Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stars and Stripes Forever!

Captain America: The First Avenger  (Paramount, 2011)

Before the Camera:

Chris Evans  (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer)
Hugo Weaving  (The Wolfman '10)
Hayley Atwell  (Cassandra's Dream)
Sebastian Stan  (Hot Tub Time Machine)
Tommy Lee Jones  (Jackson County Jail)
Dominic Cooper  (From Hell)
Richard Armitage  (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
Toby Jones  (Infamous)
Neal McDonough  (Star Trek: First Contact)
Derek Luke  (Biker Boyz)
Kenneth Choi  (Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil
JJ Feild  (Blood: The Last Vampire)
Stanley Tucci  (Monkey Shines)
as Dr. Abraham Erskine
Samuel L. Jackson  (Amos & Andrew)        <--------I worked on that one!
as Nick Fury

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Joe Johnston

Produced by Victoria Alonso, Louis D'Esposito, Kevin Feige, Stan Lee and 10 other assorted co-producers, executive producers, associate producers, and one stereoscopic executive producer

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on the character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

In December 1940, Captain America Comics #1 appeared on news stands, from the imprint of Timely comics. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, this patriotic new comic book character arrived at a propitious moment - one year before the United States entered World War II. Across the next 10 years, Captain America and his secret identity of Steve Rogers proved to be a very popular character, even earning a fan club called The Sentinels of Liberty. The stories and art in these early comics were very simple, with little or no character development, just a few pages of fast smash and bash action. The magazine also made comics history when issue #3 featured the first printed comics work of one Stanley Lieber, a young writer so fully aware of his authorial destiny outside the comics field that he went with a pen name - Stan Lee - on his text story "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge," and 70 (!) years later, still using that name as perhaps the most famous comic book writer of all time! The character of Captain America faded during the 1950's as superhero comics took a backseat to horror and monster stories. Then, in 1964, with Timely Comics now known as Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, now so firmly ensconced in comics writing that he is serving as the editor-in-chief of the whole Marvel line, has found great success with The Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man. Looking for more characters to spring upon the world. Lee decides to revive Captain America, and has a frozen Captain America found and thawed out in Avengers #4 (March 1964). Using Lee's standard formula of giving his characters real world-style problems and worries, this Steve Rogers is now a man out of time, thawed out in a world 20 years beyond what he knew, and stranding him in personal isolation even as the leader of the supergroup The Avengers. Cap quickly proved himself a very popular character all over again, and continues on in some form through the comics of today.

   Now comes the character's newest Big Screen Adventure (newest because there were some previous flicks with the character, as Monday's Maniacal Movie Posters post showed) Chris Evans, with a pretty uncanny CGI assist, plays Steve Rogers, an extremely scrawny self-described "kid from Brooklyn" who just wants to join the military so he can do his part in the new war effort.

Unfortunately, Rogers is the poster boy for 98 Pound Weakling of the Year, and has been classified 4F 5 times. Just as he's about to give up hope, he runs into Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci), a German scientist looking for the right person to become an experimental subject for his Super Soldier program. More than a frail frame to be bolstered by the experiment the wise German doctor is looking for the guy with the right stuff on the inside - the heroism and ability to lead that only the best men have. He finds that in Steve Rogers, much to the consternation of military attache Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) who doesn't see how the shrimpy Rogers will ever amount to much of a regular soldier, let alone a Super Soldier. Rogers has more of an effect on Peggy Carter (Atwell), Colonel Phillips' lone female recruit. But when Erskine injects Steve with the rather creepy blue formula (which should look familiar to those who saw 2008's The Incredible Hulk *cough-Abomination-cough* and bathes him in "vita-rays" Steve finds instant results that leave Charles Atlas and Tony Little in the dust. Moments later, the vita-ray chamber opens, and out comes the new and improved Steve Rogers 2.0:

Unfortunately the military can think of little to do with him and consigns the newly minted "Captain America" to a war bonds drive and USO show. Outfitted in blue tights that both honor and poke fun at the comics' original version of his costume, Steve is aghast at this turn of events but does his duty honorably even while hoping to see action out on the front.

