Saturday, July 23, 2011
Captain America: The First Avenger
The summer of 2011 might go down in film history as the summer of the comic book movie, with Captain America maybe being the best of a pretty stellar lot. Out of the plethora of comic book movies that hit theaters this summer (with maybe more to come? I can't remember), I think I was most excited to see this one, because I'm a huge fan of the character and the comics. However, this was also the film I was most dreading, because I'm such a huge fan of the character and the comics. I'm happy to say director Joe Johnston and pulled it off and did the character justice.
More than any other comic book film in recent memory, this almost completely captured the spirit of the character I grew up reading. Captain America is a hero like no other, and he should always be portrayed as kinder, better, more admirable, and just plain heroic than any other super hero, and this film made great pains to ensure they got all of that right. In the comics and in this film, Captain America isn't a hero because of his costume or his great strength or his outstanding agility, but because his alter ego Steve Rogers is such an honorable man. People who see this movie are going to see one of the best portrayals of a true hero in maybe any comic book based film since the original Superman film way back when.
A lot of that has to do with the script, but credit is also due to the wonderful performance by Chris Evans. Frankly, Evans isn't a great actor, but he's not a bad one either, but he managed to really knock this one out of the park, creating a fantastic and fascinating character that is larger than life not only because of his physical stature, but because of his charm and good nature as well. When I saw Thor, I came out of the theater wishing I had arms like actor Chris Hemsworth. When I saw Captain America, I came out of the theater wishing I was friends with Steve Rogers. That's an important distinction about Captain America, since he is one of the few heroes nobody really wants to be, we just want to be around him.
Astoundingly, Evans played the character both before and after his transformation from the 90lb weakling to the strapping behemoth with the body of Greek god. I honestly don't know how the special effects people pulled this off, but it was seamless and completely believable. I've read a few reviews where people said the puny version of the character looked like a bobblehead, but I didn't see it. I thought it was amazing and stood out as one of the best and most incredible special effects I've seen in years. Too bad some of the other CG in the film hadn't been as well done, like the scenes where Captain America is jumping through the sky or tossing bad guys around.
One of the reasons Chris Evans gave such a good performance was because he had such an amazing cast to act against. Tommy Lee Jones was as great as you'd expect as the gruff Army Colonel who gives Captain America his orders, and Stanley Tucci was fantastic as the genius scientist Dr Abraham Erskine who developed the serum that turned our main character into a super soldier. Hayley Atwell was very good and very charming as the love interest, and it was great that she was given more to do than just stand around and look pretty. And we even got fairly substantial roles for the Howling Commandos, although they are never referred to by name in the film, the best of which was Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan. I nearly jumped out of my seat when that character came on screen.
There was also the prerequisite cameo by Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee, who is given maybe his funniest line yet. I'm pretty sure his joke got the biggest line in the theater when I saw it, either because it was funny or because it was Stan Lee. This raises an interesting point: Was this the first time Stan Lee had a cameo in a film about a comic book character he didn't create? Stan Lee's contribution to Marvel in general and to Captain America in particular can't be overstated enough, since he wrote some of the best Captain America stories ever and should be credited (or, at least, co-credited) with bringing him back to the public eye in the sixties by reintroducing him in The Avengers, but I do think it's important to note that the character was actually created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. I just wanted to mention that.
It wasn't all great, however, and there were just a few weird odds and ends that kept it from being a truly perfect comic book movie in my opinion:
I already mentioned the costume, but boy was it terrible. To begin with, it's unfaithful to the comic with needless "updates" intended to make it look more realistic or fit to actually wear into battle. Why doesn't Hollywood understand that any attempt to make a comic book outfit more "realistic" only serves to make it look more silly and strange? But even forgetting the fact that it isn't exactly like what we've seen in the comics, it's just downright ugly. I also didn't understand why the felt the need to shoehorn the character into that USO act, as though they needed to explain why he was wearing a costume at all. He's a super hero from a comic book. Just have him wear a costume.
And, finally, structurally speaking, this film was oddly put together, with maybe more than half of the film detailing the character's origin. In fact, I don't even think he put on his costume until well over an hour into the movie. Again, this isn't a bad thing, but the problem was that the origin story was so brilliantly put together, that by the time the main plot rolled around and the real film started, it felt more like a by the numbers action film. I'm not saying that the second half of the film was bad, just that the first half was so much better, more original, and emotionally stirring. And I can imagine that anybody unfamiliar with what happens to the character in the comics will be confused by the way this film ends. As a comic fan, however, I thought the ending twist was pulled off as well as I could've hoped, and should lead right into next year's (?) Avengers film.
So... Captain America: The First Avenger. I really, really liked this movie, and thought it was as good as any comic book film I've ever seen. Steve Rogers was perfectly captured and many of his character beats actually made me misty with emotion. However... that costume really sucked and took me out of the film whenever it was on screen. Luckily, the costume isn't seen all that often, almost as though the director was embarrassed to show it, either because he knew it was ugly or just doesn't like comic book costumes at all. Joe Johnston is a wonderful director of action set pieces who made a great, heroic war movie, but here's to hoping that geek Wunderkind Joss Whedon embraces the tropes and look of the comics more when he directs the upcoming Avengers film.
Anyway, go see it.