Friday, 29 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger.

Captain America: The First Avenger poster.

As I complained about Sky and their inability to allow Anytime+ to work I managed to book two free tickets to a day early screening of Captain America. It seems they tried to sweeten me up just to leave me bitter by signing the F1. Rupert Murdoch is just wants to piss people off - and make a lot of money probably. And to every parent that takes their child to the cinema and allows them to talk loudly: Tell them to shut up!

Plot: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America's ideals.

Marvel have been using very left-field directors for their Avenger films and origin stories. Iron Man used Jon Favreau, Thor used Shakespeare director Kenneth Branagh (who might not return for Thor 2), The Avengers film uses Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity and wrote the screenplay for Toy Story) and Joe Johnston for Captain America. Joe Johnston has directed Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji, Jurassic Park III and The Wolfman. Not the greatest of films so expectations shouldn't really be high but it's all worked out so far. Especially in this "superhero summer". Can this keep the same quality as the other films?

In short, yes. It's as good as Thor and Iron Man. In fact, even its attempt at humour is actually funny most of the time. We start with Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) invading a town in Norway (a bit poorly timed) to achieve a mischievous blue cube - which we saw at the end post-credit scene in Thor. Johann Schmidt leads HYDRA and they're the real threat of WW2, not Hitler and the Nazis. He even pinches and edits their salute with "HEIL HYDRA!" We, then, join a much shorter and much skinnier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) who wants to sign up to fight in WW2. The only problem is that no one will let him because they claim it'll be suicide. He's resilient and applies with false information in five different cities. It all changes when he's overheard by Dr. Erksine (the very funny Stanley Tucci) and asks if he'd be interested in a scientific experiment. Rogers obliges because he wants to get into the action.

Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell

This is when he enters a training camp with other potential candidates of the project. Tommy Lee Jones's Colonel Chester Phillips dislikes the wheezing "90 pound asthmatic" and doesn't see him as an ideal candidate. He describes Hoggs - a man previously punched in the face by Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell), the love interest, for making a move and being sexist - as a "perfect soldier" but that's exactly the problem: He's not a valiant, selfless leader. After throwing a dummy grenade, he realises that Rogers is the perfect candidate.

A brief basic lesson from Hollywood on how sci-fi and futuristic technology "works" and we've turned skinny yet valiant underdog into a tall, lean/built/cut (take your pick) machine that is ready to defeat the real threat of WW2: HYDRA. Unfortunately, amongst all this morphing, we've met Howard Stark (played by the AWFUL Dominic Cooper) and his accent keeps changing from a Texan accent to an Italian New-Yorker accent and so on. But let's not dwell on the painfully bad Dominic Cooper. After this experiment, Steve Rogers assumes his pseudonym Captain America to inspire the people of America about the war but not actually fighting it. He claims is only options are that or to be a lab rat but Agent Carter convinces him otherwise and that's when he becomes heroic. He battles his way through a warehouse to find his best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan). Then he actually becomes the super solider that the Colonel fought to create.

The best part about Captain America is that it isn't overly patriotic. With a name like Captain America, you'd expect it to be cheesy patriotism and nationalism and fighting everyone who opposes the American dream. Instead, it's just a man who assumes the colours of the American flag after motivating the Americans about the war. Gladly, that's it. It's all about America's pursuit of Johann Schmidt and the destruction of HYDRA before HYDRA destroys everything. I do agree with Red Skull's view of "no flags" and "no countries" but his execution isn't the best.

What I love is that, like X-Men: First Class, this hasn't tried to adapt the origin story to modern times but instead embraced the comics original origin. Setting this in the 1940s was a risk and must have been incredibly difficult to make it believable but the set-designs are immaculate and this is another case that proves set-design is better than CGI. If Alien and Aliens can have believable sets in 1979 and 1986 then why do we feel the need to poorly fake it?

Another positive thing about Captain America's origin is that it has Chris Evans not playing Chris Evans and actually giving him depth. Captain America isn't cocky like most of Evans's past characters have been in The Losers, Push and The Fantastic Four. We have him actually acting to something that isn't his type cast and doing it really well. He becomes Captain America and you don't even think of his egotistical turns in the past.

Unfortunately, not everything in Captain America is all rosy. For example, the romance. It's clunky and made obvious that it'll happen but it just picks up and takes off at random moment. The "romantic" and sentimental codeword "dance" is used all the way through. It's not given full screen-time and I think most of it was probably left on the cutting room floor.

Another post-credit sequence is here just like the other Avenger films. This has a very brief interaction between the captain and Nick Fury and then a teaser trailer for The Avengers.

It's got a great cast - with the exception of Dominic Cooper - like all the other Avenger films. It entertains throughout with great CGI and great set-designs. It really uses everything to fully immerse you. Between the action scenes, the clunky romance, Tommy Lee Jones's one-liners and Hugo Weaving's great villain, there's a great film with a great storyline; you just have to ignore the romantic sub-plot and prepare for the cheesiness of the '40s. Now, we've got to wait until next summer to see the follow-up to this superhero summer with The Avengers. Let's hope Joss Whedon makes it eclipse the origin stories and predecessors.

★★★★