Even as he performs, however, an evil force is rising - a splinter Nazi group called Hydra headed by one Johann Schmidt, a madman searching for an ultimate power source - a kind of cosmic cube - that he says holds the power of the gods. He might well be right, since the first time we saw this cube it was earlier this summer in Odin's mancave (godcave?) in Asgard in Thor. Schmidt also knows Dr. Erskine, a fact that may have had an effect on Schmidt's countenance -why do they call him The Red Skull back in Berlin? -  and which will definitely cause Steve Rogers problems down the line.

When Johann Schmidt asks you "one lump or two?" you can
be sure he means it...

Finally, after an unathorized rescue behind enemy lines nets the allies a ready-made commando squad (actually the "Howling Commandos" of the comics, but not namechecked here) and scores Captain America the respect of Colonel Phillips, he is allowed to fulfill his destiny. With a little help from Howard Stark (father of Tony "Iron Man" Stark), Steve is suited up to truly become the Star Spangled Avenger - and look out Axis, here he comes!
C'mon, boys, these Nazis won't kill themselves...
 So far, Marvel has been knocking these flicks out of the park this summer! And strangely, instead of superhero fatigue, the three releases have actually increased in quality each time! Thor was good, X-Men: First Class was very good, and Captain America: The First Avenger is pretty much great. Right from the get-go, this one mostly gets everything right. Unlike almost every other Captain America film project, this one gives us the comic book origin, and unlike most of the others again, stays smack in the 1940's for the bulk of the movie. This gives the finished film a simple and honest earnestness that walks right up to the corny line, but never steps over. The casting is perfect, starting out of the gate with Chris Evans. Although he'd already made a Marvel mark playing Johnny "The Human Torch" Storm in the two recent Fantastic Four movies, Evans jumps into this role with both feet, and proves perfect for the role. even moreso than the devil-may-care Torch. His Steve Rogers is spunky and determined as the little guy; later he becomes more contemplative when he's bulked up. As Captain America (the warrior, not the show guy) he is big but graceful; coiled energy swinging that shield every which way and letting fly for perfect hits and ricochets as he mows down the baddies with fists and weapons. Evans is matched down the line by the rest of the cast, too. Must mentions go to Toby Jones as the still-human Arnim Zola (his eventual form in later stories in the comics is grotesque on a good day; a development alluded to in the first shot featuring the character that will zoom over the heads of those without sufficent geekitude, but appreciated by those of us "in the know.") and Tommy Lee Jones as the sarcastic Army colonel - throwing off his lines with a perfect light touch, or is it possible enough disinterested in his supporting role that it was easy for director Johnston to keep him grounded and on just the right note throughout? Interviews with the actor about his part in this movie suggest the latter, but who am I to say? I just work here. It's also very cool to see The Howling Commandos brought to life looking VERY much like their comic books counterparts, and I am also happy to report that we do get a Stan "The Man" Lee cameo which is short but gives the eternally boyish comics legend a funny line of dialogue.

The other inspired bit of casting is Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull. Our erstwhile Elrond from the Lord of the Rings movies is spot-on as the Nazi baddie: cold, cruel, calculating, and perfectly willing to kill, maim, or destroy anyone or anything in the way of his Master Plan. And for once in a superhero movie, the hero isn't the one with the cool car - no sir, that honor belongs far and away to Mr. Johann Schmidt in this movie. Check that baby out!

In this one, it's the bad guy who knows chicks always go for
the car...

Comics fans will be delighted with the little nods and touches to comics lore - like the human figure in the glass tube at the World's Fair, for example. The action and stunts are plentiful and well handled, with exactly the kind of battling and derring-do that Cap's been performing in his comics appearances for 70-ish years now. Director Joe Johnston, who also helmed The Rocketeer, brings the same sense of period to this movie, and it works really well. The 40's production design and costuming is terrific, and the movie looks marvellous (pun intended) from first frame to last. I saw this one in 3-D too, at the recommendation of my long time movie pal Richard. (Thanks, RBR!) And while it isn't a necessity in this case - much like Thor -  it worked pretty well here - better than Thor, actually -  especially considering it was a conversion job - just like Thor! Director Johnston skipped the heavy 3-D cameras but planned for the third dimension from the get-go, which shows; as does the care brought to the upgrade. Everything had a pleasing roundness and depth, although very little came off the screen, which is my favorite thing in 3-D movies. So, it's highly skippable in 3-D if you're not into that - but worth it if you don't mind the expense and enjoy the depth it brings. So, all in all, Captain America: The First Avenger turns out to be a fine Summer Movie - long on spectacle, but not short on cleverness and humor. Do I even need to mention that viewers should stay put through the end credits - a move that rewards the patient viewer with not just an extra few seconds of a scene but considerably more - though I'll go into no more detail here. I do have one quibble - the plot twist that causes Cap to come forward to the modern day is handled pretty matter-of-factly - one might almost say mishandled; because while comics fans familiar with the origin story in its 1960's form will certainly know what is going on, those coming to the movie cold will be left out in the cold about exactly how we get from that cold opening in the cold to the cold realization that time has passed while our hero was sleeping. In the cold. Am I getting warm in making my point? Well, if so, you know what they say: when you're hot you're hot.
    But I digress.
    It's the American in me.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

