Friday, July 22, 2011

Review for Captain America – The First Avenger.

Last night, my wife and I made it out to the Midnight showing of Captain America. Midnight shows have always been something kind of special for me, as you get the fans who are really into whatever the film you are about to see is about. No one in there just trying to kill a few hours or to not have to interact with their shrieking offspring for a few hours, just... fans. It is different going to one of these when unemployed. You don't have to worry about how the late night out will affect you at work the next day, and you've probably gotten into the habit of staying up too late already. At this stage of the game, if I can manage it, I'll try to see all my movies as Midnight showings. More respectful audience and I can go out at my leisure? Yes, please. But what about the film itself?

There were a lot of ways they could have gone with this, and I
respect the choices made to bring this to the big screen.

Marvel faced a unique set of challenges in the making of Captain America: The First Avenger. Set in front of them was the task of doing an origin story for a character set in World War 2, giving that character his due as a major superhero, and getting that same character from the 1940s to being ready to return for the Avengers Movie next year. Given that Cap has a 70 year history and his backstory has taken many crazy twists and turns in all those years, this is a tall order. All the other usual comic-book film challenges are present as well, incorporating a costume that might look great in a comic book (but ridiculous on-screen,) developing the main character without neglecting important secondary characters and villains, etc...

The brains behind this film knocked it out of the park. Not only did they hit the high points I list above, but they also managed to tighten up the connections between Captain America, Thor and Iron Man to set the stage. Let's be frank for a moment. There were changes made, though not many to Steve Rogers, his origin, and the essence of the character. Most of the significant changes were made to explain or justify elements that, had they been 100% true to the comics, would have taken hours of exposition to explain minor points or would have looked like nonsense and disrupted the flow of the story. Most of the significant changes were in Captain America's specific actions in the war, and in the motivations and background of The Red Skull.

Instead of ignoring Cap's origin as a pulp-action bit of WWII propaganda, the film
embraces it, reframes it and makes you care about the character because of it.

In the comics, both Cap himself and the Red Skull had a whole lot more to do with the war and the fight against Nazi Germany than their film counterparts. The Skull from the comics was personally trained by Hitler, and remained one of his top agents throughout the war, and Cap regularly fought on the front lines, with nazis as his stock enemy. In the film, the Red Skull is still, of course, a nazi in terms of origins, but he breaks away from Hitler in favor of allegiance to HYDRA, which he leads in pursuit of using super-science to conquer the world and destroy his enemies. The shift in focus from Cap fighting Nazis to fighting HYDRA troopers keeps the story on-task. (If I need to pick nits at this stage, I could complain that the "Hail HYDRA" salute looks a little silly.) This is a story with a lot of respect for the original material, but one that can't sacrifice telling a comprehensible story to comic-book accuracy.

Those original 1940s comics, with Captain America as propaganda tool punching out Hitler and with the kite shield rather than his now-iconic Vibranium round shield are paid homage to in a clever and unexpected way that also explains the costume in a world that is otherwise gritty 1940s pulp. The transition from “war movie” to “superhero movie” is aided by the Red Skull and Arnim Zola (played by Toby Jones, perfectly cast as the version of the Nazi scientist before he started impanting himself into android bodies with a big face in the chest.) The origins of HYDRA are linked to the Red Skull's obsession with the occult and how it can be bent to evil scientific ways. The source of the Skull's superweaponry is The Tessaract, a piece stolen, according to legend, from Odin's treasure room, which ties in nicely with THOR.

Zola and the Skull years after the war. I was geeking out over how well they handled Zola without
going too far and showing him in his final supervillain form.

The supporting cast manages to work in not only “Bucky” Barnes, who is a necessary component in a story about Captain America, but also some of the top characters from other WWII-era Marvel titles and a link back to Iron Man. The presence of Stark Industries as a military weapons contractor fits with what we know from the Iron Man films. Tony Stark's grandfather is an important character whose presence is only natural in a science-based program in the war effort. I was more impressed with how neatly many of the iconic members of the Howling Commandoes were worked in, in particular Dum Dum Dugan, Jim Morita, Gabriel Jones and Montgomery Falsworth. Though in the comic universe these characters were led by Nick Fury, their placement in the film does the characters justice and they get to be heroes on-screen in a support role to what could have been a one-man show.

All of the characters from this era who, in the Marvel continuity, survive from the 1940s to the present day are handled neatly in a “for this story, their role is complete, but you didn't see a body now, did you?” manner. The film opens telling us that the classic method of getting Steve Rogers from hero of the past into the present is maintained with him, and his shield, encased in ice. By the end of this movie, Cap's own story has been told and all of the pieces are in place to properly launch The Avengers as a single film, and if the story told there is as well done as the work on Iron Man, THOR and Captain America... hopefully a series of movies. I know I'll be lined up to see Joss Whedon's take on bringing all these characters from their own movies into a superteam ensemble... most likely, at Midnight.

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Erika said...

I want to see this. Even if just outta curiosity....

Monty said...

Really miffed off as I had chance to appear in this as an extra (no, seriously ) but unfortunately couldn't get the time off my main commitments...ho hum, have to roll around in the mud firing blanks again some other time...hopefully :)

Alpha said...

Too bad they dropped Norton for the Avengers.

Jay said...

as a marvel fan, i'm happy to see the movies this year doing fairly well.

the only concern that i have is for black widow in the avengers movie; they better make her a hongkong style melee menace instead of just eye candy in iron man 2.

Electric Addict said...

looks pretty good actually

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