Review: “Captain America” is super

July 22nd, 2011 at 12:01 am by under Entertainment

 13 weeks into the summer movie season and finally it has arrived… the bona-fide deserving big budget action summer blockbuster you’ve been waiting to spend your hard earned time and money on at the theater: “Captain America: The First Avenger”.

This movie has no glaring issues for me as it hits on all cylinders like “Iron Man” … its grounded in real action, real performances, mostly practical effects and not overly CGI… its believable, its accessible, its fun and funny… exactly what you want in a summer movie – what my film studies Professor Dr. Bill Becvar would call a “bubble gum popcorn movie”.

(Updated) FYI – It is worth staying through the credits for what is essentially the “Avengers” teaser trailer at the very end of the credits.

"Captain America the First Avenger" poster courtesy Paramount

 
(My *basically* spoiler-free review)

Many comicbook/superhero movies are heavy on the effects, the story, or the set pieces… this movie succeeds because it has a solid cast that is complimented by a really good story, good writing, good action, good sets/costumes, effects, cinematography, and editing.

Its nice to say that “Captain American” is totally its own movie, that stands apart from most of the other big budget action movies these days that seem to borrow from their predecessors.  Die hard fans tell me this keeps basically true to form of the Captain American story, complete with Bucky Barnes, Cap’s group: the “Howling Commandos”, and that trademark ‘clang’ when the shield is used in combat.

While the fanboys seem to like it, you don’t need to know the backstory to enoy it – because you get it as the story goes along, although knowing the history of the character will help you appreciate many of the references.

All of the casting seems to be perfect here – from a solid Stanley Tucci (as scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine working for the Americans) to a perfectly cast Toby Jones as a German scientist working for a secret Nazi agency.  There’s also a brainy and bold Dominic Cooper (as Howard Stark, father of “Iron Man” Tony Stark).   Hayley Atwell was quite good as Agent Peggy Carter, a strong leading lady who’s very handy with a gun.  Tommy Lee Jones (Col. Phillips) was great as always… with a commanding screen presence that also got a lot of good one-liners, like his plan to create an army of super soldiers for the Allies to “personally escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of Hell”.

But an action movie really succeeds when the hero and the villain are well cast (and as we know in the Marvel Universe – somehow linked)… such is the case here with Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America and Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull.

Evans was the perfect choice for Captain America, he embodies the courage/ charm/ wholesome/ humbleness/ athleticism of Captain America.  He’s a 90-pound asthmatic kid from Brooklyn, both of his parents serving their country in the military and he wants to do it so bad.  As much as Robert Downey, Junior embodied the character of Tony Stark/“Iron Man”… Evans embodies the character of Steve Rogers/Captain America.  

On the other side is Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, the leader of the Nazi group HYDRA.. that searches out different Occult artifacts for the Nazis.  Weaving was another perfect choice – he’s brilliant and maniacal, but he’s not over the top… right up to the edge… but without crossing the campy line.  I would have to say one of the best movie villains so far this year… and the best villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008).

Not only does ”Captain America: The First Avenger” have good acting… the story is an engaging journey with plenty of action for the guys and romance for the ladies.  The action is the perfect amount and very well done – comic book-esque, but not over-the-top.   The 3D element does add some depth to scenes, but is not absolutely necessary to enjoy this movie, especially if you’re looking to save a couple bucks.  Only recent movies like “Avatar” (2009) and “Tron Legacy” (2010) have really been worth that extra ticket price.

The effects to make Steve look scrawny in the beginning are good – the special effects teams from actually shrunk Evans’ body down to look smaller… so its really his performance … it wasn’t as distracting as other CGI we’ve seen and its something Evans pushed to do that way.

Obviously this movie, along with “Thor” (2011), “Iron Man” (2008), “Iron Man 2″ (2010), and “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) lead up to next year’s “The Avengers”… so it ties in nicely with the others, without being blatantly obvious.    “Captain America” explains the 70 year leap from the 1940′s to the 2010′s by easily tieing the past and present together.  It also makes a subtle homage to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) when Johann compares the “Fuhrer’s digging for trinkets in the desert” to his quest searching for “The tesseract – the jewel of Odin’s treasure room” (known in present day as the Cosmic Cube which we saw at the end of the credits in “Thor”.  Fans will be happy to see an explanation on why Steve is only super soldier, why he carries a shield, the name “Captain America”, the outfit, the comics, the Saturday matinees.  Fans will also be happy that Red Skull looks a lot like the comicbook version… and of course, Stan Lee shows up… as a General.

The effects to make Steve look smaller are good the special effects team from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) actually shrunk Evan’s body down to look smaller.. so its really his performance … it wasn’t distracting like other CGI we’ve seen and its something Evans pushed to do that way.

BOTTOM LINE:

With a great cast, great story set in the real world, with comic relief, and engaging characters, “Captain America: The First Avenger” will definitely be cracking my Top 5 Superhero movies of All Time.  Even though there’s no explanation on why Steve decides to start throwing the shield he uses for protection… and some of action, camera moves, characters are borderline cartoony… its all grounded in the real world, and these are minor issues I can live with.  I give it an 8.9 out of 10.

Hugo Weaving as Red Skull in "Captain America the First Avenger" photo courtesy Paramount

“Captain America: The First Avenger”

(2011) (rated: PG-13for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action)
(2 hrs, 5 mins)

Starring: Chris Evans (Captain America / Steve Rogers), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes), Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Chester Phillips), Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt / Red Skull), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Richard Armitage (Heinz Kruger), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Abraham Erskine), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Neal McDonough (Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan), Derek Luke (Gabe Jones), Kenneth Choi (Jim Morita), JJ Feild (James Montgomery Falsworth)

Director: Joe Johnston ["The Wolfman" (2010), "Hidalgo" (2004), "Jurassic Park III" (2001), "Jumanji" (1995), "The Rocketeer" (1991), "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (1989)]

Writers: Christopher Markus (screenplay), Stephen McFeely (screenplay)

Genre: Comicbook/Superhero/Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

The Plot: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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“Captain America: The First Avenger” poster and photo courtesy Paramount

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