Monday, August 8, 2011

Review of "Captain America: The First Avenger"



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

10 comments:

Adam Riches said...

Agree with you 100%, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and thought it was definitely one of the better (or possibly best) movies released by Marvel over the last decade.

I'd like to see it again as well, to pick up on some of the subtle homage tidbits you mentioned. Because as you said, there were so many I obviously missed some. Really looking forward to see how this all plays out in Avengers next year. I'm sure this is probably a dumb question, but did you stay for the bonus clip after the credits, Peter?

msemilylaird said...

Dad - how could you forget to mention the BEST part? The musical montage!

PL said...

"msemilylaird said...
Dad - how could you forget to mention the BEST part? The musical montage!"

Em, I don't necessarily agree it was the BEST part, but it was certainly worth mentioning. The whole "Captain America on the USO circuit" thing was very clever, and loved his line "I've knocked out Hitler 400 times!" (I think he said that in front of the less-than-welcoming combat-weary troops in Italy.) -- Dad

PL said...

"Adam Riches said...

I'm sure this is probably a dumb question, but did you stay for the bonus clip after the credits, Peter?"

I should probably have made it clearer -- yes, we did stay for the clip after the credits, and I would definitely do it again. It was tantalizing! -- PL

Mark H said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this one. The previews have very much piqued my interest. I thought that the effect used to make Evans look scrawny in the previews where well done and, very believable.
Unfortunately I will have to wait for the blue-ray to be released to see this movie. My wife and I are only able to go to one movie a year. This year we picked the new Harry Potter. (Yes, we are Potter geeks, fantastic books by the way.)
My son is into comics and will want to see this. Did you think it was appropriate for a 9 year old boy to watch? I did let him see the Iron Man films, they seemed pretty tame by today's standards.
Thanks for the review Pete. I always look forward to you movie reviews. We have similar taste in films. This latest review has me anticipating "Captain America" even more.
Thanks again!

Miserable Dreamer said...

I was never a Captain America fan but I thought this movie was fantastic.

Did you catch the Red Skull's line referencing Indiana Jones? "While the Fuhrer searches for trinkets in the desert..."

I thought the "noseless" look of the Red Skull was much better realized than the noseless villain in the Harry Potter movies.

PL said...

"Miserable Dreamer said...
I was never a Captain America fan but I thought this movie was fantastic.

Did you catch the Red Skull's line referencing Indiana Jones? "While the Fuhrer searches for trinkets in the desert...""

I did catch that line, and thought it was very neat. -- PL

PL said...

"Mark H said...

My son is into comics and will want to see this. Did you think it was appropriate for a 9 year old boy to watch? "

I don't think the average nine year old boy (or girl) would be damaged by watching "Captain America". There is violence, but it is in context and mostly appropriate to the telling of the tale. And as my wife pointed out to me just now, the main character is a decent role model. -- PL

B.Thomas said...

Fantastic review! The film itself was pretty good and lived up to hype. I only had a few minor criticisms with the film such as Red Skull's lack of screen time and the Nazi-angle being downplayed.

Brookslyn said...

I was pleasantly surprised like you. And I totally agree with your daughter about the musical number. It fit so well... I'm just amazed they put that in there. Anyway, I noticed at the end that I think the musical number was written by Alan Menken... who worked on a ton of previous Disney Musicals.