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Proud to be an American Movie

Movie Review: Captain America (2011)
Summary: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America.
Spoilers: none

Like many a movie with big, powerful enemies and deep-reaching conspiracies, Captain America: The First Avenger opens with people driving up in a car to meet others. This meeting is accompanied by moving music. They get out of the car and introduce us to what motivates the movie’s prime power struggle, and then we are rushed into a rather uneasy opening.

Captain America takes us right into its plot set-up. Until the beginning of the conclusion, the film doesn’t drift back from this fast progression. And due to the time period in which it is set, this film has a perfectly justifiable excuse to deal with Nazis. As nicely done is the film’s thickly laid-down sense of patriotism, a thing stars-and-stripes “Captain America” can hardly be without.

“Steve Rogers” (Mike Evans) is an all-American boy who grew up in Brooklyn. He hears daily in the tabloids about Hitler, of sunken ships, and casualties of war. Motivated to help his nation, Rogers is as ready as any man to give his life so that others may breathe the fresh air of freedom. But when young Rogers is not accepted into military service, his reaction is the same: try again. Being rejected over and over due to low body weight and a laundry list of health problems, Rogers doesn’t give up. Our 90-pound man of the hour has the determination of a superhuman and the noble soul of a hero, with the virtues of a leader.

When he is discovered falsifying enlistment papers by “Dr. Abraham Erskine” (Stanley Tucci), he is given the chance to be a part of an experiment that aims to change the world with the creation of a super soldier (let’s be honest ahead of time in admitting that comic movies practically can’t exist without “experiments” of some kind).

But making super soldiers is a thing Nazi Germany is trying to do as well. Hitler’s right-hand man, “Johann Schmidt” (Hugo Weaving), has his eye set on conquering the world with a supreme race, and he’s reaching out not just to technology, but also to the supernatural. Schmidt seeks the hidden powers of Odin to multiply destructive energy to bring the world to its knees (on another side note, it’s nice that comic movies are always so fair with respect to the myths of dead religions and not just the active ones). But Captain America’s unmasked enemy (Schmidt who is Red Skull) is here best left in the realm of comics we read less of.

Red Skull is hideous-looking with a literal red skull (somehow exposed above the skin), an over-the-top bad guy who commands respect and yet seems to be like every other villain in never getting his goals accomplished while blaming his lackeys (like Toby Jones, who plays a fearful but passively competent “mad scientist”) for his failures.

Red Skull seems to dabble in ineptness like audiences initially want him to. While possessing the construct of good character development through Weaving’s adoption of his personality, Red Skull still lacks credibility, and therefore, believability. We are never in awe of his powers, though if you’ve read the comics, you know this character deserved much more raw reverence.

While Captain America has so much patriotic spirit and much to like in everything – from its optimism to its romantic meanderings – it lacks the competitive equalization it seems like it should have. Our good man is just too ready to handle what comes at him, which, for us, means less suspense.

But perhaps the best thing about the movie is how well it brings together all of the relevant emotions when they are needed and packages them into a movie that thoroughly entertains. Its single best quality is well-placed humor, which is real and is never under or overused, or found to be out of place. That’s a rare quality in comic films.

There is a budding romantic chemistry between Rogers and the old-fashioned, drop-dead gorgeous, “Peggy Carter” (Hayley Atwell). Make nothing of the fact that we expectedly have the hero and his token beauty falling for each other. Carter loves what women went for back then (and maybe now?)—guys with big hearts who muscle up to go to war, but are compassionate enough to get cats out of trees. The connection is actually beautifully played up.

The way this affects the outcome of the film is considerable. The stirring ending that makes us not really sure how we should feel about the entire viewing experience is made by genuine human emotion—not by super powers as you would think, but by human contact. This is important because Captain America doesn’t always wow us with its action or its questionable choreography.

Most of what we see on screen by way of combat is the enlarged Brooklyn boy tossing around ordinary people like TV remote controls. We get our fair share of shooting, but it is nothing that goes beyond what any action movie can serve up. This is because CA isn’t just an action movie. It’s a story and one in which every character plays a sizable role. Down to the supporting gunmen in the battling forces across Europe, nearly everyone seems important and gets some contributing moment that means something.

Captain America: The First Avenger is the title of the movie and that was exactly what it intended to set up—the Avengers saga. It does so, and for the most part, in a way that was well thought-out. They missed it with a suspense-less ending, and a few of the sci-fi measures were a bit too much, but director Johnston brings us a good movie. We’ll have to see what awaits us in the coming films in the series. I really hope it’s not down hill from here.

(JH)

Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action)
Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: “Captain America / Steve Rogers” (Chris Evans), “Peggy Carter” (Hayley Atwell), “James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes” (Sebastian Stan), “Colonel Chester Phillips” (Tommy Lee Jones), “Johann Schmidt / Red Skull” (Hugo Weaving), “Howard Stark” (Dominic Cooper), “Heinz Kruger” (Richard Armitage), “Dr. Abraham Erskine” (Stanley Tucci), “Nick Fury” (Samuel L. Jackson), “Dr. Arnim Zola” (Toby Jones)
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Thriller
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