Saturday, December 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Directed by Joe Johnston.
2011. Rate PG-13, 124 minutes.
Chris Evans
Hayley Atwell
Tommy Lee Jones
Hugo Weaving
Sebastian Stan
Stanley Tucci
Dominic Cooper
Toby Jones
Neal McDonough
Derek Luke
Samuel L. Jackson

To say Steve Rogers (Evans) is weak is an understatement, at least in a physical sense. Mentally, he’s uncommonly pig-headed…er…determined. It’s 1942, and he’s hell-bent on getting into the military. After all, he hates bullies and there are none bigger than Hitler and his Nazis. Unfortunately, 90 pound asthmatics get turned away from service repeatedly. As it turns out, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci) has been watching him. The doctor thinks Steve’s qualities, both physical and mental make him the perfect candidate to be the guinea pig in an experiment to create a super soldier using a special serum the doc invented. Lest you think Rogers is the only pumped up soldier in the world, high-ranking Nazi Johann Schmidt (Weaving) had already gotten a hold of an early version of the serum. He’s also gained possession of an ancient magical thingamajig that pretty much eviscerates anything its pointed at. So there’s that to deal with.

Captain America pulls the trick lots of other comic book movies struggle with. The origin story is at least as good as what happens after our hero becomes super. Rogers is established as such an underdog and is so feisty we can’t help but root for him. He feels ripped straight from the pages of the old comics. Not from the stories themselves, mind you. He’s from that ad in the back where the weakling gets sand kicked in his face. By the way, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that this early portion of the film contains some of the more remarkable uses of cgi. We have no problem believing Chris Evans is short and scrawny. This also aids Evans in giving one of his very best performances.

Once our guy actually becomes the hero, which takes a while after he undergoes his metamorphosis, we get the action we came for and of course, the villain we came for. In the role of the bad guy, Schmidt AKA Red Skull, Hugo Weaving delivers the goods as usual. It’s not quite the iconic work he turned in as Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy, but he has a way of making us feel uneasy without going over the top. When his true face is revealed, it does enough on its own. Wisely, he doesn’t break out in histrionics trying to act crazy. He has the confidence of a man who knows he’s frightening. He doesn’t have to prove it.

Marvel has managed to get its last few films right. This, along with Thor and Iron Man 2 before it, works as stand alone entries into the comic book giant’s film canon. They also work as catalysts for translating the idea of a Marvel universe to the big screen with this upcoming summer’s The Avengers. Before these three, each comic book movie was its own self-contained reality. Things have changed. Allowing these characters to be linked also allows for them to develop. We see Captain America do just that. Along the way there are bumps in the road. How he arrives where he does by the finale is bittersweet. It also leaves us very ready for The Avengers.

MY SCORE: 7/10

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