Thursday, 4 August 2011

CINEMA REVIEW - Captain America: The First Avenger

I wasn’t too bothered about Captain America to be honest. As a character on the page, he’s almost as boring as Superman, so my hopes for a movie weren’t too high. But in my excitement and desire to see every pre-Avengers movie, I figured I may as well see it.

And I’m glad I did. It was terrific.

Despite being yet another origin story, this one doesn’t feel stale at all. Partly down to the different setting, but I think mainly down to the fact that the character of Steve Rogers volunteers for the process that turns him into a super soldier. It’s not some random act of fate that turns him into a superhero, (a la Spiderman) nor it is something he was born with (like Supes), it’s something he signs up for, and it’s all the more interesting for it. The character is an easy one to like as well; he’s the underdog and doesn’t have the ‘giving up’ gene. He tries, he fails, and he tries again and again, and it really endears him to the audience. He a good guy, and he desperately wants to fight but he’s not cut out for the army. In a nice little scene early on, he says that he doesn’t want to kill anyone; just that he doesn’t like bullies and it’s this spirit that drives the scientist character (can’t remember the name, but the actor’s Stanley Tucci) to enlist him in the super soldier programme, as he doesn’t just want a strong man, but a good man. So, despite me feeling that Cap is a boring character to read (and I think it might be partly due to always seeing him as Cap, never as Steve Rogers), to watch him be brought to life and the journey that he goes through, from weakling to superhero is pretty powerful, and rather affecting. Another scene during the super soldier process has the scientists, including Howard Stark, worry that the process is too painful and are about to shut it down, when Steve screams from within the chamber not to stop, and that he can take it, really shows the inner strength of the character. The rest of the supporting cast are all great as well, with standouts being Tommy Lee Jones’ stereotypical Army General (imagine a grumpier funnier Agent K, and you’re pretty much there) and Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull (as a Nazi so mental, the other Nazis fear him) who both ham it up a good deal but are fun characters nonetheless. However, I was a bit disappointed that Neal McDonagh (a great character actor) didn’t get more to do a Dum Dum Dugan.

The film has a real retro futuristic feel running throughout it, with the weapons and vehicles used by the Red Skull’s troops being kind of science fiction-y yet in a period setting. In fact the film I was thinking it was very similar to while watching it was The Rocketeer which it turns out, as I discovered later, was by the same director, and the same hallmarks that made The Rocketeer such a distinctive looking movie are here too. The colour palette of the film is quite brown and earthy, but then in the middle of it all you’ve got the red, white and blue of Cap running through a scene. It shouldn’t work, but it does, in much the same way that a dude with a rocket pack in the 50’s shouldn’t work but does*. Normally, when describing a comic book movie, the phrase ‘it embraces it’s comic book roots’ is used to defend the film against accusations that it looks stupid. I feel it’s the opposite here, especially when you have a character running around in a costume essentially made out of a flag, you have to fully go for it, or risk going halfway and failing. In fact the film gives Cap his suit in a rather ingenious way; by using him first of all as a propaganda tool, the suit he’s given is a bit stupid and garish (while at the same time satirising the original Captain America comics, which were sort a propaganda tool in themselves) and when he eventually starts actually fighting, the costume sticks and as such neatly sidesteps all accusations of looking stupid. It’s a clever little trick, and it works superbly.

* maybe that’s just me though, cause I freaking love The Rocketeer.

The effects in the movie work for the most part although there’s some dodgy work in a scene with a speeding train, as well as a bit with the Red Skull’s car, but the rest of the effects have a sort of retro charm to them that fits with the tone of the movie. They’re not photo real let’s say, but they look sort of like a wartime poster brought to life. I can’t really explain it very well but hopefully if you’ve seen the movie you know what I mean. It’s very Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow looking except, you know, not shit.

Also, for the first 45 minutes of the movie Chris Evans is made to look like a 90 pound weakling, and the effect, which from the trailers looked as though it could be pretty embarrassing, is actually really well used, with only one instance where it looks as though the CG folks have gotten his height wrong. It still looks a little odd with Chris Evans face pasted onto a small body, considering you know what he normally looks like, but it’s not like The Rock/Scorpion King bad or anything.

Most of the fight sequences are well done although there’s nothing especially innovative to them, but they’re still pretty exciting. A jailbreak sequence is probably the standout once Cap dons his costume, but the best scene actually arrives just after he given the super serum, chasing down the Nazi spy of foot, using a car door as a makeshift shield (after previously using a bin lid), and finishing up with an underwater scene. A neat little touch in this sequence was the bad guy throwing a little child in the water, usually the point in most movies where the hero would choose to save the child over chasing the villain, but here the child says “Go after him, I can swim.”

As this movie is another entry into the pre-Avengers catalogue we have another game of spot the connections. People have moaned before that these attempts at cross pollination have hampered the stand alone film, and to some extent I’d agree, especially with Iron Man 2 (although I still loved it) but in Captain America the little hints were much more subtle, and I applaud Marvel for that. So, for example, the glowy blue thing that powered the Red Skull weapons was actually an artefact from Asgard and also acts as a precursor for Iron Man’s eventual repulsor rays was nifty. There were more, but I can’t remember them right now, but they were much better implemented this time round.

In fact the only thing I have a problem with is the ending scene, which is set in the present day with Cap waking up after being frozen for the past 70 years following his fight with Red Skull and crashing his ship. It is completely out of step with the rest of the film, and actually destroys the ending of the previous scene which ended on a bittersweet note with Cap saying goodbye to his love interest, Peggy Carter. What should have been a moment of happiness for Cap as he’s defeated his enemy and saved the day (even if he’s presumably going to die in doing so), actually becomes very depressing as he’s now in the future, very much alive, and everything he fought for has gone. The last line is actually one of regret that he never got to dance with Peggy, and then BOOM roll credits. It felt out of place, and solely there to set up The Avengers. In fact I think it would have worked better as the opening to that movie, not the ending to this.

And for anyone not intending to see the film, because they think it’ll be an ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’ kind of movie, it’s really not. Cap fights as an American, but not necessarily for America. It’s a worldwide, boys-own adventure caper. A bright, breezy and most importantly fun summer movie. So overall, highly enjoyable and my favourite pre-Avengers movie since the first Iron Man

4 stars

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