Sunday, August 14, 2011

Captain America - The First Avenger

Spoiler alert-o-meter: A few spoilers ahead.

The latest big budget adaptation of a Marvel Comic superhero, Captain America straddles the line that separates rousing action, sincere patriotism, and total cheese. Actually, it does quite a good balancing act. It mostly works as all of the above, and includes another peachy rewrite of history. In this new Hollywood version of WWII, Hitler is still the bad guy, but asks the question (and perhaps invades hallowed ground): what could be worse than Hitler? HYDRA, a wing of one of Hitler’s armies gone rogue. Okay, it actually doesn’t imply that Red Skull, the mad genius leader of HYDRA is worse than Hitler. But he ain’t no picnic.

What makes this movie interesting is the time period. 1942, just as America enters the big war. Enter 90-pound weakling, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). He wants nothing more than to enlist in the Army to do his part. But because he’s small and asthmatic, among a litany of other conditions, he keeps getting rejected as 4-H. While his best buddy is shipping out, Steve tries again to join the Army using another false name.

But due to his obvious ambition to join, his love of country, and sense of duty, he catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who pulls some strings to get Steve enlisted. Turns out Doc Erskine wants Steve to participate in a secret Army project to generate the perfect good soldier in much the same way Erskine created Red Skull as the perfect bad soldier for the Germans (yes, he used to work for the Germans before escaping to America).

Steve is a good soldier – his heart is in the right place. The experiment is a rousing success with Steve literally growing into a massive, muscle-bound soldier with a heart of gold. Did I mention this guy’s got heart? Tommy Lee Jones (good to see him) is Colonel Chester Phillips who considers Steve nothing more than the morale booster that an ambitious senator has pushed Steve into becoming.

But, as part of a USO show in Europe, Steve (as “Captain America,” complete with goofy costume, shield, and a song and dance routine), hatches a plan to save his best friend who, along with hundreds of other American soldiers, happens to be prisoners of Red Skull. As Captain America. Only in 1942 could a character like this get away with the inherent goofiness of this plot device for a modern audience. Funny thing is, we buy it. It works. Mainly because the modern audience wants it to work. Just like any other modern-day super hero on the big screen.

Steve proves he can use his super powers (he’s strong, can run fast, heal quickly, and his fancy red, white, and blue shield returns to him like a boomerang) to aid in the cause in Germany. The hot British captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) falls for him. Tommy Lee Jones gives him the official okay to put together a team of gung ho soldiers to take down Red Skull. Red Skull is played by Australian actor Hugo Weaving, who is probably known to American audiences as Agent Smith from the Matrix flicks, Elrond from Lord of the Rings, and V from V for Vendetta. He is good at playing bad. Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is a minor character, the industrialist who puts together Cappy's costume and who also helps Doc Erskine put together the machinery for the initial experiment.

There are no big surprises in Captain America: events move along pretty much as they should. The action scenes are good, if not incredible. Much of the action is computer generated and it often shows. A rousing sequence on a speeding train is almost derailed (pun intended) by some cheesy effects, although I'm guessing there is more money muscle behind this new Captain America than behind the version released in 1990 starring Matt Salinger, Darren McGavin, and Bill Mumy. The best use of special effects comes in the early scenes that show Steve as a small young man, with Chris Evans' head seamlessly and impressively grafted on a shrimpy body. 

It’s not giving too much away to say that the movie opens and ends in modern times. Seeing Cappy run around Times Square in 2011 like he’s landed on another planet just isn’t as much fun as seeing him fight the Nazis. But it's a chance to bring in Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, who seems the glue that fits all these Marvel Comics' super hero pieces together in anticipation of next year's The Avengers.

Evans is no stranger to the Marvel universe playing the Human Torch in two Fantastic Four movies. He has always brought a self conscious youthful cockiness to his roles, including one of seven ex-boyfriends in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, one of the doomed astronauts in Sunshine, and the demolitions expert in The Losers. In the Losers he played a geek, the smart one. But he has the looks of a matinee idol, and so it seems fitting, inexorable, that Evans would step back into the Marvel world as Captain America—part skinny geek who never got the girl, and part matinee super hero god who can do almost everything he ever wanted.

Depending on your view of next year’s The Avengers, beware or embrace the hidden scene that occurs after the closing credits. It's nothing more than a glorified teaser for that movie which collects many of Marvel’s beloved superheroes into one movie. Aside from Captain America (in which Evans reprises his role), you’ll see Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Pepper Pots, and Hawkeye.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Thursday, August 4th, 7:50 pm. Price: 10.50. Viewed with Liz! Snack: apple, chopped and bagged.

Coming Attractions:

Tin Tin. Spielberg directs this motion capture version. Not my cup of tea, but may be great for ten-year olds.

The Amazing Spiderman. Another reboot. Yawn.

John Carter. "Civil War vet John Carter is transplanted to Mars, where he discovers a lush, wildly diverse planet whose main inhabitants are 12-foot tall green barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, who is in desperate need of a savior." Huh? Notice the initials: JC.

Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol. Tom Cruise still looks good running fast. This installment actually looks like it could kickstart this franchise, in a good way. This time Cruise has surrounded himself with a good cast, including Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Josh Holloway, and Tom Wilkinson.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Effective and disturbing, this new origins POTA cuts right into our collective primal fears. At least, one of them: apes becoming sentient and taking over. And not in a cuddly way from the look of this mesmerizing trailer. In a way that has them attacking a highway of cars and expertly throwing axes. With James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, and Brian Cox.


Liz's Mom said...

Good, good, good, he succeeds!

So glad you liked this film and wrote this review. It has your usual combination of wit, keen attention to detail, and, it almost seems, an insider's knowledge of film-making. You know this stuff.

I love how you wipe out the coming attractions, pow! pow! Pow!

Dell Smith said...

But doesn't it make you want to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes? I must try harder...