Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review #16: Movie Review #1

Captain America: The First Avenger

Writers: Chris Markus/Stephen McFeely

Director: Joe Johnston

Studio: Y'know, there are so many studios and companies involved in the making and distribution of a film and no one really cares, so I'm just gonna omit this part from any movie reviews.

I just watched the new Captain America flick the other night, so I figured, BLOG.

I had a few false starts writing this review, as my introduction paragraph kept turning into massive judgments about the American people. I would rather not get too crazy-political in a blog about comic books and crap, so I'll try to keep the review focused on the movie and not on our troubled neighbour to the south.

Anyway, Captain America: not a terribly interesting character to me. I've always thought that he was overrated and most of his popularity has to do not with his compelling story/personality/whatever, but with the fact that he has “America” in his name and he dresses like a flag. When Cap made his debut during WWII [famously punching Hitler in the face on the cover of Captain America Comics #1], he was as much a tool of propaganda as a comic book character. Has this changed over the years? Couldn't tell ya. I haven't read much Cap.

So, this brings us to the movie. Hollywood is not known for subtlety. I can imagine a Michael Bay-helmed Captain America film in which Cap shoves an exploding Constitution down Kim Jong Il's throat, pats Megan Fox on her perfectly-toned ass, then jumps a motorcycle off a cliff and into a local mom & pop diner and enjoys a refreshing Mountain Dew. God dammit, I hate Michael Bay.

Anyway, Captain America: The First Avenger was directed by Joe Johnston, who brought us Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer. So, we know he is capable of producing a heartwarming and comedic family adventure, as well as a film adaptation of a comic book about fighting Nazis, respectively [also capable of producing box office poison, in the case of The Rocketeer].

Our writers are Chris Markus and Stephen McFeely, a team that previously wrote the new Chronicles of Narnia film series. Hm. Not terribly promising, but hey, let's find out.

It's 1942 and Steve Rogers is just a regular wimpy little guy who wants to join the U.S. Army. Well, “abnormally” wimpy, actually. The guy is so tiny! Actor Chris Evans plays our protagonist, and they did some crazy movie-ju-ju to make him look like the 97-pound weakling of Charles Atlas fame. People who have [unfortunately] seen him in the Fantastic Four movies will know that he is pretty built. In short, the effects are quite good.

Steve is continually rejected by the army for his physical issues, until he is one day approached by a U.S. military/German-defector scientist [Stanley Tucci], who offers him a a chance to serve. The catch: he has to undergo some experimental procedure with potential crummy side effects. So, he does, and everything turns out OK! He is now a 6-foot, all-American male model! *SWOON* goes British special agent Peggy Carter [Hayley Atwell], the love interest.

Dr. Scientist is killed by a Nazi infiltrator, and much of his equipment is destroyed, rendering the super-soldier experiment unrepeatable. Looks like Stevie is one-of-a-kind. Naturally, instead of sending him to the front lines, a savvy politician dresses him in spandex and takes him on tour so that he can sell war bonds to the American people. In a nice “meta” moment, we see Captain America comics being created in the wake of his popularity. WE HAVE COME FULL CIRCLE.

Eventually, Steve makes his way overseas to raise troop morale, but is seen by the soldiers as some namby-pamby dancing monkey. Realizing that he has to do more than smile and wave at crowds, and hearing that his best friend, Bucky Barnes, has been captured, he springs into action. Steve infiltrates a HYDRA [depicted as the scientific branch of the Third Reich, differing from the comics] base and, using his super-soldier powers, frees hundreds of POWs. It is then that he confronts his nemesis-to-be and leader of HYDRA, the RED SKULL [portrayed by the highly capable Hugo Weaving]. Red Skull escapes with his secret weapon, a weird cube of power that he found in Norway. Can Cap chase him down in time to save the world? Long answer: maybe! Short answer: yes.

"finally! my salt lick!"

I find a lot of comic book movies fail to get the casting right, but this one did quite well. The weakest link is probably Evans, and he's not even that bad, but I think I liked him better as a cocky asshole in Fantastic Four. Atwell, our leading lady, does a fine job, and there was some decent chemistry going on. They share a genuinely touching moment near the end.

The older group of actors were all great: the aforementioned Weaving, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine and Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Phillips. One thing I hate about actors is their habit of talking up the amount of preparation that went into a role, when all they had was a tertiary part with a handful of lines. Here is a direct quote from Kenneth Choi, who played one of the soldiers that Steve frees from the HYDRA base [he's Japanese-American, BTW]:

“"[I] did a lot of WWII research especially in regards to the 'Nisei' soldiers, or Japanese-American soldiers. I wanted to get as much true, real-life information for a guy like Jim Morita fighting in WWII. I felt that if I had built a factual basis for him, I could then let go and permit the character to exist in the Marvel Universe, which allows for a lot of imaginative circumstances."

His character had maybe five lines, tops. If he really did that much research, he sure wasted his time.

Now, this is what Jones says about his character:

“[He's] the one you've seen in a thousand movies: the gruff, skeptical officer overseeing a team of talented, slightly sarcastic, specially talented soldiers."

and Tucci:

“I’ve always wanted to do a German accent.”

Refreshing honesty from some veteran actors.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of Howard Stark [Dominic Cooper] as one of the scientists working with the government to develop super-soldier serum. It isn't a large part, but it's important nonetheless, as he gives Cap his signature shield. This ties into the Iron Man films, where we see that Tony Stark [his son] is in possession of a copy of the shield. I love little details like that.

apparently they just give 'em away

I found the fight scenes to be typical Hollywood fare [so, unrealistic and not very exciting], with the exception a zero-gravity fight near the end. Also, I found it kind of lame that the Howling Commandos were represented by what I like to call “the International Super Best Friends!” A Brit, a Frenchman, a Japanese-American [Choi], an African-American and an Irish-American all hanging out and fighting Nazis together... really warms my heart, y'know? They did have some good one-liners, though.

So, this film won me over. It had good acting, a sense of humour [I heard the Wilhelm Scream at least once!], explosions, a bit of romance, and the filmmakers know when to reveal a bad guy's horribly scarred face and when to break the sexual tension.

Last note I made as I waited for the post-credit scene [a regular occurrence in the lead-up to The Avengers]: some character named Gilmore Hodge is played by the infinitely cooler-named LEX SHRAPNEL. Hilarious.

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