Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It's great seeing Captain America on the big screen (retro-review)

It's been all Captain America all the time here in the last several days at Cary's Comics Craze! 

Yesterday, I posted my "ode to the little guys" review of "Captain America: The First Avenger," which I wrote soon after the DVD release in the fall of 2011.  


But what did I say just after I saw "The First Avenger" in the theaters on the original online home of CCC? (Stay tuned for a re-review of the first "Captain America" -- yes, my third critical take on the movie in slightly less than a year! -- which was part of a series of reviews of the solo "Avengers" films before the ensemble movie came out in early May 2012.)

Keep reading -- and let the CCC celebration of Cap's 75th anniversary and his five years onscreen continue! Enjoy. And thanks for being here.

July 23, 2011 -- Before I dig into my review of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” let’s get some disclaimers out of the way.

Cap has been one of my two favorite superheroes since I started reading and collecting comic books three decades ago.

Superman may be best known for standing for “truth, justice and the American way,” but there’s no character who symbolizes those ideals more than the one who literally lives up to one of his nicknames, the Star Spangled Avenger.

For me, the only superhero who has a higher code of ethics than Batman and who lives and acts on that personal code has to be Captain America.

So when Marvel Comics introduced the modern era of superhero films with the first “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” series — and proved to Hollywood they are a legitimate film genre, I firmly believed it wouldn’t be long before Cap got his own feature film.

Eleven years after the first “X-Men” movie, this diehard Caphead finally got his wish.

Aside from all that, it’s a great treat seeing Cap on the big screen.

Especially enjoyable is seeing the Sentinel of Liberty sling his patriotic shield at Hydra agents, soldiers from Adolf Hitler’s deep science division, led by Johann Schmidt, better known as the Red Skull.

Actor Hugo Weaving (best known for playing the baddie in “The Matrix” and the voice of Megatron in the “Transformers” series) once again proves he does just fine with any onscreen villain. He brings just the right touch of sliminess, arrogance and disdain to the Red Skull — whose likeness is perfectly brought to life from the comics by the make-up department.

What’s disappointing, or at the very least not clear, is how this high-tech technology relates to the power of the mythical gods that Schmidt so loves and how it could bring civilization to its knees. But by the climax of “Captain America,” it’s clear the Red Skull plans to bomb multiple American cities and of course it’s up to Cap (a sincere, eager, charismatic and charming Chris Evans) to stop him.

As vile and ruthless as Weaving’s Red Skull is, he’s not quite the power-hungry, superior-feeling, world-dominator wannabe that he is in the comics. Regardless, it’s pretty satisfying to see Cap clock him in the jaw the first time they meet and a few moments later he asks the Red Skull why he’s running away if he considers Cap a coward.

On the other hand, Evans brings everything you’d expect to portraying America’s ultimate patriot. (I enthusiastically had espoused faith in Evans' casting months before "The First Avenger" even started filming.)

From one of the first scenes when (thanks to some nifty special effects) the scrawny 97-pound Steve Rogers does his best to defend himself from a serious backstreet whoopin’ from a bully. This is the same bully he earlier told to hush in a movie theater.

This is a man who doesn’t know how to give up. This is a sickly, short, young man with a toothpick body who attempts to enlist in the Army five times. It’s his determination that catches the eye of Abraham Erskine, the creator of the Super Soldier Serum.

The newly buff Rogers is quickly promoted from private to captain — but is stuck being America’s face for selling war bonds in a montage of delightfully cheesy musical performances.

Rogers takes matters in his own hands when he realizes his hometown best bud, James “Bucky” Barnes, might still be alive even though he’s been captured by Nazis.
Photos courtesy of ign.com

The newly dubbed Captain America gains the immediate respect of his fellow soldiers after he frees 400 prisoners of war (POWs) — all while bringing lots of mayhem to Hydra’s headquarters — on his first self-appointed mission. From there, Cap eagerly commands, leads and fights alongside Bucky and the other POWs (better known as the Howlin’ Commandos from the comics) in mission after mission to take down every base Hydra has established.

Director Joe Johnston’s film deftly mixes the accuracy of World War II-era costumes, architecture, vehicles and other props with Hydra’s high-tech weaponry.

Bookended between the recent discovery of Cap’s frozen shield in a downed Hydra aircraft and the hero finding himself in modern day Manhattan, “Captain America” is firmly set in World War II. It sets up plenty of sequel opportunities to tell contemporary stories of Rogers being a man out of time or even going back to the 1940s for more of Cap’s war-time adventures. (The Invaders, anyone?)

And with a subtitle like “The First Avenger,” you can bet it gets audiences ready for what could be the ultimate superhero ensemble film, “The Avengers,” next May. … So don’t miss that trailer at the end of the credits. Grade: B+

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