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The following is a part of the Avengers YNInitiative, a series of at least four articles that will be written over the course of at least the next three years. These articles will focus on the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it explodes from the comics page to the silver screen. These articles will serve to review the films released in the context of the larger picture that they strive to create. Keep in mind as you read this that as these articles are written, they will contain spoilers for all product released at the time and may also contain non-spoiler information regarding future films.
The Movie 4/5
Iím a bit late with my review of Captain America, mostly because I had hoped to see it a second time in order to form a better opinion of it. For now, youíll have to bear with my month-old memories of what may be the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Certainly it is a movie marred with imperfections (few movies can claim otherwise), but it really seems to be the best weíve got so far out of the five movies released.
Captain America: The First Avenger (a title sure to give internet reviewers conniptions simply because of the number of colons) tells the story of Steve Rogers, 98-pound (soaking wet) weakling who wishes to do nothing more than contribute to the war effort and help take down the Nazi menace. As with Thor, for comic-readers, the story is semi-predictable: Steve is chosen to test an experimental super-soldier serum and transforms into Captain America, sentinel of liberty! From there he takes the fight to the Nazis, stops the evil Red Skull and his villainous HYDRA organization, and is finally frozen in the arctic ocean only to be thawed out decades later (and just in time for a team-up!).
Director Joe Johnston gets the period piece aesthetic just right. Itís a nice mix of the first Iron Man and Indiana Jones, with a dash of Spider-Man 3ís musical numbers (Iíll get to that later). None of this is a surprise as Johnston directed, two decades earlier, what was probably the best (only?) superhero period piece in 1991ís ďThe Rocketeer.Ē Captain America, to me, feels like The Rocketeer done with a bigger budget and a 2011 sensibility. Johnston has a firm handle on the universe: itís World War II, so the fact that the enemy even HAS a laser gun is mind-blowing, but also flamethrowers and even shields are still viable weapons.
The cast is definitely well-chosen with Stanley Tucciís turn as kindly-yet-doomed Professor Abraham Erskine being the stand-out of the film. Hugo Weaving devours scenery whole as Johann Schmidt, and when the face comes off to reveal the Red Skull underneath, well, he just becomes some kind of scenery-chewing Galactus. Of course Chris Evans, who is quickly following the Ryan Reynolds path of becoming a good actor when I thought he was the worst ever, does a fantastic job as Captain America and you can definitely see him carrying a scene with Robert Downey, Jr. next year. Rounding out the main cast: Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (who gets far too little screen-time), Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter (can I say sheís the hottest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe love interests? She so is), Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones is always fun to have around), Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (who did a pretty hilarious impression of RDJ), and Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips (who just wouldnít STOP dropping one-liners).
All that said, letís make a pit-stop in Cameo Village, and the populationís pretty high here. Obviously the Howling Commandos (led by Neal McDonough who is almost wasted because he rules) show up, though their ranks are composed of regular Commandos members Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones, but followed by two very, very minor characters: Jim Morita (an ally of the Commandos) and Jacques Dernier (a minor French resistance fighter). The team is rounded out by the British James Montgomery Falsworth, better known to comics fans as the original UK superhero known as Union Jack.
Other fun stuff: Arnim Zola appears first as a giant face on a screen, which is how he appears in the comics (go Google him and youíll see what I mean), Captain America holds the first issue of his own comic in his hands at one point, Marvel artifact the Cosmic Cube (notably a Skrull-created object) plays a large part in the story, the original android Human Torch can be seen on display at the worldís fair (just as he was in his origin story), Vibranium is namedropped as being the main component of Capís shield (which it is, and itís also heavily related to another Avenger: The Black Panther), and of course most of the Skullís entire plan, including finding the Cube and his eventual fate in being pulled through a tesseract, seems to stem from his knowledge of the Asgardians from Thor. In fact, that final wormhole he falls through looks awfully familiar...
Now, of course, no movie is perfect. Captain America suffers from a few drawbacks. While I enjoyed it heavily, not all audiences will get the musical number and how genius it is. I really disliked it at first, but looking back it really fits and gets the tone across. Also, the addition and almost immediate death of Bucky seemed almost tacked on: while I liked the Howling Commandosí scenes, I couldíve done without them to see more Steve/Bucky scenes. They worked well together, and Buckyís death seems to have a lot less meaning than it did in the comics. It seemed that, aside from Steve himself, no one else got to develop - they were who they are when you meet them. Thatís not to say the characters were bad necessarily, it just seemed that no one went on any sort of character journey save for the main character - however, if Johnston was trying to keep with the trend of superhero serials of the 1940s, then I guess he hit it dead on. Weíve just evolved as a filmgoing audience since then.
In all, however, despite itís flaws I think Captain America was the best of the Marvel Studios films Iíve reviewed for this site. While no one else makes a significant ďarc,Ē Steve Rogersí arc is more than satisfying. There is one point of the movie that I really, really hated - so much so that Iím bringing the final score for this review down a whole half point. Ready?
Final Thoughts 4/5
UGH, the ending! It was so very, very jarring and did not flow well. Obviously Captain America wakes up in the present, that much is obvious. However, all signs point to the fact that his waking up and running from Nick Fury was supposed to be the original after-credits sequence. Ending the movie solemnly, with Captain America seemingly dead would have been genius. Instead, he wakes up and thereís a chase scene rife with snarky dialogue that only Joss Whedon could deliver (as he directed this scene). I LIKE Joss Whedon, I think his dialogue is great and Iím really excited for his treatment of the Avengers, however, it stuck out like a sore thumb transitioning from Johnston to Whedon. Theyíre both great but so, so, so, SO different. A really bad choice, even if it got us a cool Avengers trailer after the credits.
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