Captain America: The First Avenger. Directed by Joe Johnston.
Here’s the story. During World War Two, Steve Rogers (played in a miracle of modern technology initially by Chris Evans’ face superimposed over Richard Simmons body circa 2045, and then by Chris Evans’ face superimposed over Jean-Claude Van Damme’s body circa 1987) is a malnourished orphan who has a fetish for being punched in the face. Rather than continuing to get killed slowly in Brooklyn, he attempts to join the army so that he can get killed quickly in Europe. He is so passionate about upholding the values and laws of the United States that he breaks them constantly in an attempt to join said army. Stanley Tucci (playing Wise Old Mentor Number One), discovers Steve’s little scam, and rewards his illegal activity by injecting enough experimental performance enhancements into his body to make Lance Armstrong’s dick fall off.
In the meantime, a hideous racist cult leader with a horrible, gaunt face and a demonic, jutting skull (played beautifully to type with no need for makeup or even acting by Anne Coulter) is planning to either a) take over the Nazi Party from within, b) become a godlike deity through his discovery of an extra-dimensional energy containment unit, or c) blow the holy whatsit out of the entire planet for shits and giggles. Or some combination of the three.
Three seconds after Steve is transformed into a 6’6 adonis with abs that look like you could crack a Pterodactyl egg over them (or as my wife said with a terrifying, slightly glazed glint in her eye, and a speck of drool on her chin, “NOW this movie is getting interesting…”), one of the Red Skull’s agents kills Stanley Tucci, leaving Steve Rogers in the horrible position of being a handsome middle class white male in great physical shape that has the full support of the U.S. government.
Steve’s reaction to all of this is what any sane rational human being that just lost the only person who had any confidence in him would be: He goes into show business. After hosting the Chase and Sanborn show for a while, he gets called a nancy boy by Tommy Lee Jones (Wise Old Mentor Number Two), and then decides to become a genuine war hero that single-handedly wins the war for America, thereby insuring millenia of prosperity for a country that of course wouldn’t be stupid enough to consider defaulting on debts that their Congress ALREADY APPROVED 4 MONTHS EARLIER in an attempt to gain political brownie points among a base that has moved so far to the right that Ronald Reagan came back from the grave to ask everybody if they could just take a deep breath and calm down. Or something like that.
Things I liked:
- The plot. Like Thor, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk before it, Captain America has a well-written plot, with clear, accessible beats that make it easy for comic-neophytes to follow. In Cap’s case, the script does a great job of taking 70 years of random, unconnected story lines, and putting them in one, easy to follow package.
- The characters. Joe Johnston did a really nice job in ensuring that Captain America’s character was a fleshed out one, and his take on the character reminds me somewhat of Mark Gruenwald’s slightly conflicted late 80’s version. His motivation here isn’t one of faux-nationalism the way it is in Mark Millar’s Ultimates line, it’s one of fair play. The Red, White, and Blue, and the Flag stuff are all beside the point when it comes to the bottom line: Everyone is equal, and everyone should be allowed to live in peace. Simple, I know, but it’s part of the reason why the actual characterization of Cap has meant so much to young comic fans over the years, even Canadian ones.
- The love for the fans. Marvel has perfected the art of the easter egg to a science. Like with other Marvel films, there are plenty of little bonuses that mean a lot to life long comic book fans, but aren’t even noticeable to those that have never heard of the character before today. And so things like the great shout out to the original Human Torch, or to Jim Steranko’s run on S.H.I.E.L.D., or the tie-ins to the Thor and Hulk movies, or to the hints to the future fates of Arnim Zola and Bucky Barnes, or the “blink and you’ll miss it” reference to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, or the clever way that Joe Johnston found to film the cover of 1941’s Captain America #1, won’t mean anything to someone like my wife, but mean a lot to people like me (and I guess also to my wife, who claimed that I kept hitting her every time one of these little hints showed up on-screen). Now none of this makes for a good film. But it helps buy off the fanboys that Marvel needs to keep happy.
- The tone. Now, I don’t think Captain America succeeded at this to the extent that the Indy movies do, or something like Sky Captain or Johnston’s own The Rocketeer did. But Captain America still does a nice job in recreating that old B movie serial pulp feel that is so integral to the world of golden age comic books.
- The cheapness. In the short time that Marvel has been an independent film studio, it’s become legendary for its frugalness. And it’s starting to show. I’m all for making movies on the cheap, but Marvel needs to start ponying up some cash if they want to duplicate Spider-Man or Dark Knight success. While the poor quality of the CGI isn’t as noticeable in Captain America as it was in Thor, it’s still quite prevalent. It’s in set design that Marvel’s fondness for a buck really shines through in this film however, and it’s part of the reason why Cap often comes across a poor man’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark.