With all of the superheros making it to the big screen these days, there seem to be just as many misses as there are hits. The challenge seems to be translating the fantastical element of the comic universe into real-world existence these characters have to endure in a live-action film — while still appealing to the hardcore fanbase — while reaching out to the casual moviegoer — all without making the film and its characters seem downright ridiculous. Nolan found notable success with Batman, Singer found some luck with the X-men, Favreau did admirably with Iron Man, and Raimi did a decent job with Spider-man (before they decided to scratch the whole thing and do a reboot). Some less successful attempts to bridge the fantasy and reality include Ang Lee’s Hulk (which I didn’t actually mind), Singer’s Superman (which suffered more from a skewed story arc than anything else) and Schumacher’s Batman films (rubber nipples). So where does Captain America fall in all this? Definitely one of the most successful attempts to date.
Captain America continues Marvel’s very successful approach of creating a cohesive cinematic world in which all its characters can live and interact with one another – culminating in the eagerly anticipated Avengers film next May. With subtle nods to its other characters and intertwining story elements, fans who have seen the other Marvel films will feel like they’re on the inside track (even if you’re not an avid comic reader) and those who are only stopping in for the one film won’t feel left out. It’s like the zen balance of reaching the mass movie-going audience. Ultimately this film succeeds at establishing itself in reality because it succeeds as a period film set in WWII, which brings with it great costumes, sets, and overall ambiance. The film is filled with comedic relief, provides the required amount of action sequences, and most importantly characters with substance so the audience can feel invested. It should also be noted that each of these elements are balanced admirably so that it never feels too heavy-handed in any one area.
When the first names were tossed around for who would don the red, white, and blue, several well-known actors were suggested. Originally my vote was for Jensen Ackles, known best for his work on the show Supernatural. He had the wit they were looking for, the look, and genuinely I’d be interested in seeing him get some work outside the world of the CW. But sadly, due to scheduling conflicts, he was removed from the running. Meanwhile Marvel went a totally different direction by throwing out their original shortlist, and calling up Chris Evans, who already existed in the Marvel universe as Johnny Storm a.k.a. the Human Torch in Fantastic Four. (Don’t worry, they’re rebooting that too, so this continuity error will be remedied.) I thought Evans was the best part about Fantastic Four (he and Chiklis were perfectly cast in my opinion) but I was wary about him as Captain America. After seeing this film, my worries were put to rest.
Evans embodies (pun intended?) everything the character needs. He exudes the likable, genuine and witty qualities of a scrawny but big-hearted guy placed in an artificially huge body. Even though his pre-super body is doubled in via CGI, the meshing of the two performances creates a believable character because Evans conveys those qualities so effortlessly. (It should also be noted that the CGI is so well done that it takes a conscious eye to notice the work.) Joss Whedon has some great character mixing to do between the do-good nobility of Steve Rogers with the smarminess of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in The Avengers. Should create quite the… *ahem* stark contrast. (Had to do it.)
Other notable performances include Tommy Lee Jones as a military general (some great comedic moments here), Stanley Tucci as the scientist who creates the super-serum, and even Hugo Weaving as the key villain, Red Skull. I have to admit, ever since The Matrix, Weaving has always carried an Agent Smith vibe into his other work, which made Lord of the Rings a bit weird for me. At least in Transformers he was just a voice actor. But in this role Weaving’s character found a different feel that gave him the villainous quality, without that cool, calculating calm of Smith.
One of the greatest things about this film is that it actually single-handedly addresses the whining demands of the hardcore fans with a cold, hard dose of reality. This doesn’t spoil much, but if you really hate all spoilers, hop over this paragraph. For part of the film, the Captain is used for war propaganda, and tours with a USO show in a ridiculous costume that is a direct translation of the old spandex suit of yore. You watch that section and can practically hear the producers saying “See, that’s why you can’t do things exactly as they are in the comics – they don’t translate to real life in a non-humorous manner.” So kudos for the respectful nod and somewhat subtle education by the filmmaker.
The film is not flawless by any means. Although all the elements are balanced throughout the film, it does seem like the action and resolution of the crisis are a bit hasty and lackluster. In terms of the story arc, it’s a very slow build in the initial rising action (not uncommon with an origin story, and necessary for good character development) with sort of a plateau leading up to the climax and not so much a resolution as a quick setup for future Captain films. However, this doesn’t dilute the enjoyment of the film, it merely left me wanting a bit more. At the same time, I’m not sure how much one can watch of a guy running around punching people, dodging bullets/lasers, and occasionally throwing a shield without getting bored. So they at least avoided that pitfall.
Overall I would highly recommend Captain America as part of your summer movie-going experience. I won’t go as far to say it’s the best super hero film ever, but it definitely stands on par with the original Iron Man in terms of action blended with comic-relief. Also be sure to stay until the very end of the credits for a highly worthwhile bonus.
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