I'm once again not sure, but feel like I heard it in there somewhere - more research is indicated!

Eye Candy ?

Haley Atwell is awfully fetching in her 1940's gear and with her British accent - she's in!

And although I'm pretty sure she's not in the movie - honorable mention goes to this genderbending hottie:


Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Captain America is a terrific movie
that you don't need to be shielded from!"

Well said, O Wise One! And until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Wow, we definitely saw this movie in completely different lights. I completely skewered this and for many of the same reasons that I think you liked it. I never got into Captain America and I remember why. He was definitely too, I don't know stalwart and naive for me. His goodness seems one-dimensional.

  2. Melissa - I can totally see where you're coming from. Cap is an ideal; a Boy Scout whose very purity and goodness makes him compelling. I don't like all of my superheroes to be like him; Marvel gets him; DC gets Superman (and Wonder Woman to some extent) but that's it - everyone else needs to have some dirt and grit going on. So, I can go from Punisher and Wolverine through Spider-Man and Batman and over to Cap and Superman. I'm sorry you didn't have more fun with it! But thanks for stopping by!

  3. Anytime! I love coming here, you always have the most interesting posts.

    From the time I was a kid, there was something about the dark side and shadows in people that appealed to me. My nephew told me point blank I was a crabby old lady who didn't like anything when we came out of the theater and I told him I didn't like it. :)

  4. Great movie, great review. And...all together now...GREAT CAR!

  5. Awesome review. I'm pumped for some Captain! It's good to find a balance between your review and Mel's. I always like to read alternate, opposing viewpoints. Thanks for the useful insights!

  6. Count DV - great to see you back - yeah, you pegged it on that automotive dream - had to work it in!

    Matty! Terrific to see you! I can't wait to see what your review looks like - don't be a stranger!

  7. Great review, Craig. Lots of interesting details. YOU WORKED ON AMOS AND ANDREW! LOVE THAT MOVIE!

    Love Tommy Lee Jones in this...best scene for me: the jail scene with Toby Jones. Tommy eats the Porterhouse steak...and Toby is a vegetarian. LOL.

    Toby was fab in Frost/Nixon (BEST MOVIE EVER!)

    Great to see Stanley Tucci...excellent in Julie and Julia and in The Devil Wears Prada (I watch it over and over, never get enough "to jobs that pay the rent!"

    Hugo Weaving is amazing. I will always remember him best as Agent Smith in The Matrix, another film fave. Red Skull = so cool!

  8. Luana! Thank you for the kind words - yep, I did grace Amos and Andrew with my presence - and that seems to be another push to eventually getting around to posting my production stories at some point...your shout outs point out a miss in my review - I meant to include Stanley Tucci in the stand outs - the guy is always good - but he here he makes Erskine so warm and avuncular - top notch performance! And funny thing on Weaving - I'd actually listed him as our erstwhile Agent Smith from the Matrix movies - then changed it thinking LOTR is newer - I should have stuck to the Matrix reference!

  9. Great review! It's nice to see we agreed on this one for sure. It ended a bit too quickly for me. But other than that, very solid job. Always been a fan of Chris Evans, so I'm glad he's finally getting his time to shine in the A-list. And Hugo Weaving is just great in about anything. Did you see The Avengers yet? Even better than this IMO.

    1. Yeah, the ending got a little rough - we both noticed that - which is cool. I've always liked Evans too - from Cellular across both Fantastic Four movies - and not to this and beyond to...The Avengers!