Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: "Captain America: The First Avenger"

Just a short review tonight. Joe's handling the main review of "Captain America: The First Avenger" over at The Film Yap, so tune in there for a full take.

I was surprised that it wasn't that bad. Fitfully entertaining, especially the first half. A pretty decent villain in Red Skull played by Hugo Weaving, wearing an impressive/scary crimson get-up that looked like it was done through makeup rather than CGI. Kudos for old-school cinematic tricks.

I retain my same opinion of Chris Evans' acting abilities. (Short version: Wet paper bag > Evans trying to act his way out of.) But I was at least pleased that they kept his performance subdued, and matched the downbeat (or at least grounded) nature of the character from the comics. Steve Rogers is a weakling who was given a chance to stand up to bullies, and never forgot what it was like to be unable to defend yourself or your ideals. That's pretty much what we get onscreen.

At least they didn't have Evans reprise his slick, shallow turn as Johnny Storm from the "Fantastic Four" movies. We've already had one super-hero movie this summer where they tried to wrap the fable of a comic book character around an underwhelming actor's smirky star persona. And we all know how that turned out.

I enjoyed the lengthy origin story of Rogers, a "90-pound asthmatic," selected to be the subject of the Super Soldier experiment, not because of his physical qualities but who he is in his heart. Stanley Tucci has a nice, small role as the scientist who mentors him before turning him into a super-hero.

There's also a long section where Captain America gets sidetracked, and I enjoyed this part because it had a cynical, realistic quality -- if someone really did get zapped like Steve Rogers, this is how it probably would have played out.

The portrayal of Steve Rogers as a tiny, scrawny guy (this time they did use computer animation) remains authentically convincing. They even did something to Evans' face to make him look wan.

The love interest with a female British agent (Hayley Atwell) assigned to train his unit was hit-or-miss, and I wouldn't have missed it if they'd eliminated that character and entire storyline from the film. Why do these movies always have to give the hero a girl to be sweet on? Isn't having extraordinary powers and fighting some lunatic baddie over the fate of the world enough to build your plot on?

Tommy Lee Jones kinda phones in his performance as the gruff commander of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, Captain America's outfit. He does have a great throwaway line during a chase that's a real keeper.

Things sort of go wobbly in the second hour. I didn't appreciate director Joe Johnston and his screenwriters breaking into a montage to demonstrate Captain America's growing status as a war hero. It felt lazy and short-shrifted.

Lord knows I'm a literalist, but would have liked somebody to explain why Captain America's shield returns to him after he throws it at bad guys. Yes, we learn it's vibranium, the rarest substance on earth, and can absorb any shock. Still doesn't explain the boomerang-ism.

And the finale, where Captain American makes a brave sacrifice in the frozen tundra, left me scratching my head. Oh, stuff your spoiler complaints -- the movie is called "Captain America: The First Avenger," so we already know he returns in next summer's tent pole movie. And the first thing we see is some guys pulling his popsicle-ized tush out of the ice.

Although Nick Fury's been recruiting his team for so long, I'd hate to have been the first guy who joined. He's spent years waiting around in the club house for the gang to be assembled. Plus, isn't by definition Fury himself the first Avenger?

Anyway, without totally giving it away, Captain America is in a position where (he says) he can't stop something from happening. And then he proceeds to demonstrate that, in fact, he does have control over the situation. But instead of going back the way he came, he decides he's going to throw himself on the figurative grenade. Maybe you can figure it out, I can't.

2.5 stars out of four

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