Movie Review – Captain America: The First Avenger
August 1, 2011 1 Comment
AMERICA! That is what this movie is about. Not really though, but considering the history of the character, this is the embodiment of America. Captain America is the first and last piece to the over arching movie connection with Marvel’s grand endeavor in making an Avengers movie. Captain is the lynchpin that brings all the superheroes together and is a vital role in the development of the team. But while Captain is an incredible strategist and team player, he has been fighting evil and upholding the ideal pillars of America’s philosophy decades before those kids were lacing up their boots.
One of my more highly anticipated comic book movies, there was a couple of apprehensions before seeing this movie. We have already had a summer of comic book movies, so would I be fatigued after having sat through the earlier comic book movies? Would Captain America be refreshing and interesting enough to standout from the rest? Well this is America and we don’t go down without a fight. So let’s see if Captain America is the pinnacle of super hero movies or just another quick cash grab to move us toward something bigger?
Meek U.S. Army soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) takes part in an experimental military program that infuses him with super-human powers, and uses his newfound strength to battle the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) in this comic-book adventure from director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman, The Rocketeer). Tommy Lee Jones, Neal McDonough, and Stanley Tucci co-star in a film written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
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Where to start with the discussion on the characters/actors of the movie. There are a lot of moving parts that make up the whole of the movie, while the focus is on Captain America, you get this united nations feel with the backgrounds of the characters used in the movie. Ever actor and actress in the movie all play a significant part in the early stages of the movie, from Hayley Atwell as love interest and SSR Office Peggy Carter and Tommy Lee Jones as the usual skeptical commanding officer Chester Phillips, who doesn’t think that the choice for the project was a good one. Each character might seem like a throwaway part given their role, but each develop Chris Evan’s Captain America. It grounds the hero and makes him more human and super human. Hayley Atwell brings this gorgeous presence to Peggy Carter and plays the initial love interest that gives Captain something more to fight for other than America.
Chris Evans…wow. I am not typically one those people who complain if there is some sort of miscasting or whine about how terrible a choice is for a particular role. So I didn’t have a real disdain for Chris Evans as I like his previous work in Sunshine and the role in Scott Pilgrim. I think he was absolutely fantastic as Steve Rogers/Captain America and the shift in his personality from when he was a scrawny little man to the walking Adonis of a man her becomes after the serum. He goes from a guy just wanting to help, tired of being stepped on by everyone and unlucky at life to a man with incredible powers, sees them as a gift to be used for good and has a bit more pep in his step. I have always liked the Captain America mentality of his powers, rather than seeing them as a curse, burden, or using them to only help himself first than others, his sole purpose for getting the powers was to make a difference in the world. Captain America takes the gifts that have been given to him and upholds the ideals of America. He never falters nor does he use them for his own gain. This is what makes him a better hero than say Iron Man or Thor. Thor is a God and instinctively he feels invincible with his powers, until he learns a bit of humility. Iron Man made the armor as a sort of mae culpa in that he feel guilty about what his company has done and uses the armor to hide the shame he has.
I have to touch on Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull because he was one of the best villains I have seen in a while. Hugo just brings this evil grin to all his roles as bad guys and you get the feeling that he just loves playing the bad guy. Who wouldn’t want to be a bad guy and wear cool outfits and just do what you want. The Red Skull is the idealistic opposite of Captain America and you buy into Hugo Weaving playing this madman character. He looks for the pinnacle of human existence, whether technology or the physical form. He is convincing, strong and a menace.
There are so many characters to talk about like Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark and the international roster of actors that make up Captain America’s private team of commando’s. But I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, the man who was the catalyst for the story and the creation of Captain America and Red Skull. While only in the movie for a short time, his character was the father figure Steve Rogers, in that he gave him a chance that no one else would have given him. I enjoyed his character and the presence he had on-screen, while funny at times, it was moving to see his gesture toward Steve once the serum worked.
