Monday, April 2, 2012

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)


Scrawny Steve Rogers wants nothing more than to serve his country by fighting in World War II.  Unfortunately, his slight stature and numerous health problems have led to his rejection by the Army not once but four times.  His determination catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine, a German doctor working with the United States military.  Rogers is accepted into an experimental 'super-soldier' training, where his compassion and courage set him apart from other, stronger candidates who tend toward bullying.  Rogers is selected to undergo a super secret procedure, which transforms him from frail bully-bait into . . . Captain America, super-soldier.  Initially, Captain America/Rogers is used as a PR stunt, performing with chorus girls in an effort to boost war bond sales.  However, a trip to the front lines reminds him of his desire to serve his country, and when he finds out that his best friend has disappeared behind enemy lines, nothing will stop him from leaping into the fray.  However, his best friend is not being held by run-of-the-mill Germans, but by the psychotic Johann Schmidt, a Nazi officer obsessed with harnessing 'the power of the gods' to create impossibly powerful new weapons.  Will Captain America/Rogers be able to rescue his friend (and the other soldiers) from Schmidt's clutches?  What nefarious plot is Schmidt hatching, and can he be stopped?  And will the lovely-but-stern Agent Peggy Carter ever give our hero the kiss he's longing for?

This was, in all honesty, one of the better superhero movies.  Not the best, mind you, but better.

Chris Evans doesn't have quite the charisma of Robert Downey, Jr.--but then, Captain America isn't nearly as interesting a character as Iron Man (see also Cyclops v. Wolverine), so perhaps that's to be expected.  The CGI on Evans-as-wimp is impressive, and works well, and Evans is surprisingly believable as a shrimp, and then a shrimp in an abnormally muscular (and significantly taller) body.  Still not quite interesting, but competent nonetheless. Not that it's his fault--Captain America is just a nice guy who's super strong.  That doesn't make for scintillating cinema (see also Superman, though Chris Evans' Rogers does seem to be more interesting than the snoozeworthy Man of Steel).

Fortunately, there are plenty of capable supporting actors to provide the necessary color and personality which is rather lacking in the hero of the piece.  Stanley Tucci is excellent (and adorable) as the German scientist Erskine, and Tommy Lee Jones plays, well, Tommy Lee Jones--here, as the head of the 'super-soldier' division and Captain America/Rogers superior officer.  Hugo Weaving is an excellent choice as the maniacal Schmidt, even though we miss out on his facial expressions and fantastic eyebrows for about half the film--once he removes his 'mask' and starts parading around as Red Skull, he just looks like an evil (and vaguely demoniac) piece of tandoori chicken.  His henchman (Toby Jones) is appropriately morally ambiguous; not as dead set on world domination as Schmidt, but not necessarily opposed to it, either.  Hayley Atwell, as the dishy Agent Carter, looks more like a World War II pinup than many modern starlets, and she plays the tough British broad well.  Dominic Cooper is amusing as Howard Stark, the eccentric and brilliant inventor/engineer.  He is quirky and brash enough to be believable as the father of Robert Downey, Jr.'s larger-than-life Tony Stark/Iron Man, but subdued enough that he doesn't steal too much of Captain America/Rogers' limelight (such as it is).

This is a longer film than I expected, and no wonder, as it sports three separate story arcs:  Rogers becoming Captain America, Captain America saving his friend from Schmidt, and Captain America (and his team) trying to stop Schmidt from succeeding in his eeeevil plot.  This last arc brings us right into modern day America, and sets the stage for the Avengers movie due out this summer. (Come on, Joss!  Do us Buffy fans proud!)

All in all, it was enjoyable, and had a nostalgic (but not fusty) quality appropriate for a film set in the 1940s.  If you like comic book movies, you should probably check it out.  Just don't expect Captain America to be as exciting a character as, say Iron Man or Batman or Wolverine or any of the other more personality-driven superheroes.

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