Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

This very well may be the most fun movie to come out this Summer.

Captain America: The First Avenger harkens back to classic adventure films that are rarely—if ever—made today. It feels more Indiana Jones than Saving Private Ryan, to its credit. It's not even attempting to reach the hyper-realism of The Dark Knight, which does the film a service. Too often today do we get dark, gritty films that teach us the lower limits of humanity, when we truly need an uplifting tale that shows us the very best within ourselves.

Captain America is remarkably family-friendly. There's little more than a "hell" or "damn" thrown in, and almost no on-screen blood. It's refreshing to have a modern superhero film that goes back to the made-for-all-ages heart of the original comics—and still with enough depth to keep the adults just as entertained as their kids.
Chris Evans was an odd choice to play Steve Rogers, mostly because he had already played The Human Torch—another Marvel hero—whose personality is the polar opposite of his character here. And yet, here he completely reverses his usual acting persona, playing the ultra-idealistic, honor-and-respect-driven Captain America perfectly. He feels completely genuine in every single scene, and he owns the movie entirely.
Of special note is the bogglingly real "skinny Steve Rogers" camera/CG/probably-magic effect that makes Chris Evans look like an actual skinny short guy in the scenes before he is physically transformed into a super-soldier. (did I just invent the word "bogglingly?" Maybe. Cool.)

The supporting cast is surprisingly good. Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter with a sharpness that evokes similar hard-edged comic characters like Lois Lane. She doesn't feel forced into the plot like other superhero love interests, and actually has a believable chemistry with Steve.
James "Bucky" Barnes is the secondary character that's given the most depth, despite the fact that he gets a bit less screentime than Peggy, Erskine, and Phillips. He's got just the right amount of tough attitude, depth and likable comedic timing. He's also a great action hero character. More than anything, however, it's his friendship with Steve that really makes Bucky remarkable here. They feel like brothers, and it really helps to personalize the movie. For fans of the comics who know Bucky and his history, seeing him—and specifically the events that affect him in the movie—is a special treat.

The other side characters, including the scientist Abraham Erskine, Col. Chester Phillips, Iron-Man's-dad Howard Stark, and the rest of Cap's team known as the Howling Commandos (never named in the film), are all well-acted and plenty-enjoyable to watch.
The antagonist, Johann Schmidt—The Red Skull—is the very definition of a power-mad evil villain. He's so incredibly perfect in his archetypal portrayal that he and Cap are the perfect balance, as well they should be.

The action in this film is exactly how comic fans always imagined it would be: stylized, slightly unrealistic (in a good way), and extremely cool. There's nothing quite like the glee you get when Cap throws his mighty shield into a Nazi and it bounces back into his hand. It's sheer comic book magic.

The movie isn't without a few problems. There's a framing storyline that's a bit underwhelming, and the final moments of the movie act as more of a setup to 2012's The Avengers, rather than rounding out this particular story itself.
While this film is the very definition of good, honest fun, it's not quite on the level of perfection that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade mastered. Then again, not being as good as the two best Indy films isn't really saying very much.

In the end, Captain America is an awesomely fun movie. It's definitely one of Marvel Studios' best, and may go down as one of the best superhero films to date.


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