Saturday, July 23, 2011
"Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011)
Joe Johnston's "Captain America: The First Avenger" is the last of the Marvel superhero movies before the big collaboration of next summer's "The Avengers," and it couldn't be any more obvious. What follows in the next paragraph is my major gripe with this movie and I guess what you could call spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
I actually quite enjoyed "Captain America" until the end credits came along. Samuel L. Jackson made his obligatory appearance as Nick Fury to let us know yet again that an Avengers movie is on the horizon. Not like we haven't been beaten over the head with it already in "Iron Man," "Iron Man 2" and "Thor." Not only does he show up, but at the end of the credits we're given a full-blown teaser trailer for "The Avengers." It just makes me sick of Marvel's agenda as a whole. Here we're given this rather well thought out superhero flick, and then the whole experience is cheapened because we're forced to see that, oh wait, there's more on the way! So, there's "The Avengers," and then each of these superheroes are going to, of course, have their own sequels, too. I just can't help but wonder when the fad is going to end.
Anyway, back to the movie at hand which I'm still struggling to view as standalone entertainment. The point -- and the problem -- is that I don't think we're supposed to be viewing it as standalone entertainment. Nonetheless, the entertainment it does provide is a pleasantly stupid, hokey and wholesome throwback. It's complete with a courageous but conspicuously square hero at its center, a lovely dame, a seasoned veteran military officer, a genius scientist and an evil super villain.
Chris Evans has fine screen presence, but as Captain America he's perfectly vanilla. With blond hair, blue eyes, big muscles and a bit of a dopey yet courageous demeanor, Evans does what he can to bring the character to life. What he becomes, however, is just OK and can't make it his own as Robert Downey, Jr. or even Chris Hemsworth did. He gets the all American spirit down pat with an old-fashioned patriotism that actually feels just right. And he sure wears his uniform well swinging around his powerful stars-and-stripes shield like it's a deadly Frisbee.
Before Captain America becomes the iconic hero of WWII, though, he used to just be skinny Steve Rogers who wasn't able to enlist in the army. After being chosen as a part of a super soldier project by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), he's instantaneously transformed and ready for action. Seeing Chris Evans before his bulked-up self as a 90-pound little guy was a bit startling, but the CGI was convincing. Destined for great things, Rogers instead gets thrown into performing acts to get people to buy bonds for the war. He dons an early version of his Captain America suit strutting around with red, white and blue ladies singing "Star Spangled Man." It's a fun moment encapsulating the film's retro feel while giving Rogers his superhero name and an incentive to drop the act and go fight the war on his own terms.
Captain America earns the respect and help from Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) who is a love interest but feels like a more imperative love interest than most. She has the brunette bob, bright red lips and sharp uniform to make her the ideal pin-up military woman. There's also the hardheaded Col. Phillips played by Tommy Lee Jones who seems angry and bitter the whole time, and I couldn't tell you if that was him in character or just him showing up to pay for the bills. Our villain is a vile Nazi commander named Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) who creates his own regime surpassing even that of Hitler. Hugo Weaving does Nazism well, especially when he rips off his skin and presents his true form of a hideous red skull giving him the obvious nickname of Red Skull.
The action is swift, the effects are nice, the story is solid -- and through it all we meet the engineer named Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). He assists with Dr. Erskine's research, but more importantly we're aware that he will be the father of Tony Stark, or Iron Man. This brings us back to that Marvel collaboration--the blatant reason Joe Johnston's pretty good superhero flick exists. Maybe it's clever, maybe it's cool, but me? I found it pushy. But hey, at least Captain America has a neat origin story taking place in the 1940s. It was a smart decision to keep in that spirit, but I can't help but wonder how he's going to adapt to the 21st century.