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Friday, July 22, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is darn nearly the Captain America movie that Chris always dreamed of seeing!

So being old enough to (very barely) remember those dopey Captain America TV movies from the late Seventies (starring Reb Brown, forever known best as Yor: Hunter From The Future) and then years later the 1990 film with J.D. Salinger's son Matt as the star-spangled Avenger, I have waited long enough for Cap to get the respect he rightfully deserves as a live-action adaptation of the legendary comic book superhero.

What sayest then this blogger about Captain America: The First Avenger?

This is almost the Captain America movie that I have always wanted to see happen. I mean, it's dang nearly perfect... as a film about a Marvel Comics hero. Chris Evans nails it as both the frail Steve Rogers and the super-soldier that he eventually becomes courtesy of cutting edge (for the early 1940s anyway) science. I sincerely thrilled to the production design and the distinctly World War II tone that director Joe Johnston (who has some experience with this sort of thing, having directed 1991's The Rocketeer) and his crew have evoked. I love all the little Marvel nuances that made their way into this movie, like how Cap's shield is made of Vibranium (quite a lot of applause during our screening when that got mentioned) and the sly nods to the mythology of Thor (both the comic and the movie that came out a few months ago) and the Cosmic Cube and all that jazz. That Howard Stark (the father of Tony Stark, the future Iron Man, played by Dominic Cooper) has such a substantial role in the story is something that I especially dug. This might be Alan Silvestri's finest score for a film since Back To The Future. I even liked Stan Lee's cameo (does that guy know how to crash every Marvel party, or what?). For those reasons and more, I liked the movie immensely.

What I can't help but keep thinking about though is how Captain America, for a hero created during and for the World War II era, doesn't really do in this film what he's meant to do best: beat the snot out of Nazis! In fact, the Nazi stuff is downplayed so far as to be practically non-existent. And there is nothing that is more short-changed as a result of it than Hugo Weaving's otherwise chilling portrayal of the Red Skull.

That is the one glaring major failing of Captain America: The First Avenger, at least in my opinion. Ya see, I wanted the Red Skull to be what he is in the comics: a thoroughly dedicated living embodiment of everything that his mentor Adolf Hitler made him to be. And that's sorta the point of the classic Red Skull character: as the counterpart to Captain America he is at once everything against but also identical to Steve Rogers. Johann Schmidt was a frail weakling German who was picked out of nowhere by Hitler to be his top henchman and as the Red Skull, he became the symbol of all the evil that the Nazis were perpetrating. So the Allies go and create their own symbol: Captain America. Who thrashes the snot out of the Nazis! Instead in this film we get Red Skull (with an origin way too much like the 1990 Captain America movie) as the leader of HYDRA: a splinter sect from Nazism.

You tell me which you want to hear chanted most by the enemies of liberty before they get their asses whupped: "Heil Hitler" or "Heil HYDRA"? I know which one works for me... and that ain't what we get in this movie.

Okay well... other than that, Captain America: The First Avenger is a barn-burnin' toad-stranglin' hella fun ride! And it tracks well with the story from the long-running comics: how Steve Rogers wants to enlist in the Army following America's entry into World War II. Unfortunately this kid has a list of maladies as long as a grocery list, any one of which would (and does) get him categorized as "4F". But Rogers is persistent (to the point that he tries enlisting in five different cities). It's at the World of Tomorrow exhibit in New York City that Rogers elicits the attention of Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German scientist who fled to the United States so that Hitler could not exploit his research. Though derided as a joke of an enlistee by Colonel Phillips (a terrific performance by Tommy Lee Jones) and to some extent by British officer Peggy Carter (Haylee Atwell), Rogers is soon brought to the secret lab where his fragile body will be doused with the serum that will transform him into the massive, agile powerhouse. And the experiment works! Unfortunately Rogers winds up the only super-soldier when Erskine is assassinated. What follows is a frustrating tenure for Rogers as a mascot for war bonds sales, and then a fateful USO tour of Europe that ends up catapulting him into the action that he has desired for so long.

Awright, as I said Captain America: The First Avenger is a great Marvel Comics movie, and maybe one of the best yet. It just lacks some substance in my book as a World War II-era film, when it coulda and shoulda gone balls-to-the-walls full-tilt wacko as a movie about that conflict. But that's not gonna stop me from wanting to see it again at least once more during its run in the theaters, and from buying the Blu-ray when it becomes available.

In wrapping up, I'll say that Captain America: The First Avenger is a movie that might disappoint somewhat for those who love the character and the historical period that he springs from. But if you can get past that, it's not a bad way to spend a mid-summer's evening at all. Just don't be so hasty to leave the theater: there is quite a bit more to see after the credits end. And based on what I saw following Captain America's own movie, all I know to say is: bring on 2012 and The Avengers!