Review: Captain America

August 31, 2012 in General Topics

Captain America, film posterThere’s a scene in Captain America where the optimistic young superhero strides onto a stage in an effort to sell war bonds, having been relegated to poster-boy duty, instead of the active front-line service he desperately wants. There, among a line of dancing performers, he slugs out a comically-rendered Hitler that has “snuck” into the proceedings. Cue applause.

Nostalgia, ironically, dominates our feelings of World War II, at least here in the States. As Americans, we’ve assigned the war an almost stained-glass sanctity, and I think we’ve done so because it gave us the kind of conflicts we haven’t faced since: a clear-cut, evil enemy was rampaging around Europe, while a fanatical, Imperial Japan dominated the Pacific. And yet we as a nation were at the top of our game. We didn’t back down.

You waved your flag, you bought war bonds. You gathered scrap metal. You worked in the factories. You fought. You bled. You came home. Or you didn’t. But you were part of something grand, and important.

Through the lens of history it all appears as one big black and white background, upon which we painted red, white, and blue, and made the world a better place. Of course the details are somewhat murkier, but there’s no arguing that we were on the side of decency and good.

So Captain America, which debuted in 2011, couldn’t have been better-timed. Our modern era is defined by uncertainty, where we flounder around on circumstances like fish tossed from the ocean by an errant wave. Who are our real enemies? What happened to our economy? Where do we go from here?

Our hero has no such problems. From the beginning of the movie, scrawny and asthmatic Steve Rogers stands out as a man who knows exactly what he wants to do, but is prevented by his physical limitations. He’ll never fight, he’s been told. The plot obviously fixes that.

The film is its strongest in the first half, as Rogers spends time in a retro-futuristic expo, on the streets of Brooklyn, and in training, where his heroism and decency shines. The CGI necessary to place actor Chris Evans’ head onto a spunky, but tiny actor’s frame is always effective, held back only by the jarring effect of hearing Evans’ out-of-place voice emerge from Rogers’ mouth. I had my concerns about Evans because I always thought he wasn’t square-jawed enough for the role, but he pulls it off.

Being an obvious pillar in the set-up to this summer’s The Avengers, I expected the film to feel rough-around-the-edges, but overall it’s an encapsulated work, with the exception of ramrodded bookends illustrating Cap’s arrival in the modern-day world. Largely wasted is Tommy Lee Jones (here a General). Hugo Weaving (as the villain, Red Skull) is sufficiently menacing, and Hayley Atwell, as an (SAS?) agent shines in her screen time, despite the hopelessly-predictable love story the flick forces on its audience.

The movie has moments of genuine agony that stand out from the other films in the same orbit. The Captain’s loss of a dear friend is not glossed-over, and the scene where our hero tries his war bonds act on active-duty soldiers is very memorable.

The Captain is implacable and determined, through all of this. He’s a perfect encapsulation of the American spirit. Further, the movie gets big geek points for honoring many of Marvel’s costume designs for the character, and the action itself is satisfying, though the Cap’s ragtag band of fellow soldiers feel like empty accessories.

This is a flick with a lot of heart, and tons of references to other characters and events in the broader Marvel Universe. Unlike its companion-piece, Thor, Captain America replicates the success of Iron Man by transcending its comic fandom roots, and proving successful at satisfying a broad audience.

How couldn’t it? It’s so delightfully red, white, and blue.

3.5/5 stars.

Stay tuned.