Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Captain America" review: reverent, rousing period film in the tradition of "The Rocketeer" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark"!

"Captain America: The First Avenger" is a movie I was very skeptical about a year out before it's release. But as newer trailers surfaced I began to realize that this had possibilities. Especially with "Rocketeer" director Joe Johnston at the helm.

Having never been a huge Cap comics fan (although I did enjoy the Marvel cartoon from the 60's), I certainly was aware of his origin, his arch enemy The Red Skull and some of the other characters who inhabit his world. This is a hero whose costume is just about as unmovable as Superman's and Wonder Woman's when it came to recreation on screen, and probably just as precarious in it's depiction. As with Wonder Woman, I'd always felt that if they were going to do a Captain America movie than it would have to be set during WWII. The costume pretty much demanded it with it's stars and stripes and big 'A' on the headpiece. And of course that's right where they set Steve Rogers beginnings as a scrawny young man who wanted nothing more than to join the U.S. Army and fight Nazis.

Chris Evans definitely made the right choice by ditching his former Johnny Storm persona from the mediocre "Fantastic Four" movies. He absolutely carries the movie with a humble strength like no other superhero movie out there right now. The visual effects transformation of Evans' physique into an almost 98 pound weakling is one of the most startling aspects of the film. Never once do you even question that his frame is that slight. I'd even have to go further to say that when I expected a similar effect as what was done to Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", this movie made that look like someone had done the CG work on their old home computer by comparison!

Evans is surrounded by very competent actors who add the flourish and flavor to make this a very unique Marvel stable entry. Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt / Red Skull brings all of the menace we love watching him inhabit on screen. Tommy Lee Jones as the US general overseeing the Super Soldier project is brash and comfortingly humorous at the same time. Hayley Atwell is Peggy Carter, Cap's love interest also directly lifted from the comics. Her relationship with Steve Rogers helps to add the right amount of emotion to the story, even finding me tearing up during the film's climax. Plus, we're introduced to Captain America sidekick (of sorts here), Sgt. James "Bucky" Barnes, as well as a younger Howard Stark (Tony's father) who exhibits that same swagger he undoubtedly passed onto his son. Stark's involvement is more than just a cameo, as he assists in the design for the final Captain America uniform.

O.K. let's get into that.

The costume designers did a stunning job of transferring the look and feel of Captain America's flag waving uniform to the big screen! At first it's a bond-selling tool, looking exactly as it does in the comics. Then, as that part of Steve Rogers uncomfortable connection to the military subsides, that very look becomes a functional combat uniform, retaining all of the lines and colors ever present in the comics, just now more realistic and perfectly befitting of the path Rogers takes to becoming the in-the-field Captain America who will truly prove himself in what he set out to do in the first place. What's great about this journey is that it's never rushed. You don't see Evans becoming Cap for more than half of the film and this allows the characters and motivations to breathe quite comfortably.

Director Joe Johnston has gone back to some of his roots, mixing elements of "The Rocketeer" and Indiana Jones with the bravado of "The Guns of Navarone" and other WWII mission movies that starred the likes of Robert Shaw, Richard Burton and Lee Marvin. This is truly an epic film that doesn't feel outwardly like a Marvel superhero story. Even though it's certainly another piece to the "Avengers" puzzle for next year, I can't help but hope Johnston will direct a second "Captain America" and that somehow, some way his adventures can continue during WWII.

SPOILER ALERT!!! Stop reading here if you haven't seen the movie yet!

When Steve Rogers wakes up in a hospital to learn that he's been frozen in the arctic tundra for seventy years, you realize that his conection with those damned dirty Avengers might be the end of his foray into period film bliss. Based on what I saw in the post credits "Avengers" teaser, I can't say I like the uniform upgrade they've given him. This, of course, may be moot since I continue to not hold any hope for the summer 2012 tent-pole movie to flourish. How they'd get him back into action in the 40's may be anyone's guess, and I fear this current film may have only been the pre-story they desired and nothing more.

At any rate, "Captain America" is a rousing WWII period movie with style, action, adventure, emotion and definitely a great amount of heart. I can't wait to experience it again very soon!


At August 4, 2011 at 5:59 PM, Anonymous Allen said...

Well, I couldn't agree more!

At August 4, 2011 at 6:02 PM, Blogger LA Filmcutter said...

Thank you! :)


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