Jul 22, 2011

Reaction: Captain America

In a season of blockbuster movies that range from disappointing (Green Lantern) to well executed but flawed (Super 8), I'm here to tell you that Captain America: The First Avenger is the movie you've been waiting for all summer.  Fun, upbeat, adventurous, charming, ass-kicking, large-scale, well-crafted, earnest...this is everything you want in a Friday night at the movies and more.  This is not a "I'll just wait for the DVD" kind of movie.  This is a theater-going, popcorn-munching EXPERIENCE.

Not only is Captain America unquestionably the best of the Marvel Studios movies, but this is the first movie where I don't find myself making apologies for a lack of action, or an uneven story, or bloated plot-lines.  Aside from maybe 3 or 4 dodgy FX shots of skinny Steve Rogers, (and yes, that's shots, not scenes) I walked away from the movie with virtually no regrets, and most of my issues are of a "that was awesome, I wish there was more of that" nature.  The Howling Commandos are great, but it would have been nice if they were ever referred to as such, or if any of the characters were ever called by name, especially since they have such great names, like Dum Dum Dugan.  Hayley Atwell is poised and lovely as Peggy Carter, but I would have liked one more scene with just her and Steve, something to flesh out her backstory and motivations a bit.  And while there's certainly no shortage of action, I wanted to see more in the montage of Cap's wartime battles.

The cast is excellent across the board, particularly Stanley Tucci as super soldier serum inventor Abraham Erskine, Dominic Cooper as the young Howard Stark and Tommy Lee Jones as the dryly funny General Phillips.  Hugo Weaving is given a great chunk of meat to chew on in the form of Johann Schmidt/Red Skull.  Surprisingly, he's equally compelling in both physical personas and hits all the right notes as the dark and twisted version of Rogers.

Chris Evans...oh man.  He gives one of those performances that you literally didn't know he was capable of giving.  He's kind of developed his schtick over the years, a kind of less smarmy version of Ryan Reynolds.  Well don't expect to see any of the Human Torch here.  Evans sheds all cynicism, rounding out his sharp edges into a man that is, at his core, not just strong willed but overwhelmingly decent.  He has an unshakable moral compass always does the right thing, regardless of the risks or consequences.  I'd love to see that unflinching morality really tested in later films, to see Cap get cornered into making a bad decision and forced to deal with the consequences, be it in The Avengers or future Captain America flicks, of which there should be many.

Sidenote: one the smartest choices the movie makes is to span the entirety of WWII using two great montages, which leaves the door open for future WWII era adventures, or at least extended flashbacks in a present day-set movie.  I should also point out that the movie manages not once, but twice to use montage to not just denote the passage of time, but to give us real, honest character development without bashing us over the head with it.

I haven't even talked about director Joe Johnston, the man who not only directed The Rocketeer, but also designed the Millennium Falcon.  For that alone the man gets a free pass for life, but his work here is inspired.  He manages to not only capture the tone of an idealistic and bygone era, but creates a terrific sense of heightened reality that actually manages to fit seamlessly into the period, so that I actually believe in all of Hydra's crazy weapons, most of which would be considered futuristic in present day, let alone the 1940s.  I also love the way Johnston handles Captain America's powers.  Yes, Rogers can run faster, jump higher and punch harder, but aside from a few sort of iconic, character-building moments, Johnston never draws the audience out of the scene just to showcase those abilities.  It never feels like we're being told "Look, look!  See how hard he can punch?  ISN'T IT IMPRESSIVE?!?"  Rather, in order to dispatch some faceless thug, Captain America needs only one punch, instead of four or five, and then the guy gets propelled back farther than normal, impressing us without ever demanding our attention.

Which leads me to my greatest praise for the movie.  Now, as much as I love Marvel's interconnected approach to their properties over the past few years, it's also been an incredible drain on the films themselves. Thor and particularly Iron Man 2 are great examples stories that literally get sidetracked by Nick Fury and SHEILD, and while I appreciate just how much groundwork Marvel has had to lay down before we get to The Avengers, after a while it starts to make the individual movies feel incomplete.  Large chucks of running time are dedicated to things that we hope will ultimately pay off in some other movie, and usually the story of the movie you're actually watching suffers for it.  Not only does that never happen here, but all those tendrils that connect Captain America to the larger Marvel universe actually feel natural and well integrated.  The writers finally found a way to tell a great story while including some nice touchstones from what we've already seen (I loved the callbacks to Thor) as opposed to trying to build their story around SHEILD and whatever else they think we need to know before next May.

There so much more to love here, including Alan Silvestri's soaring score and an absurdly catchy tune from Alan Menken during Steve's time with the USO (one of my favorite sequences in the movie).  Breathtaking cinematography, outstanding production design, the progression of Captain America's uniform, and a great throwaway Raiders Of The Lost Ark joke...I'm not exaggerating when I say this is the kind of movie I could spend all summer watching, and I plan to see it again at least once more before it exits theaters.  Do yourself a favor and make the time for this one.  Go out of your way.  See it in 3D if the technology doesn't give you migraines.

And, as with all Marvel movies, make sure to stay after the credits.


  1. Really, better than the first Iron Man? And I disagree with the 3D rec. This was the first movie where I was kept thinking, "wow, people are right. This IS too dark and murky. I can't see a thing."

  2. Ha, I sound like Jamie. My first thought was, "Better than Iron Man? Better than X-Men First Class?" If so, great, but high bar.

    But I'm sure we'll see his idealism tested when he's paired with Tony Stark.

  3. Iron Man 1 was light on action and lacked a really threatening villain for the majority of the movie, aside from having a somewhat weak romantic element. (we overlook these issues because RDJ is so damn good and the suit looks awesome.) Captain America has none of those problems, aside from possible the romance, although the entire emotional payoff is predicated on the fact that their romance is somewhat incomplete.

  4. and Eric, I don't count First Class because it's not a Marvel Studios movie, it's Fox, so it's not part of Marvel's Avengers-centric universe

  5. OK. I didn't know if you meant Avengers-related or Marvel properties in general.

  6. didn't care before. want to see now. FUN.

    My first reaction was "Wow, Daley, if you love it so much why don't you marry it?"
    My second.... was to look up movie times.