Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Non Spoiler Review:
Following on the heels of Thor, Chris Evans is the latest to take over an iconic Marvel role with Captain America. Like Thor, which had to balance the presence of the supernatural in the greater Marvel universe, this one has its own set of challenges—integrating a World War II era hero into the franchise and making what is effectively a period film.

The movie begins in the present day with a discovery in the Arctic Circle, but immediately flashes back to 1942, where we meet young Steve Rogers facing an insurmountable obstacle trying to serve his country despite a litany of physical problems that prevent him from enlisting. At the Stark Exhibition (featuring Iron Man's own pop, Howard Stark), Steve finds an opportunity of a lifetime to participate in a secret super-soldier experiment.

In Germany, Hitler's scientific division, Hydra, under the command of Johann Schmidt, is up to its own shenanigans, when Schmidt manages to secure none other than the cosmic cube in Norway (last seen in the end credits of Thor). With an unlimited energy source to power his futuristic weaponry, he plans to conquer the world.

Captain America has a lot on its plate—introducing what could easily turn into a jingoistic caricature of a super-hero, bring off a war story, and manage to tie it all in nicely with the future Avengers movie, and hopefully its own set of sequels. Like Thor, Captain America is a fun ride that manages to deliver on all fronts.

I found this to be one of the more character rich Marvel films, and Chris Evans owns the role. He succeeds wholeheartedly in presenting a Captain America that isn't a farce of any kind, but someone worthy of being a hero. He also transcends the whole America angle in his simple ideal that he doesn't like bullies. In fact, Stanley Tucci, as German scientist and developer of the super-serum, Abraham Erskine, provides a satisfying explanation why Rogers was chosen among so many others to be part of the experiment.

Hugo Weaving (Matrix, Lord of the Rings) really pulled off the Red Skull (despite an accent that was quite reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger at times). Hayley Atwell (Pillars of the Earth) as Peggy Carter and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips were equally effective in supporting roles. An eclectic bunch for Rogers' squad of commandos rounded out the cast. But it was Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark who made a great homage to his future son, providing a nice contrast between Iron Man 2's Stark Expo and this one.

The movie takes several interesting diversions, including the newly created super-soldier being relegated to USO tours (complete with a fantastic musical number, which should never have worked in a super-hero movie). There were some nice touches and surprises, including the original Captain America costume making an appearance.

Captain America also presents the first real Marvel take on its alternate history, with WWII super weapons, a very futuristic looking New York City, and vast technological differences (which at times might have been stretching things a bit—including levitating cars). Another surprise was how much Thor's influence had over the story, including a very surprising scene towards the climax of the film—definitely ensure you've seen Thor before hitting this one.

One thing very noticeable was the lack of Nazis. The Hydra organization completely overshadowed everything, with barely a glimpse of the Third Reich at all. It was a curious, and somewhat odd choice, given the character's roots.

The only real problem comes with the challenge of working WWII and the modern era into the story. Captain America needs to fight through the course of the war, but of course this film can't show that aside from some montages. So that leaves a big gap in his history (which writers undoubtedly will want to flash back to in future movies). The result is somewhat of a glazing over of those events to get to the epic battle with Red Skull, leaving Cap's war years as a choppy bunch of scenes.

I can't really say this was the best of Marvel's shared universe, given they are all so very different, but they did succeed in hitting the ball out of the park with Captain America in casting, story and visual style. There's ample room for World War II flashbacks in future movies given the time jumps presented here, and Cap is firmly brought forward to the current era to explore his reintegration into society. What could have been a sappy or overly patriotic story came off as very genuine, with a lot of heart. And I'm anxiously looking forward to seeing Chris Evans interact with Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. in the upcoming Avengers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...