Friday, July 22, 2011


Director Joe Johnston’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER will easily go down in history as the most stylistic superhero film ever made. With every character, outfit, vehicle and setting looking like it just fell out of WWII comic or recruitment poster, the film sets an atmosphere that one can just sit back and get buried in. While most films fail when heavy on style and light on substance, CAP manages to embrace it and make it work.

It is WWII. Hitler is using his science-division by the name of Hydra, led by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and Dr. Zola(Toby Jones) to advance his cause. The Skull acquires a mysterious object which he believes once belonged to (wink wink) the god Odin, and uses the massive power within to create weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a 90-pound weakling who has dreams of serving his country. He is recruited by Dr. Abraham (Stanley Tucci), Col. Chester(Tommy Lee Jones) and British Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) to become the first in a breed of super soldiers. After a Hydra attack leaves Rogers as the lone recipient of the super-serum, he dons the USO-created persona of Captain America to battle Hydra and save the world.

CAP starts off slow. Excruciatingly slow as the film clunks through Cap’s origin tale. Nearly the entire first act is devoid of any energy and is seriously joyless. However, as it is with most origin tales, once the outfit is put on, things really take off. CAP becomes a blast as Cap battles evil across the world. The film embraces the WWII world and never lets go, and it’s that commitment that is the unyielding hook. Major credit goes to the designers, as they made a guy who is wearing a flag totally believable and right in place in the gritty war.

As with most Marvel films these days post-IRON MAN, the film is light on character and heavy on plot. Cap is the centerpiece and rightfully gets all of the attention, and his motivations take some interesting twists and turns that keep things engaging. But CAP is overall light on emotion, and the thinly-drawn supporting cast adds to that. The Red Skull, while remarkably realized visually, is as thin as a comic-book page and survives only on his menacing looks.

The action scenes seem to exist just to show off Cap in his threads, but that’s really okay as he is the star of the film. What does become frustrating is the insertion of CGI environments; while the film does use a lot of practical sets and stunts, the CGI geographies stick out like a sore thumb in this WWII universe. Along those same lines, the film could have used a bit less of the sci-fi, as the STAR WARS-esque elements tend to knock the 1940’s atmosphere out of whack; the film is at its best when Cap has his boots on the ground doing hand-to-hand combat.

Johnston doesn’t get a lot of great performances out of his actors. Evans and his love interest Atwell come off as wooden throughout, and it feels like their facial expressions don’t change very much at all. Weaving and Jones both ham up their roles like they’re being paid in bacon. The show is probably stolen by Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark, who totally nails the mannerisms and flair of his future son Tony.

After several lousy attempts to bring Captain America justice in the moving medium, this CAP, despite the misgivings, is a very enjoyable movie. It easily ranks right behind IRON MAN in this new generation of Marvel films. The Avengers elements don’t intrude (finally), and instead help set up what is going to be one-hell-of-a-goddamn show next year. There are some awesome seeds planted in CAP, seeds that look great in the present and in the future.


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