In terms of an origin story, this nailed it. Very faithful to the source material in terms of the buildup to Steve’s transformation and his endeavors in the war effort. Joel Johnston included some little nods to the early comic book of Captain America and he made you feel for the character and what he wanted to accomplish with his powers. The story itself was fast paced and really captured the spirit of Captain America. I even enjoyed the time when Captain America was used a tool for the War Bond effort and meant as a counter propaganda tool to stir emotions in the American public. Now that said, the pace of the story is really what kind of hurt the movie. We get essentially 3 action set pieces, while great, there is a big montage of Captain America and his Commando’s taking out some of the Hydra installations. I would have liked to see a couple of those as the montage was a big glory shot of all the coolest parts of the raids with no real context or buildup. It’s just cool to look at and doesn’t really add anything to the movie. Either it could have been cut and removed or give us an additional scene of a raid.
The other gripe, I guess, is that the movie is rushed. The pace is fast in order to keep the audience engaged, but since this is a lead up to the Avengers movie, this is really just a movie to get us to the Avengers movie. I really enjoyed the early beginnings of the origin story, but one he gets his powers, we are hurried to scene after scene so that we can get Captain America to the point where he joins The Avengers. I have mixed feelings on it since it was entertaining, but I felt that the Captain America movie just wasn’t what it could have been. If it wasn’t tied to being with The Avengers project, I think the movie could have fleshed out some of the story more. Instead, we need to get him from point A to point B in this amount of time.
Overall I feel like Joe Johnston did a great job with the material he had to work with. The movie had this wonderful, pulpy feel to it like I am watching living propaganda posters come to life on the screen and I can buy into the world that he was setting the movie in. He kept a tight pace with the movie and made it both action and comedy oriented. There are several genuinely funny scenes int he movie that get some great laughs and then he pulls back into the movie.
I mentioned above that the movie had this pulp, propaganda poster look to the movie. You have a lot of chromatic looking color palettes and it feels unique. If you have ever seen The Rocketeer, which Joe Johnston directed, you will feel a sense of familiarity with the movies look. The visual effects though, do seem a bit cheap in some places. It looked off several times and it kind of took you out the movie at some points, if you were paying close attention to the visuals. But the visual style is reminiscent of older films of the 80s like Raiders of the Lost Ark with its pulp comic feel. The one thing that I think they nailed in terms of the visuals is the transformation between skinny Steve Rogers and the bulked up Steve Rogers. The skinny Steve Rogers is incredible to watch. The visual effects looked seamless and you bought into the visual effect. It wasn’t hokey, maybe the head is a little bigger than the body required, but the effect worked. The transformation is though to the super soldier Steve Rogers is all natural as Chris Evans bulked up and nailed the look of American brawn and steel.
So one last thing about the visuals and it pertains to the costume. I liked the look. The director and costume department bought themselves some breathing room to play with the look of the costume as during the Captain America’s tour in the USO War Bond show, he was wearing that traditional, funny looking Captain America outfit. It looks ridiculous in real life than in the comics and if you ever saw someone wear that in real life, you would laugh before getting knocked out by him. So with the ridiculous costume already in front of our eyes, the updated costumes he commissions to have made can’t look worse than the one he was wearing. So any upgrade from the childish costume is an improvement and we immediately accept it. Bravo!
Well, to rank the movie I guess lets say better than Thor, but not as good as X-Men First Class. This was a very standard, by the numbers, super hero movie, but very well done and enjoyable. I think the biggest drawback for the movie was that it was used as a vehicle to get us to The Avengers. The ending scenes exemplify this notion and the fact that the title of the movie also indicates its intention. Yes, Captain America is a part of the Avengers, but that shouldn’t be the driving force in the movie. The quick pace of the movie, while nice, is just a means to get to the end game for Marvel. I think it ultimately cheated Captain America out of being a solid super hero movie. Visually it was appealing, the characters and actors were fantastic and engaging, but they get ushered along as well through the movie and it seems cheap. It takes all the goodwill that I had for the characters and story line and just wrap them up as quickly as possible.
Don’t mistake my general abrasiveness towards the pacing and end game of the movie as me hating the movie. I really enjoyed the ride that it gave us, the characters it presented and the action unfolding in front of us. The way it was wrapped up in the end was disappointing to me. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing this movie and I would hope that if you were on the fence about the movie that this review would get you to see it and get others to see it. Joe Johnston did an amazing job handling the material and out of all the Marvel movies, it ranks high up there. I am excited to see The Avengers, since we are now into 5 movies that essentially build up this ultimate meet up of super heroes. Stay after the credits for a cool trailer of The Avengers.