Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Captain America: The First Avenger review

    I decided to pick this one up on DVD because I just recently purchased the surprisingly non-sucky video game tie-in, Captain America: Super Soldier. I saw the movie before and wasn't blown away by it but it remains one of my favorite of the Marvel movie line-up.

    I've always been a fan of Captain America but I've got to say he's a character who suffers badly from the fact, well, not that he's not interesting but there's long periods where he's not exactly entertaining. Captain America is a bit like Superman in that his best storylines are when people embrace him going in unexpected directions rather than touting him as an icon.

    The most memorable Captain America stories are when he quit being Captain America to become quasi-hippie Nomad, when he was first dealing with his culture shock, and the Winter Soldier stories. Seriously, as a long time Captain America fan there's extensive periods where he doesn't do anything but patrol Brooklyn like Spiderman.

    Much like Kal-El of Krypton, you need to take Captain America out of his comfort zone and let the character express himself to work. The best Superman stories include things like him visiting Krypton (or New Krypton), facing opponents equally strong, or dealing with problems which can't be solved by punching them (a certain 5th dimensional imp as much as social justice). Oddly, despite being a story about the classical Captain America, I'd say The First Avenger succeeds in this.

    Because it's not a story about Captain America as most people know him.

     The Captain America of this story is a scrawny geek, closer to the Peter Parker of the comics than the buff paladin we tend to think of. He's bullied constantly, has a mouth on him, and seems to think going over to fight America's enemies is an honor rather than an obligation (which, in an all-volunteer army, it should be--reality often says otherwise).

    The movie perhaps spends a little too much time establishing Captain America is a good person, it's pretty evident from the start, but new audience members will appreciate he's the guy who understood "with great power comes great responsibility" without Uncle Ben having to die. He's not perfect either, taking an instant dislike to Howard Stark over class reasons and being utterly incompetent around women. These qualities just make the regular hero shine all the more, especially since it's obvious how ill-fitting Captain America the icon is on his shoulders even in-universe.

    No movie about Captain America would be complete, however, without the Red Skull. I'm going to probably damn my soul to hell forever for this one but I actually am rather fond of this version. The movie nicely gets around the question of how to sell toys set in World War 2 by having HYDRA break away from the Nazis early in the war. Yes, the Red Skull is pure evil but if it's a choice between him and Hitler winning I'd choose Hugo Weaving's Skull.

    I know, not exactly a great choice.

    Hugo Weaving portrays the Red Skull as a man who has taken the Nazi ideal of Aryan superiority and twisted it to a belief in his own superiority, which is sadly probably healthier. He's done the impossible by making the Red Skull actually likable, possessed of a humor often lacking in Marvel villains. The movie costume designers did a neat trick of having Hugo Weaving wear a Hugo Weaving mask during the movie as opposed to just using his face. It leads to some unsettling moments right up until the point we see the Red Skull's true face.

    The supporting cast on both sides is fabulous. Tommy Lee Jones channels the 616 version of Nick Fury as Colonel Phillips and the Howling Commandos are perfect with Steve Rogers taking the lead. The movies version of Bucky Barnes is perfect and I'm interested in seeing the actor return as the Winter Soldier. Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter is so charismatic and so sexy in a 1940s-esque way that I actually worry how they're going to make Sharon Carter's actress likable enough to take her place. Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark was also a brilliant choice as we get to see a Howard Hughes-esque predecessor to Tony, exactly the sort of person who would get under the skin of working-class Steve Rogers. I'm even fond of Armin Zola, the Red Skull's pet scientist, who does the kind of role Peter Lorre would have done in the Forties.

You know a movie has succeeded when a scene like this doesn't come off as patently ridiculous.
     Now is there a flaw to this movie? Yes. It's a self-evident flaw that's been popping up lately in a couple of Marvel movies and really needs to be dealt with. Specifically, when you stop and think about it, this movie actually doesn't have much action. I know what you're thinking: waaah? A superhero movie without much action? Surely, you jest.

     There's some excellent action sequences in the movie with Steve Rogers chasing down the saboteur and the initial prison break but there's mostly a montage of him fighting HYDRA as opposed to actually, you know, fighting HYDRA. Seriously, the movie needed Steve punching a giant robot or something. It's the same problem the Superman movies have always had.

    Overall, Captain America is a gloriously fun movie but lacks the sort of punch that would move it to the mother load of awesome. Iron Man had Iron Man punching a giant robot, Iron Man 2 had Iron Man punching a giant robot. Thor, though he didn't do much of it, punched a giant robot. Do you see a pattern here? Learn from your friends, Captain.


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