Saturday, July 30, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

"I don't want to kill anyone, I just don't like bullies"

The First Avenger is, as far as I'm concerned, one of Marvels best super hero movies to date. It had plenty of action and explosions to satisfy the popcorn crowd, but at the same time the story made sense and the characters were interesting. Also of note is how flawlessly this movie ties into the other Marvel flicks that have come before it. The First Avenger is, I think, the first Avengers tie in that doesn't feel like it's had to sacrifice story for the sake of the 'bigger picture.' More than anything else though, the movie owes its success to Chris Evans (who owns the role of Cap) and Stanley Tucci, who's small but pivotal role adds a lot of heart to what might have otherwise been another pedestrian hero story. The critics have been fairly positive about Cap as well; currently the average on RT is 77%

The movie follows the rise of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he goes from wannabe soldier to the pinnacle of the US war effort. Poor Steve is desperate to serve his country, not because he's a glory hound or because he wants to kill Nazi's, but because he's genuinely a good guy. This is a theme the movie pounds into our head repeatedly, but it really does work. Steve wants to serve because he believes he has no right to sit on the sidelines while other men are giving their lives. It is this inherent 'goodness' that catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who then invites Steve to be a potential candidate for a top secret super soldier program. After Steve's successful enhancement a saboteur destroys the lab, preventing any more soldiers being created and leaving Steve as a lone science experiment instead of part of an elite team as the army had envisioned. Not to be dissuaded Steve takes it upon himself to be more than just a poster boy for US recruitment and takes the fight directly to the man responsible for the sabotage, Johann Schmidt a.k.a. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

As I said, I think the strongest contributors to the movie are Chris Evans and Stanley Tucci. Evans does an excellent job bringing Steve Rogers to life. I was fairly confident in the casting choice when I first heard about it almost a year ago now, and I'm happy to say my confidence was well placed. Evans successfully blends tough guy action hero with a warm personality that makes him all the more believable on screen. Stanley Tucci's character is also portrayed very well, assuming the role of kindly old mentor in a way. One of my favourite scenes in the movie was between the scrawny Steve Rogers and the wise old Dr Erskine on the night before the procedure. The actors have a great chemistry on screen and their time together feels very genuine. I would of course be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful Hugo Weaving, a man who can chew scenery like no other. In my mind there was really no other actor that could have played The Red Skull, Weaving has that perfect sneer that lends itself well to playing a villain. Even more so than Evans as Cap, Weaving really looked the part.

Notable supporting roles include Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Phillips), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), and Niel McDonough (Dum Dum Doogan). All of these actors, especially Stan as Bucky, played very well with the leads. The brotherly relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes was very clear even when the characters were just on screen together and not conversing. Love interest Peggy Carter was also nicely portrayed in the movie, the relationship was developed well; always just one step away from actually 'getting there'. I was very happy to see Dum Dum Doogan an the rest of the Howling Commandos get some screen time, as a fan of the comics I was looking forward to seeing these guys working with Cap. I would have liked to see Nick Fury as part of the team too, but sadly the movies have gone a different way in that regard. The only real disappointing casting in my view is that of Howard Stark. Following up from the impressive screen presence of John Slattery in Iron Man 2, Mamma Mia alum Dominic Cooper was something of a let down in the role.

As one would expect from a big budget Marvel Studios flick, the special effects were terrific. The Red Skulls' Hydra tech looked terrific on screen. Even the simple things like his car were lovingly detailed. It was also great to see set pieces like the Stark Expo show up again (though in 40's style). Even the retro look of New York looked flawless on screen. The F/X and the costume team deserve a lot of praise for the overall look of the picture. I'll admit I wasn't too sure about the 40's Captain America costume when I first saw the stills, but on screen it actually does work very well.

As I suggested in my opening summary, this movie is the first Marvel Studios flick that seamlessly integrates the Avengers tie ins. Iron Man 2 suffered story-wise by trying to shoe horn in elements from the Avengers and Hawk Eyes cameo in Thor seemed a tad superfluous. Not so with Captain America, where casual references are made to Odin's Vault (Thor), Stark Industries (Iron Man) and obviously the super soldier serum (Incredible Hulk). The integration is so smooth that it really helps sell the idea that all these heroes exist in the one universe.

I really don't have a lot of criticism for the movie as I really had a fun time watching it. However, if I were to really scratch my head and think about it I suppose there is one major point I could nitpick at. If you plan on seeing Captain America, don't waste your money paying for a 3D ticket. I did catch a 3D showing, but only because the time was more convenient than the 2D alternative. I can tell you that aside from a couple of scenes (perhaps 5-8 minutes out of the entire movie) the 3D is barely noticeable and certainly not worth the extra £2.50 I paid for it. As much as I enjoyed the movie I really do feel that, as in most cases, the 3D added nothing to the value of the experience. I've made my feelings pretty clear on 3D before so I wont go into a whole rant on it again, but suffice to say I'm not a fan. Tell the studios how you feel about 3D by acting with your wallet... see it in 2D instead.

Overall I think Captain America: The First Avenger is an excellent final step into the epic movie event that is The Avengers. Furthermore it has a host of great characters/actors coupled with an exciting story and stunning set pieces/special fx. Stop by your local multiplex and check it out for yourself, even if you're not a diehard Marvel Comics fanatic there is a lot to enjoy in this latest Summer blockbuster.

Final Verdict on Captain America: The First Avenger:

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