Captain America: Easy patriotism was never so much funBottom Highlights, Movie Review Thursday, July 28th, 2011
MOVIE REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger debuted in San Diego last week at a screening full of both comic book geeks here for Comic-Con and local soldiers, sailors and pilots in fatigues and pressed blues. Both groups were thrilled when a troupe of dancing girls decked out like Rockettes from the 1940s performed at the front of the theater; they got a lot more cheers than Chris Evans, who plays the Captain and who showed up to tell everyone how much he loves the movie.
With that much fanfare, anything less than an exciting, enjoyable, morally simple and beautifully shot action film would have been a disappointment. No one was disappointed; I certainly wasn’t.
Captain America is the fourth massively expensive comic book superhero movie to come out in the last three months, and it’s the only one that I wasn’t somewhat disappointed by. While Captain America is not quite in the league of the Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, Bryan Singer’s X-Men, or Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Joe Johnston has made one of the few comic book movies in the CGI era that uses technology to tell a mythic story better, instead of hoping technological wizbang will mask a weak story or terrible script.
The Captain’s origin story is a great one. In the early 1940s, tiny, weak and sickly Steve Rogers wants more than anything to join the Army and help fight the war. Since Chris Evans is built like an Olympic athlete, making him look like a 98-pound weakling involved a room of computers, and the results are perhaps more believable than anything from Benjamin Button. No one would ever send this guy to war. Still, he wants to fight, not to kill, but because he can’t stand bullies. Every time he gets rejected, he goes to a new recruiting center, lies about his identity, and tries again. And fails.
But one time, his determination is noticed by an accented scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (the perfectly hammy Stanley Tucci), who recruits Rogers to the U.S. military’s super soldier program run by the gruff Col. Phillips (the typecast Tommy Lee Jones) and the tough-and-sexy Brit Peggy Carter (the versatile, always excellent Hayley Atwell). After being injected with an iridescent blue serum and bombarded with Vita-Rays by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper playing the father of Tony Stark, or Iron Man), Rogers finally becomes Chris Evans, who is as tall as he is muscled as he is handsome. There’s an unmentioned irony that in trying to create the super soldier needed to defeat the Nazis, Erskine and Phillips made the Übermensch, an Aryan god who Hitler could only dream of.
At first, the U.S. government uses Captain America as a propaganda tool to sell war bonds (using scenes that seem like a cross between the great musical On the Town and Clint Eastwood’s cautionary Flags of the Fathers), but Rogers becomes the war hero he was destined to be when he single-handedly saves his best friend (Sebastian Stan) and 400 other soldiers from the Nazis war science division Hydra. Run by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, also typecast) and Dr. Arnim Zola (the wonderfully nebbishy Toby Jones), Hydra plan to take over the world by using weapons powered by an iridescent blue energy that may or may not be mystical. (Don’t ponder this part too much, because the screenwriters didn’t.) The war between Captain America and the Red Skull comprises the second half of the film, and the action is swift, thrilling and easy.
If Singer or Nolan had made Captain America, the film would have been about the dark side of propaganda and the cruel ironies of war. But that wouldn’t have made sense. Captain America was created in the 1940s to be a pure hero, the ultimate American, to inspire children through simple acts of bravery and heroism. Such uncomplicated patriotism is difficult in today’s United States, and how the Captain, and various screenwriters and directors, will deal with our modern world will be interesting. The film is framed by the Captain’s revival from suspended animation in 2011 and his recruitment to the Avengers, the super group of Thor, Iron-Man, the Captain, and others. The movie of the same name opens next summer.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by Joe Johnston
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving and Hayley Atwell
At your local multiplex
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