Aug 1, 2011

[Movies] Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)One of the bigger annoyances of superhero movies in the past is how they've all acted as independent story worlds. Despite belonging to larger comic book franchises as defined by the likes of Marvel or DC Comics, the movies have had to stick to the stories of individual heroes since the licensing issues around involving other characters even as remote mentions is far too difficult.

But thankfully Marvel has decided to take a more active role in its movie franchises and clear steps have been taken over the years to get towards a movie based on The Avengers, its flagship team consisting of heroes who had pretty strong comic book titles as individuals. Such a thing seemed impossible in the years past but now we're pretty much on the bring of this truly happening.

For the most part I feel this is a great thing for the movies since it expands the universe, provides greater potential for more diverse stories and all that good stuff. At the same time, it's hard to tie entire movies to one another without either going overboard or too minimal an investment of screen time and writing resources.

Captain America: The First Avenger is the last of the Marvel movies to be released before the previously announced Avengers movie. An action-adventure film like the other Marvel releases, the movie was directed by Joe Johnston with a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFry.

The movie starts in the modern day as scientists uncover a rather large aircraft of some sort in the Arctic. and inside they find the distinctive circular shield of Captain America.

We go back in time to 1942 when the Nazis are still trying to conquer Europe. One such officer, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has located an mythical object of significant power. And he intends to use this new power source to advance the Nazi cause and create more and more lethal weapons of mass destruction as part of his role in HYDRA, a special research arm of the Nazi forces. At his side is one Dr. Arim Zola (Toby Jones), a brilliant scientist who possess the scientific know-how to make use of Schmidt's new power source.

Meanwhile in New York, an idealistic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is determined to enlist in the army and support the war effort. But his lack of physical qualities makes him unfit for duty, but this doesn't stop him from trying again and again. His best friend Sgt. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) tries to convince him to enjoy his life and to give up on his dreams of fighting for his country. But still he perseveres and manages to attract the attention of a scientist named Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He agrees to allow Rogers into the Army under his authority on the chances that he may prove worthy of the government's top secret Super Soldier program.

First, let's discuss casting.

To be fair, Chris Evans did a pretty good job as Steve Rogers. While we're all used to him being the crazy and wild characters like when he was the Human Torch, this time around he was your idealistic dweeb who's determined to do the right thing. In that regard he managed to convey the good combination of awkwardness and naivity that comes with the role. As for Johann Schmidt, Hugo Weaving was pretty good in the role. And to be fair, not once did he make me think of Agent Smith from the Matrix movies.

Red SkullImage by Boogeyman13 via FlickrThe story was pretty good too - a nice mix of classic Silver Age tropes, Nazisms and decent action. Of course it presented a rather idealistic view of the war, hence the Silver Age reference. It was pretty convenient that they developed a weapon that completely obligates the enemy without leaving a body. Thus it made it perfect for the General Patronage rating the movie got locally, apart from that one death scene involving a propeller. The rest of it was a lot of fun still - a lot of stylized combat moments and all that.

I was moderately looking forward to the fact that the movie was shot using 3D cameras instead of it being a 2D movie digitally converted to 3D in post production. But after watching it, again I am reminded how people just don't know how to make good (campy?) use of 3D. While I'm used to the usual added depth we've seen in a lot of movies, in this case I almost didn't notice the 3D, and thus I wonder why I endured wearing those horrible 3D classes. We really need to give up on this movie gimmick and focus instead on supporting movies with good stories.

Beyond that technical complaint, the movie had a lot of fun moments that showcased the characters pretty well. I'm sure a lot of you would agree with me that we'd have wanted to see more of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in combat given her almost superhuman sharpshooting skills. And I didn't mind not being introduced to Captain America's squad, even though the fans in the theater practically squealed at the sight of Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough). And Armin Zola's first appearance in the movie? Priceless.

I did feel bad about how Bucky was handled. While I wasn't expecting a snippy little kid or something like that, but I felt he could have been more heroic and daring. Instead his role seemed really limited and by the end one can't help but wonder why he was in the movie at all. Heck, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) played a much bigger role that he did!

Favorite scene, bar none, has to be when Captain America and the Red Skull meet for the first time. That scene was so reminiscent of the older Captain America comics and was worthy of the title indeed. And it was almost enough to help me forgive the weird way they ended the movie, which remains my only complaint. The movie felt too obligated towards contributing to the Avengers movie hype that I felt it didn't end quite as solidly as it could have. It was a near miss and maybe a bit more narrative would have been perfect, but instead they cut things off a bit too early.

And yes, there is an after credits sequence you should stay for.

Captain America is still one of the better superhero movies out there and it gives me a lot of hope for the Avengers movie next year. It gets 4 campy moments of HYDRA agents reciting their mantra and double saluting out of a possible 5.

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