Captain America brings up the rear in our Marvel Movie Marathon. By the time this movie came out in theaters last summer, I had already read enough comics that I was eagerly awaiting this film. Sadly, when I saw the movie, I felt it did not live up the hype (of course, over-hyped blockbusters rarely do). This movie did not impress me to the same degree as the Iron Man movies, or Thor (but I did enjoy it more than The Incredible Hulk).
I think, at least for me, Captain America suffers somewhat from being a period piece. And a war film. Traditionally, girls are not fans of war films, and in that way I guess I’m a traditionalist. I usually don’t have a problem with period films, but I guess the idea of a superhero in the 1940’s somehow just didn’t work for me. In my mind, I think all superheroes are supposed to be modern, more representative of the future, rather than the past.
Now I say all that to preface my next comment: upon a second viewing, I enjoyed the film a lot more. Having more of a sense of how Captain America fits into the Marvel mythology, I appreciated the film on that level. I especially enjoyed seeing Howard Stark in the 1940’s. It was fun to visit the Stark Expo in this film, after having just seen it in Iron Man 2. There were a lot of good references to the Marvel Universe in general, and that helped to anchor this movie experience for me moreso upon a second viewing.
As for those Marvel references, this idea of the “super soldier” harkens back to The Incredible Hulk movie. Of course in the comics, it is an accident when Banner is hit by gamma radiation, but in the Hulk movie, while the mutation is still an “accident,” it’s an accident that happens on purpose, when Banner tries out that serum on himself. The theme of the scientifically engineered “super soldier” is present in both movies, so we have a good bit of continuity in this cinematic Marvel universe.
I know Russ is a big fan of Captain America, much more than I am. He sees Cap as the superhero with a heart, devoted to doing the right thing, simply because it IS the right thing to do. His physical powers are greater than the average man, but in comparison to any of the other Avengers’ powers, I would have to say these powers pale in comparison. There is no magic, and the science behind his powers is limited. He is limited (to some degree. I mean, can he fly like Iron Man?) But I must agree with Russ that he is the all-around trustworthy good guy that you want on your side in a fight.
One of the best scenes, early in the movie: at boot camp, Colonel Phillips (the ever craggy-faced Tommy Lee Jones) throws a “live grenade” into a group of soldiers. Everyone scatters, but Steve Rogers falls on the grenade, to protect his fellow soldiers. Who does that? And not only that, but these are the guys who have been harassing and teasing him, because at this point, he’s still a 98 pound weakling, a total misfit. I know I wouldn’t have fallen on that grenade for probably anybody but family, and certainly not for a bunch of virtual strangers that have been giving me grief. But then, I’m not Captain America. Steve Rogers is, inside. He just needed to have his outsides brought up to speed with his insides.
And so we have the “procedure,” where he is shot full of super-soldier serum, so that now, at last, his body can match his heart and his head. And I do say “head” very literally, because early in the movie, they have apparently been super-imposing actor Chris Evans’ head onto some scrawny male body. Most of the time, it’s well done, and you don’t notice, but there were a few scenes where, at least for me, this just didn’t work.
Specifically, there’s a scene where he’s in a cab with Agent Carter on his way to the “procedure.” In some shots, he looks excessively small, kind of like Frodo sitting next to Gandalf in the cart, at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Then they go to another angle, and he doesn’t look quite so small. But his head still looks too big for his body. It was a little disconcerting. Frankly, I was glad when they finally beefed him up, not just because we could now get to the superhero stuff, but also because it meant I wouldn’t have to see those disturbing body mashups of our main character anymore.
With a hero like Captain America, we need a worthy villain, and in this film, we have one. Hugo Weaving portrays Johann Schmidt, aka Red Skull. Hugo Weaving! I talked last time about the fabulous casting in these Marvel movies, and here is another excellent example. At first you say, “Oh look! It’s…what’s his name? That Australian guy….oh yeah, that’s right…Hugo Weaving!” But very quickly you forget all about Hugo Weaving and Mr. Smith and Elrond and Sir John from Reckless Kelly—if you happen to be at all acquainted with that quirky Australian film from the early 90’s. (You most certainly don’t even give a passing thought to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.) He’s got the accent and the long leather coat and even the red skull. So that’s all you’re thinking about, and wondering how Captain America is going to put him in his place.
So he was good. I liked him. And I guess I liked Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, the lone female in the movie. She’s very British, and very 1940’s. Hers was a character that could have very easily been a man, but we needed to at least try to inject a little romance into our war story, right? I don’t know if I believed the romance, but it was nice that they tried.
I really liked Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, but his time on screen was way too brief. Dominic Cooper could very well have been Robert Downey Jr.’s dad—if he had actually lived in the 1940’s. Good physical casting, and he played the part well, with a sort of smart aleck swagger.
However, the one actor who doesn’t really work for me is Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America. I find him kind of bland—just another one of those generically good-looking Hollywood types that can so easily be interchanged with any of the other good-looking Hollywood types. (They’re so bland, I can’t even think of their names now, but I think one is Ryan Gossling, and another is…Matthew somebody?)
Chris Evans just doesn’t do anything for me. I was going to say maybe it’s the role, because Captain America is such a Mr. White Bread all-around good guy, that maybe I actually found the character more bland than the actor. But when Chris Evans played Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies, he didn’t do anything for me there either. So I think it must just be the actor. Not that I’m saying he’s a bad actor! Not that at all. He’s just not my type of guy.
Since I’ve mentioned the humor in the other Marvel movies, I’ve got to say something here as well. The thing that struck me the funniest was the musical montage, when Steve Rogers is pressed into service as a PR symbol for the American military. We have a really goofy song, dancing girls, and a stage bit where the costumed hero punches Hitler in the mouth. I’ve no doubt that something like this would have gone over really big back during WWII. I don’t know if I believe that the military would have wasted their only super-soldier on a PR gig, but it does help to explain how Steve Rogers as an American soldier ends up prancing around in what is basically a ridiculous outfit. (Don’t hate me for saying that! In your heart of hearts, you know it’s ridiculous.)
And we really do need some explanation for that costume, don’t we? Thor is not in a “costume,” that’s his battle uniform. Iron Man’s “costume” is what actually gives him his power. Hulk can’t help it. In The Avengers we’ll revisit Black Widow, who looks rather fetching in her skintight black jumpsuit, and we’ll meet Hawkeye, who is appropriately attired as an archer. Russ tells me the Captain America PR storyline is not canon, but in this case I’m grateful for it, because it does actually explain a lot about Steve Rogers’ stars and stripes.
By the end of the movie, Steve Rogers has been dug up from the ice, still alive, revived, and ready for action. Disoriented, he meets Nick Fury in the middle of Manhattan, and is asked (more or less) to continue his good work by joining the Avengers.
And now our Marvel Movie Marathon has come to an end. All the players are in place and we are ready for The Avengers. Well, almost. We still have to get Thor back from Asgard, and locate Bruce Banner in the Canadian outback, but these are small concerns which I am sure Joss Whedon will address and deal with swiftly, so that the fun of The Avengers can begin right away!
Of course I’ll come here to give my impressions of The Avengers after we see it this weekend. I must say that, all in all, this Marvel Movie Marathon has gone by way too fast! But it was so much fun watching and reviewing these movies that I think every now and then I’ll throw in a quick review of some of the other Marvel movies we have on our shelves, as well as other Marvel movies as they hit the theaters.
In a way it’s sad that comic books are not be as popular as they once were. But that being the case, it is extremely exciting to see these great characters live on, popular as ever and infused with new life, as Marvel Comics morphs from the Silver Age to the silver screen.