Jeannine and I went to see the "Captain America" movie yesterday, and we both really liked it (as our daughter, who has so far seen it three times, predicted we would). And we liked the first half, with its quieter moments and character development, more than the second half, with its nearly relentless action and explosions.
But it all came together pretty well, making for a satisfying movie experience.
Chris Evans (who, as TMNT fans know, voiced Casey Jones in the CGI Turtles movie in 2007 and also played Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch, in the last two "Fantastic Four" movies) does a fantastic job playing Steve Rogers, the scrawny but scrappy kid from Brooklyn who becomes Captain America through a "super soldier" experiment conducted by the US Army. The movie magic via which we see Steve Rogers first in his short, skinny form and then later as the fully bulked-up, muscular version is very impressive, and I couldn't see any visible seams. It was completely convincing.
On the way to the theatre, I attempted to provide Jeannine -- who I am pretty certain has never read a "Captain America" comic book in her life -- a rough overview of the character and where he sits in the Marvel universe. I tried to integrate into that description the various tidbits I'd picked up from reading about the movie and how certain details had been changed to fit this new film version of Captain America. It was kind of fun to do that, allowing me to reminisce about some of the great issues of the comics I'd read over the years.
And then we saw the movie, and a lot of the concepts and characters from those comics were up there on the screen, some subtly changed, others almost completely different. But it was a "Captain America" that I think would have made its creators, Joe SImon and Jack Kirby, proud. (Actually, I believe Joe Simon is still alive -- I wonder if he has seen the film and if so, what he thought of it.)
I had fun picking out various references, subtle and otherwise, to bits and pieces of Marvel lore. The scientist who assists the evil Red Skull? He is none other than Arnim Zola, a character created by Jack Kirby during his last run on the Captain America comics in the 1980's (though Zola in those issues was a much weirder sight than Zola as played by Toby Jones in the film). The Red Skull himself, played by Hugo Weaving, is perfectly realized in very convincing makeup which is revealed at a key dramatic moment. The artifact the Red Skull is searching for, and finds, in Norway? It's none other than the "Cosmic Cube" from the comics… and the filmmakers very cleverly put in a line which ties this object of gigantic power into the Norse gods mythology underpinning the movie version of Marvel's "The Mighty Thor", setting up what I suspect will -- or at least could -- be a major plot point in the "Avengers" movie due out next year.
And there's Dum Dum Dugan! Yep, the bowler-hatted brawler from the 1960's Marvel Comics begun by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appears in a number of scenes along with some less-easily-recognizable members of that famed squad of World War 2 Allied fighters… and he even gives the classic "Howling Commandoes" war cry of "Yahoo!" as he blasts away with one of Hydra's super weapons.
Hydra (or should it be "H.Y.D.R.A."?) was one of Captain America's recurring foes in the comics, and they are here in the film in full force, even down to the infamous "Hail Hydra! Cut off one head, and another will take its place!" oath and two-armed salute familiar to readers of the comics.
A nice touch to further add to the continuity of the growing Marvel movie universe is to have Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark, later known to the world as "Iron Man") appear as an engineer working with scientist Abraham Erskine on the "super soldier" project. (I hope there is at least one moment in the upcoming "Avengers" movie where Tony Stark/Iron Man meets Captain America for the first time and mentions something about how his father helped him to become what he is… maybe in the form of a line like "My dad used to talk about you…!")
The action scenes are very well done -- Cap's shield-slinging is particularly effective -- though I found some of the later non-stop action a bit tedious, albeit necessary, I guess. What REALLY sets this movie apart from the herd is the character stuff in the first half, especially in an absolutely brilliant scene which shows exactly why, without dwelling on it or relying on exposition, Steve Rogers is the right choice for the "super soldier" experiment. (Yes, I'm talking about the hand grenade scene shown in the trailers.) It's one of those scenes which makes you feel good about the fact that the people who wrote the script actually THOUGHT long and hard about what they were doing. Jeannine grabbed my hand at the conclusion of this scene -- not because it was really scary or unsettling, but because it was such a perfect character moment, and as a writer, she lives for those.
"Captain America" is a movie I think I am going to have to see again, as I am sure there were a number of things I missed. It will be fun to see if I can pick up on those details in a second or third viewing. And it would almost be worth it just to stay for the very brief glimpse of shots from the upcoming "Avengers" movie which appear after the end credits. -- PL