On Sunday, 24 July 2011, Janice and I returned to the Showcase Cinemas at Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts, for Captain America: the First Avenger. I’m pleased to report that the latest movie adaptation from Marvel Comics is one of the best genre movies so far this year and could be one of my favorite superhero flicks ever!
Director Joe Johnston is no stranger to World War II and action films, with experience in the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Rocketeer franchises. Despite some anachronistic costumes and dialogue (not counting the deliberately science fiction premise and villains), Johnston keeps a steady hand on the proceedings.
For those not familiar with one of the older and more popular comic book heroes, Steve Rogers is a runty kid from Brooklyn who seeks to serve his country and is given a chance to do so by scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine. Turned into the super soldier Captain America, Rogers fights Nazis before being trapped in ice and finding himself in our era, decades later, surrounded by modern superheroes.
The First Avenger is faithful to the comics of Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Ed Brubaker, and Steve Epting. In fact, the work of the latter two brought me back to reading some Marvel titles. Actor Chris Evans, who played the cocky Johnny Storm/Human Torch in the Fantastic Four flicks, is properly virtuous and a blank slate for his physical transformation from a skinny street kid into the buff war-bonds salesman and eventual combat leader. It wouldn’t be Cap if he didn’t get to sling his trademark shield.
Evans is initially overshadowed by the performances of veterans Tommy Lee Jones as the gruff Col. Chester Phillips and Stanley Tucci as the humane Dr. Erskine. He later is supported by Sebastian Stan as sniper sidekick Bucky Barnes, Dominic Cooper as inventor Howard Stark (father of Iron Man‘s Tony Stark), and Star Trek: First Contact‘s Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan of the Howling Commandos. Hayley Atwell (from The Prisoner remake) as comely Peggy Carter and Natalie Dormer (from The Tudors) as minx Priv. Lorraine are among the few women who get to interact with Rogers.
The visual effects are good, especially in the beginning of the movie, where Evans’ face is transposed on a slight-framed body in Depression-era New York. I did notice some blue- or green-screen lighting in later scenes, but the requisite explosions, slow-motion combat, and airborne stunts were all decently rendered. A motorcycle chase scene, attempted train heist, and flying wing all pay homage to the other franchises that Johnston has worked on. The instrumental soundtrack evokes the jazz age but isn’t especially memorable.
Captain America‘s story moves easily from stateside to overseas. Richard Armitage (Guy of Guisborne in the BBC’s recent Robin Hood and Thorin Oakenshield in the upcoming Hobbit) is a Nazi assassin. He is soon surpassed in villainy by Toby Jones (from Doctor Who) as meek scientist Arnim Zola and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, and V for Vendetta) as Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. the Red Skull and mad leader of Nazi splinter group Hydra. Their ambiguous fates, however, were refreshing for what could have been a uberpatriotic plot.
As with Thor and other recent Marvel origin stories, Captain America is somewhat predictable and obviously leads into next year’s Avengers (stay after the closing credits for a preview). The alternate-history war movie, which reminded me of Inglorious Basterds, leaves enough room for Capt. America to have flashbacks in future films.
Overall, Disney/Marvel has continued its winning streak, staying ahead of rival DC Comics in live-action adaptations. I’d give Captain America, which is rated PG-13 for violence, an “A-,” four out of five stars, or an 8.5 out of 10. I liked it a bit more than Green Lantern or Thor, if not as much as the 1978 and 1980 Superman films.
In other superhero news, I’ve watched the first few episodes of SyFy’s Alphas, which combines the ordinary people with powers from Heroes and No Ordinary Family with the covert teams from various espionage shows. It’s decent — I’d rate it a “B-” so far, but I doubt it’ll last.
Even as Marvel’s Super Hero Squad and DC’s Young Justice have yet to return, I’m looking forward to this week’s premieres of the anime-style Iron Man and Wolverine on G4, to eventually be joined by Blade and yet another incarnation of the X-Men. I expect Season 2 of The Avengers to be the strongest of these cartoons.
Also premiering this coming weekend is the Thundercats revival, whose previews gave me a good Avatar: the Last Airbender vibe. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be getting another computer-animated makeover, similar to Star Wars: Clone Wars and Bruce Timm‘s upcoming Green Lantern TV series.
DC is holding onto its lead in direct-to-video cartoons, however, with Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, among other projects announced at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. So many superheroes, so little time! And I haven’t even touched actual comic books or RPGs based on them yet!