July 27, 2011

Movie Review: Captain America - The First Avenger

The surge towards The Avengers film next year is in full swing. The final piece is now in place. Next year is going to be the culmination of what Marvel has been building towards ever since they opened the doors of the feature film production studio. It started a few years back with Iron Man, which proved to be a huge hit. Since then we have had a second Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and earlier this year saw Thor on the big screen. Not to mention the introduction of Nick Fury and the tease of Hawkeye. We have now made our way to the original Avenger, the leader of the team, Captain America: The First Avenger.

The concept of a Captain America movie is a questionable one, at least for me. I have never seen any of the prior live action incarnations. Seriously though, for as good as the character can be, he always seemed a little white bread to me and the costume was not something that is easily translated. Still, I was excited about the proposition, and now it is here.

The movie is a good one. It does not reach the heights of the first Iron Man, but it does stand up on it's own as a fun piece of heroic entertainment. Director Joe Johnston has crafted a fun movie that feels like a cohesive piece of the burgeoning Marvel movie universe, but is also a fun period adventure that is part superhero and part war movie/adventure. At times it even brings a little bit of the Indiana Jones movies, just a little. As for the costume? They made something true to the character, yet realistic to live action and the time period. In short, I thought they did a great job with it.

Captain America begins in the present day, a discovery in the Arctic has gotten some attention. As the inside of a large craft is explored, a figure is found frozen in the ice, holding the red, white, and blue shield of Cap. From here the film flashes back to 1942 where we are introduced to Johann Schmidt, aka the Red Skull, and his quest to find the tesseract, a cube of immense power. With it in his possession he plans to harness its power and take over the world.

At the same time, in America, we meet Steve Rogers. He is a scrawny little kid from Brooklyn who wants to sign up and fight the Nazi menace, but his health keeps him out. However, he does catch the eye of a doctor who is working on a super soldier serum. Of course, we all know it is this project that turns him into a hero and the face of the American forces.

Following the introductions of out hero and villain, the story settles into the bad guy trying to enact his nefarious plan and our hero looking to make sure it doesn't work. It moves on predictable fashion, but even guessing how it is going to go, it still proves to be fun and exciting. There is something about this movie that is sensational, yet still grounded in a reality. The period setting is used in full effect and feels genuine. It may suffer a bit from the beats required for an origin story, but the are carefully navigated to help it feel a little different than hero origins of the past.

It is far from perfect. Having seen it twice, it seems to have bits where scenes appear to be missing and there are leaps every know and then that make me wonder just what happened. Still, the quibbles I have a minor in relation to what works. The performances are generally good, the cast is strong, direction and writing a solid. It is not a movie that is destined to be hailed as a classic, but it proves is worth as a superhero film.

Chris Evans may be a recycled hero, having played Johnny Storm in the two Fantastic Four movies, but he steps up his game to take on Cap. From his digitally shriveled appearance early on to his chiseled hero physique, he embodies the good man that Cap is. Part of what makes him a hero is his strong moral compass and desire for the little guy to stand up in the face of bullies. He brings just the right attitude to the role and for as simple as the character may seem, still brings some emotional depth.

As for the bad guy, Hugo Weaving is a little bit if genius as the villainous Red Skull, a man filled with delusions of grandeur with the ability to make said delusions happen. He is big and grandiose and commands a room. However, what really makes Weaving a genius is his approach to the role. He based his German accent on that of director Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn), and to me it appears to have been combined with a little of Christopher Lloyd's Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Not to mention makeup that looks like a sunburned James Carville.

The supporting cast is solid as well with Tommy Lee Jones stealing many scenes, as well as good work from the likes of Hayley Atwell, Tony Jones, Sebastian Stan, and Stanley Tucci. Also, Neal McDonough is on hand for some fun, and it is un to see as he was always a favorite to play Cap when he was younger.

Overall, this is a fun movie. It stands on it's own and forwards the Marvel agenda. It makes great use of the World War II setting and is just fun.


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