Friday, July 29, 2011

Some thoughts about Captain America: The First Avenger (which may contain spoilers, so don't read this if you care)

The Dark Knight and Batman Begins can suck it; I think this was a far better movie than either of those, which I've always thought were overrated. While parts Dark Knight might be far superior to parts of Captain America, I think it's worth noting that Captain America didn't have any of the eye-rolling, cringe-inducing, "let's-just-stick-this-stupid-motorcycle-or-Batmobile-or-whatever-scene-in-here-because-the-toy-division-said-we-had-too" elements. Captain America was a more even, more consistent film, feeling less like a product of a committee than the two Batman flicks, which I only single out because of how widely regarded they are as the best superhero movies.

Also, I don't feel like giggling every time I hear Cap talk the way I do every time Christian Bale's Batman opened his mouth.

—If I had to single something out as the worst part of the film, I would say it was Hugo Weaving's Red Skull make-up/mask. It looked an awful lot like a modern drawing of the Skull from the comics, but it also looked like a costume instead of...whatever it's supposed to be. It wasn't as gory and well, skull-like as I assumed a live-action, real-world Red Skull would be.

—I kind of love superhero period pieces, I think.

—I liked the fact that in developing his evil super-Nazi accent, Weaving apparently decided to just do an extended Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.

—Will no one say the word "Cosmic Cube" aloud? I didn't miss the part where they said that phrase, did I? I just heard Johann Schmidt refer to it as "the tesseract" and "the jewel of Odin's treasury" or something like that.

—I was a little surprised when Chris Evans was announced for the role, as he wasn't anyone I would have thought of casting, were I in the position to cast stars in superhero movies. I think he's a great actor—first coming to my attention in a surprisingly effective action/thriller type movie I had to review for the paper I used to work for, 2004's Cellular—but everything I've seen him in had a high degree of humor to the character. Plus, he'd already played a Marvel superhero before.

Just like casting Christian Bale as The Flash in a Justice League movie, it seemed...weird having one actor play more than one superhero from the same shared universe, you know?

Evans is pretty great in this though. The character's emotional range isn't terribly great, consisting mostly of earnestness, mixed with occasional disappointment. But Evans is good in his role, and the movie around him is so strong it sure seems like a great performance, even if its unlikely he'll be winning many acting awards come awards season (I don't know, maybe he'll get an MTV Movie Award...)

—I have absolutely no idea how they did the special effects that made Chris Evans into the pre-serum skinny, 90-pound weakling Steve Rogers, which I found really, really cool. I'm slightly less jaded about movies than I am at comics, so it's kind of thrilling to see something you haven't seen before, and not know exactly how it was achieved.

—Stanley Tucci was surprisingly good too, in a weird role that he made a lot meatier than it might have been in a different director's movie.

—Tommy Lee Jones was very good too. On behalf of the entire comics community, I officially forgive Tommy Lee Jones for his part in the crime of Batman Forever.

—I really liked Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark. He looked just like Tony Stark used to look in the original comics, I thought, before the more modernized-looking one started appearing (i.e. sporting a goatee instead of a mustache, dressing like a product of the late twentieth/early 21st century instead of like a dude from the '50s or '60s). When I first started seeing Dr. Pepper cans with Howard Stark on them, I thought maybe they were forcing the connectivity of the Marvel movie universe a bit too much, but while watching the movie, I actually wanted to see more of Cooper's Stark.

—Come to think of it, everyone was pretty good in this. I'm having trouble singling any actor out as not-very-good, you know?

—Hydra looks better in black than in green, I think.

—The World's Fair scene was awesome.

Red Skull's car was awesome. It out-awesomes Green Hornet's Black Beauty and Batman's many batmobiles and -wings and -pods as the coolest vehicle in a superhero movie, I think.

—There was no snowboard scene in the movie after all.

—Sadly, Dr. Zola never gets a new body. Maybe next movie...?

—They handled Bucky really well, I thought. It was very different from the comics version, but it was surprisingly effective way to put Captain America's boy sidekick into a modern film version. Essentially, they're just friends and peers, with scrawny Steve playing the little brother role to Bucky pre-serum, and their roles reversing after wards. Bucky never gets a costume though, which, given the way Cap backed into his costume in the movie, probably wouldn't have made a whole hell of a lot of sense anyway.

—This is another of those Nazis-looking-for-supernatural-artifacts movies, with Schmidt mentioning "Hitler's digging for trinkets in the desert" to remind moviegoers of Raiders of The Lost Ark. I recently read—well, listened to an audio-book of while commuting—Mitch Horowitz's rather interesting 2010 book Occult America, and there was a section of it dealing with the pop culture myth of Hitler's obsession with the occult. According to Horowitz, while Hitler was interested in Norse myth and Teutonic hero stories to the extent that they could be used as metaphors and rhetorical devices, he had little time for secret societies, psychics and the like, and believers in the occult were just as likely to be persecuted by the Nazis as the many other groups they persecuted.

This movie about a super-soldier dressed like a flag fighting a guy with a red skull for a head commanding an army of laser-gun wielding storm-troopers is not historically accurate!

