten times cooler. Stay through the credits, and you get to see a trailer for The Avengers. Yup, you heard me. Your first look at footage of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Cap, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, The Hellcarrier, Loki, Black Widow, and everything else is all there for you. Sweet!

Captain America: The First Avenger is perfectly suitable entertainment that goes above and beyond in some respects. Though it lacks the charm and wit of Iron Man, and the sheer spectacle of Thor, it's still a more than worthy addition into the Avengers universe. Some things drag it down, but it overcomes with a script that is totally fine with reveling in the comic books from which it's based, and a seriously strong lead performance by Chris Evans. This isn't one you absolutely must go out and see, but if you've been following this whole, comic book continuity brought to life on film, project, then you should probably give this one a look, if only to see how the last piece of the puzzle fits in. It's a fitting end to the build up, and I, for one, can't wait for the payoff.  The Avengers can't assemble soon enough. Bring it!


  1. I cannot wait to see this. Though I do need to watch INCREDIBLE HULK still. your positive overview keeps me excitied about it!

  2. Many have dubbed Captain America: The First Avenger the best superhero movie of 2011, I’m a little reluctant to give it that title considering how much I enjoyed X-Men: First Class. Still, it is a very good installment, certainly one of the best amongst The Avengers pre-films (it’s between Captain America and Iron Man for that crown). Marvel did a great job closing out the “prequels” for The Avengers, and I’m really excited to see them all come together next year. Good Review! Check out mine when you can!

  3. You touch upon one of my main gripes with this one here, namely that Weaving/Red Skull is underused. Yes, Weaving got to ham it up, and the actor himself can play a villain like few others, but aside from the magic weapons, they really make him out to be a shitty villain, always running away in his latest newfangled transport (I'll get you next time, Gadget!!!) and we're told a bit about his turning on the Nazis and taking over this and that, but we don't see him do a god damn thing.

    On the whole, I think you dug this a lot more than me (and are psyched for Avengers even more), but I had fun with it. Like Thor, I think it'll be pretty forgotten in five years, but they're above average summer fare.