29 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan
Script by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFreely
Directed by Joe Johnston
Release: 22 July 2011
Marvel Studios, 124 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Scrawny, shorty Steve Rogers is selected to be the first Super Soldier to win WWII, but ends up facing an enemy far more powerful than they realized.

Captain America is The Man. He’s the character who represents what it means to be a hero. He epitomizes patriotism – the little man who wants nothing more than to fight for his country, to fight for freedoms and liberties, to stand up against bullies, and to show the red, white, and blue in a funny outfit that just might outfunny Superman’s. Captain America is Steve Rogers, a dude who physically is no way capable of being in a battlefield, let alone leading men. He is courageous, generous, polite, stubborn, and full of vigor to fight the good fight when necessary. Unfortunately, Captain America is also a bit of a one-note character that doesn’t lend himself to be all that interesting. Amazingly, director Joe Johnston and the (probably) many writers onboard crafted a film that – although not great by any means – is more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Right off the bat, I gotta say, Chris Evans did a wonderful job. He embodies Steve Rogers so freakin’ well, it’s a bit weird. Unlike Ryan Reynolds who is able to bring his trademark wisecracks but not fully capable of embodying Hal Jordan, Evans is perfectly able to indulge in his brilliant comic timing (when applicable; the funny is far and few in between) all the while completely being Steve Rogers. A while ago an little something like that would have gone unnoticed by me; guess that goes to show that GREEN LANTERN did make a impression – just not the right one. Anywhoozles, I suggest the casting directors on these Marvel films need raises – there has been some spot on casting 1999: the X-MEN movies, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth and his six pack, Sam Jackson, and now Chris Evans. There’s a lot of brilliance going on behind the Marvel film department. Another standout performance, thanks to a standout, powerful female character is the gorgeous Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Rogers’ love interest and basically boss. Here the infatuation between both parties feels organic instead of the contrived “I wanna hump you!” vibe you get from Natalie Portman’s lustful glances at Thor. Ms. Atwell, and Ms. Carter by extension, are great additions to the movie, and are just as strong and memorable as a Super Serum mascot.Just as great but used less is Tommy Lee Jones who can do this military role sleepwalking, but surprisingly seems to be having a bit of fun with it. At the very least, it’s Jones that delivers the best lines of the film.

The action scenes are wonderfully done. Around the hour mark Steve goes behind enemy lines to liberate some military hostages, and it’s a thrilling sequence as the facility starts to explode around him. We’re also treated to a montage of Captain America fights as he gains popularity among the U.S. military and strikes fear for the German and Hydra division. Sure, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more exploration in Steve’s missions, but I’m satisfied enough with what we were given. The final fight between Steve and Red Skull is also impressive(ish), sorta coming off INCEPTION like as the two punch each other around a descending ship. Ultimately there just isn’t enough action beats in the movie.

Which is a weird thing to say cos I really liked the first 30 minutes of build up to Steve becoming all Super Serumed. I enjoyed seeing the digital small Chris Evans (which really wasn’t all that distracting) get his face punched in and not back away from a fight, or mumble when talking to a gorgeous military woman, or be all ‘I don’t like bullies’ to Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci). All that stuff was good; the perfect amount of time spent on setting up Rogers and Howard Stark and Erskine’s Super Soldier genetics. And then I absolutely loved when Captain America became basically a war publicity whore – thrown out there to big crowds to encourage civilians to support the war monetarily, or have some movies based off his character as he kicks some Nazi ass. Having the Captain do this with his abilities first, before becoming the hero we all know about, was genius, and one of the best parts of the movie.

The best part of the movie is right after Steve gets imbued with his new powers, and the movie – highly immersed in the sort of grandiose 1940s/1950s action movies – cultivates the clich├ęd and contrived dramatic beat of the bad guy throwing a kid off a building or something, but this time the bad guy throws the kid into the water. It’s used time and time ago, cos of course Batman or whoever is gonna let the bad guy go so he can catch the kid. But CAPTAIN AMERICA has a clever script. Rogers looks to the water and the kids says, “Go get him! I can swim!” Motherfrakking brilliant, and the biggest laugh of the movie.

Just to make a quick note: concerning rewatch value, I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA twice in one week. With the exception of the great hostage rescue action piece, and the montage of the Captain in battle, the film actually was a bit boring. Not even Hugo Weaving’s amusing German accent was enough to fully sustain my interest. It’s unfortunate, especially considering the enormous rewatchability of THOR’s messed up family dynamic, or IRON MAN’s drunken hero.
In the end, CAPTAIN AMERICA is worth seeing. Of course it is, if you’re following the Marvel superhero films. As has been noted on nearly every site, this is the last flick before Joss Whedon delivers THE AVENGERS to the world next May, so attendance feels basically mandatory. As a standalone movie, THE FIRST AVENGER surprisingly works quite well. The nods to the past (THOR) and future (AVENGERS) is nicely balanced without one element overshadowing another, and the film definitely has its own legs. Ultimately it’s not my favorite production from Marvel Studios, but that is truthfully no fault to the writers, directors, actors, etc. It’s just that Captain America, the character, just ain’t interesting enough. Or at the very least, extend the runtime to allow us more Steve Rogers in the suit. All that said, hopefully Joss can infuse some dimension into the character. After all, Rogers is thrown into an entirely new environment as the film closes, so Joss has more to work with than the writers here. But all in all, complaints aside, I enjoyed my time.

One last comment: why the hell do the world-ending missiles HAVE to be labeled? “New York”. “Berlin”. Mega Facepalm.

Rating: 7/10 = As a pre-AVENGERS flick, it’s a must see, and although everyone involved in this production quite obviously love the material and put their best work into it, the titular hero just doesn’t grab the viewer enough.

1 comment:

Dylan said...

I'd have to assume that the labeling of bombs like that was something that was actually done, because it's so blatantly playing down to the audience that it would be too big an insult otherwise.

Too bad to hear about the rewatch lag you suffered.

Good call on the sharp piece of writing with the kid in the water; that was perhaps the funniest line (not said by Jones, anyway).

I found Red Skull to be a pretty shitty villain. Don't get me wrong - Weaving is a bit like Jones in that he can play a villain in his sleep (and a great one at that), and he's capital E excellent here, but the Skull himself is a fucking Inspector Gadget villain. Every time Captain gets near him, he hops over to his latest and greatest nonsensical vehicle and runs away. What a pussy! I'd expect that behavior from his scientist buddy, not he has the same powers as Rogers, so what's he afraid of? And then, when they finally do fight, it's pretty anti-climactic and way too short. Lame.

Still, enjoyed it enough.