—During the climactic fistfight in the cockpit of the giant flying wing, I found myself wanting to re-watch the 1996 direct-to-video Batman/Superman Movie: World's Finest, which also a gigantic flying wing style airship targeting a major American city, and a big fight in its cockpit.

—It's a credit to Evans, Hayley Atwell and the filmmakers that I felt myself getting a little choked up during the scene at the end where Captain America crashes that flying wing thing into the ice...even though I knew Captain America would "die" and that he would survive in the end. Well, it's a credit to them, or a comment on my sensitivity and/or mood while I was watching the movie, I guess.

—I was extremely surprised that it started with the discovery of Captain America in modern times, and even more surprised that it ended how it did, with a surprisingly long scene that sort of undercut some of the suspense that would have existed between a movie that ends with Captain America heroically sacrificing his life to save America and another movie (The Avengers) that opened with the discovery that he was still alive after decades of suspended animation.

—When the movie ended, after the main credit sequence that played over the propaganda-style poster images, I was the only one in the 1/4 full theater who got up and started walking out. The only one. Not another person moved. Noticing this, I decided to hang around in the back and watch the rest, thinking there must be a secret scene at the end like the last few Marvel flicks had and I somehow didn't hear about it, but everyone else did.

That, or everyone was trained to expect one, whether one was coming or not.

—While sitting through the endless credits, I noticed a short list of comics creators who got special thanks, similar to the way the Thor credits assigned thanks to specific creators who worked on Thor comics over the years. I noticed that Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting were among them before they scrolled by.

Mark Millar's name was also among those listed. Millar probably deserves some sort of screen-writing credit, as the last scene of the film was almost lifted directly from an issue of his Ultimates comic.

—I was disappointed to see that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby didn't get a "Captain America created by" credit during the main credits sequence, along with the director, screen writers, costume designer and so on. Instead, during the scrolling end credits, there's one saying something like "based on the Marvel comic by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby."

That's better than nothing, but I found it mildly upsetting. Well, more irritating than upsetting I guess, as those words and phrases mean different things. Simon and Kirby created the character himself, in addition to the comics, so why make it sound so equivocal? Also, Captain America technically predates Marvel, even if Timely Comics, which published the first Captain America comics, eventually became Marvel. Just citing the pair as the creators of Captain America, then, would have avoided all that murkiness. "Based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby" would have maybe been better still, then.

—The actual end-scene was pretty superfluous after the end of the movie, which already showed Captain America waking up in 2011 and confronted with Nick Fury, the dude who's been showing up in Marvel superhero movies to assemble a team. Having him show up again and try to recruit Cap seems sort of redundant, doesn't it? That was followed by a proper teaser trailer though, which...didn't reveal a whole hell of a lot, really, just that Thor, Cap, Fury and Iron Man would be sharing screen time in The Avengers.

All I really noticed was that Thor looked a lot lamer in the Avengers teaser than he did in Thor...he seemed poorly groomed, his hair too long and too scraggly, and he was wearing what looked like a weird plastic sleeveless t-shirt with discs on it. It looked like a prop departments recreation of Bryan Hitch's Ultimates costume design, but I think I preferred the armor the costume designers of Thor had come up with.

—Because the Red Skull's super-science was attributed to Norse mythological magic-science in the movie, I imagine Avengers won't be doing the Ultimates plot (aliens aiding the Nazis in World War II, returning to take over earth), despite how heavily influenced it seems by Ultimates so far.

—Also while watching that trailer, I thought they better hurry up and make a Black Panther or Ant-Man and The Wasp movie, because right now it looks like The Avengers are just a bunch of buff white guys—Thor, Iron Man, Cap, Hawkeye—with Fury and Black Widow as supporting characters (They might not actually be supporting characters, but, unlike the three Avengers with their own movies, they lack super-powers and real costumes and, um, movies of their own, so they seem like the B-Team).

—I wonder how they will handle Captain America sequels, given the fact that the movie covered his entire career fighting in World War II. As much I'd like to see him fight Batroc The Leaper or team-up with The Falcon, the Captain America premise and the hyper-patriotism inherent in it can get awfully uncomfortable the further removed it gets from World War II. (That, and much of what I liked most about the film was the setting and milieu, the sorts of things that would be lost if we saw a Captain America II: Revenge of the The First Avenger set in modern times. I suppose they could always do movies set during the first movie, as there were lots of montages alluding to other Cap adventures, but I don't know—it was so well done, you kind of don't want to see them mess with the story, you know?)

—Hopefully they'll just do Captain America and Maybe Some Other Golden Age Guys Fight Namor For Two Hours...


Thomas said...

I suspect the second CA film will prolly do a variation of the Winter Soldier storyline...

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

I read on a view websites that the plan for Captain America 2 is to have it be about Steve Rogers trying to get used to living in the modern day. So basically it would be a funny, "Fish out of water" comedy with a guy with 1940s values trying to acclimate to our 2010's world, sort of like in the Ultimates, I suppose. A whole movie wouldn't sustain that so they might throw in something else.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

I meant to say a few websites, sorry.

MOCK! said...

While no new body for Zola, his first appearance on screen was kinda cool.

I think my wife and kids got sick of my squeals and knowing "Mmmm-hmm"s through the movie!