Words On Film: Captain America - The First Avenger

My oh my it has been a long time since last I went to the theatre. I've seen a few movies since a late viewing of Exit Through The Gift Shop, but I just haven't gotten around to putting them on "paper." This time though, as my geekiness goes all a-flutter, I saw a superhero film that just happens to be the best thing to happen to that genre since Spider-Man 2. That film was Captain America: The First Avenger. Despite Captain America's potent patriotism, this film never uses that as a crutch. Instead, to great effect, it plays a few jokes on the premise of this great American hero. But all of those jokes are in good fun, ultimately leaving Captain America rooted strongly as a World War II movie, in the wonderful spirit of past revisionist history pieces like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Inglourious Basterds. Director Joe Johnston employs as many charming gimmicks as possible. He brings back the glamorous '40s vibe he brought to The Rocketeer years ago, but this time avoids too much befuddling "gee-golly" style naivete. Overall, the film lives by gutty performances, a tongue-in-cheek ethic, and by embracing the charming action-adventure ethos of its imagined WWII-era.

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers very well. And in a staggering bit of effective, finally! CGI work, appears at the beginning of the film as a waifish, but proud and brave version of himself. Captain America demonstrates how to use CGI well. Even as I was looking for cracks in the veneer, trying to find some errors in the "shrink-job," I was impressed that they didn't try too much. We should commend any director of action, adventure or comics for not falling into the "Because we CAN, we SHOULD" trap that plagues many movies. But besides that, Captain America gets great performances from a quietly all-star-ish cast. Tommy Lee Jones provides a large portion of the quippy, drawling humor, calling back to his smart-ass-man-with-a-plan from The Fugitive and U.S. Marshals, only with a much lighter heart. English actress Hayley Atwell is excellent as love-interest/bad-ass woman-warrior Peggy Carter. And then there's Hugo Weaving, who is convincingly hammy and over-the-top as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. But, the entire cast deserve props for playing big, comic book/1940s-as-we-glamorize-it characters like Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark (great) and Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine.

Beyond the humor and the excellent color palette, Captain America's script is strong, offering only what it needs and never going on long, drawn out rants. Rather than having Steve Rogers expose on patriotism or freedom, the film embraces friendship, love and perseverance. And the story, brilliantly really (compared to many other contemporary comic book films), keeps quality content coming from start to finish. Some moments are predictable, as they will be in a genre film like this, but Johnston doesn't use long battles or pointless hero v. villain dialog to fill in gaps. Add the excellent book-ending, which sets up for Captain America's role in next year's The Avengers, and the functionally emotional and understated ending that it emphasizes, and this is simply a great film. Plus there's a great a joke made by Weaving's Schmidt regarding the aforementioned Raiders of the Lost Ark in the first 20 minutes. And it's just a well written, Allies v. Nazis, Good v. Evil piece. Go enjoy this film. It is worth seeing in the theatre for comic buffs or summer fun film seekers, but would be worth the rental too. Just see it.

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