Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

     Well, this is certainly better than the previous live action Captain America (1990) movie.  And I didn't even hate that one, though it was hard to understand why Marvel couldn't find a studio to go big budget with the title after the success of Tim Burton's Batman (1989) – I had no knowledge of the various complications and property rights that went into that earlier effort.  I avoided seeing Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) in the theater because I didn't feel any need to see it.  It turned out to be a rather fun superhero/comic book film, which is to say that it was infinitely better than the disaster that was Thor (2011) – a movie so bad I didn't even write a post about how much I disliked it – and partially redeemed both mishandled movies about the Hulk.
     Sure, one could point out that I like Chris Evans.  I've seen most of his films, from the underappreciated Not Another Teen Movie (2001) to Cellular (2004), Fantastic Four (2005), the undecipherable mess that is London (2005), Sunshine (2007), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Street Kings (2008), Push (2009), The Losers (2010), and (regrettably) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).  The chances of me passing up on a film that he is in are pretty slim, though I don't imagine I am going to see The Nanny Diaries (2007) before I die; it may be on an endless loop in Hell and I'd like the first go through to be fresh.  Evans is a good-looking guy, able to be charming and endearing to the point that he can hide his obvious physicality.  And in The First Avenger, he gives Steve Rogers the heart, dedication, and innocence that makes the entire project work.
     I don't want to knock director Joe Johnston.  He knows how to shoot a highly technical, special effects laden movie.  Surprisingly, he does a better job with the character interactions and dialogue than the action sequences, something that has been his strong suit.  Maybe Johnston has truly found his stride as a director.  Maybe Marvel makes sure that its properties are 'ready for shooting' and takes a lot of the guess work out of the equation.  Whatever the cause, Johnston directs his most complete film to date.  He may indulge a little too much in the comic bookish-ness of the story, but I have to think that plays to the die-hards and fanboys
     Since I've limited my fawning over Evans to just listing what I've seen him in, I should probably do a better job of addressing the rest of the cast.  Hugo Weaving – of <insert bad guy here> industries – makes for a better Johann Schmidt than Red Skull; the accent gets ridiculous and the megalomania less believable.  I would have preferred my Red Skull being a loyal Nazi super-soldier (which is what I thought he was supposed to be...clearly I don't know much about the history of the Red Skull) rather than an earlier version of Cobra Commander.  Hayley Atwell does a fine job with the underwritten role of Agent (Peggy) Carter, helping to tamp down the testosterone and give some amount of sexual tension to the film.  Sebastian Stan is quite enjoyable as Bucky Barnes, and he and Evans have the kind of chemistry that makes one believe their characters are life-long friends.  Recognizable faces Neil McDonough and Derek Luke aren't given much to do, but they do help make Captain America's squad of soldiers more memorable.  Stanley Tucci is, as usual, excellent.  I'm not sure when he went from good actor to that dude who totally owns his roles – it would have to be after The Core (2003) – but he is in near perfect form here.  I would cite that as another example of Johnston emerging as a director who can handle actors as well as effects.
     I don't regret missing this in the theater.  It is a good, fun action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.  It also doesn't run away from some obvious truths: soldiers get killed in battle and nobody in the war thinks promotional product Captain America is worth cheering.  The transition from the story to the follow-up feels forced, but it is.  Not much that could be done about that.  In terms of a grade, I'd rate Captain America: The First Avenger as an A or A- (depending on how much one appreciates slow motion in their action sequences).  Maybe that is my man-crush on Chris Evans speaking, but this is the best, most fully realized of the Marvel films I have seen – besting even Iron Man (2008).

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