I kid you not, I realized at about the 1.5 hour mark, I'd been smiling since the first two minutes. That's not hyperbole.
I may not be the world's biggest Captain America fan or Marvel aficionado (I know two readers to this site that way trump my Cap fandom - Jake and CanadianSimon*), and while I've always liked Cap, somehow I never really became the kind of guy who picked up Cap every month. I've been a "get the trade" sort of reader for the past few years, and I've picked up a few backlog items, certainly don't grab all the "let's flood the market" stuff Marvel tends to do with characters whenever their sales show signs of a pulse. Prior to Brubaker coming on Cap, the longest run I think read was the entirety of Waid's Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty when that was in print.
Like Superman in the DCU, I think you can point to Cap as the moral center and heroic inspiration for both other characters in the Marvel U and for what the Marvel readership immediately clicks to when they think about "which character exemplifies unfettered heroism the most?" Deep down, both Steve Rogers and Clark Kent have a lot in common, and its the "we do the right thing because its the right thing to do" aspect of both which really appeals to me. Whether Steve Rogers got his ability from Vita-Rays or whether Superman got his from his alien physiology, these characters were going to make a difference in the world somehow just based upon who they were.**
|Cap is going to punch you with a fist of righteous FREEDOM|
The movie of Captain America spends no small amount of time setting up Steve Rogers from the first moment and never lets go, and that's a good thing. Steve Rogers doesn't have some immediately identifiable "my avarice killed Uncle Ben! NOOOO!!!" moment that propels him directly onto the path of the hero. Instead, I'd state that the "tragedy" that spurs him to action is an accumulation of bad luck from genetics to the loss of his parents and the knowledge of the gravity of World War II and his inability to participate. He may have the heart and spirit of a fighter, but he's been cursed with the body of 5th grader and a permanent 4F status. By the time he's recruited, his resolve to help fight back against the machinations of the Axis is both concrete and abstract. You can't NOT cheer for the guy.
Of course I'm a fan of the Iron Man of the movies and all that, but for my dollar, I'll take Steve Rogers gritting his teeth, grabbing his shield and chucking himself out of an airplane for FREEDOM any day.
A few items:
- I know they have the technology to put Chris Evan's head on an undersized body, but I don't know how they did it. Its mind-boggling.
- I know they have the technology to put the honest-to-God Red Skull on the screen now, and its also stunning to watch. Other folks didn't seem to like it as much, but that was... pretty darn interesting to me. Part face, part skull... yeah.
- So, so many Marvel U Easter Eggs and Marvel movie Easter Eggs. I may have been the only person to gasp out loud at seeing the original Human Torch in a display. Brilliant throw-away. But the comic-nerd crowd was going crazy every few minutes.
- I am thrilled they included the Howling Commandos as minor characters in the movie, even keeping Dum-Dum's look with the homburg and 'stache. I may not know them as well as Easy Company, but its still fun to see.
- So to everyone who said "what was that thing at the post-credits end of Thor?" and I said "that's the (blank)" and you said "the what?". Well, the MacGuffin of this flick: that was what they had at the end of Thor.
I really dug both the actor and the way they fit Bucky Barnes into the story. I don't know how a teen-sidekick would work in this movie, so its great to see Bucky in a great Bucky-esque leather coat right there in the thick of things.
Hugo Weaving was perhaps a bit obvious to be cast as The Red Skull, but I won't argue with the results, and while I'm only familiar with the modern-era version of Armin Zola, Toby Jones was a pretty good piece of casting.
|Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm Johann Schmidt and my friend is Dr. Armin Zola. We'll be your villains this evening.|
For a fairly small part, casting Stanley Tucci as Erskine, the scientist who is responsible for Rogers' transformation, was a bit of brilliance. Erskine could have been from central casting, but Tucci's hiring brings a real character to the part, one who is terribly gratified to find Steve Rogers, thrusting him forward as a candidate for what he will bring to the role if the experiment succeeds, rather than what usually works in a set of check boxes.
Actress Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter is, uh... she's quite good and the part is well written as a genuine peer rather than "the girl" in the movie.
|Oh, Peggy Carter. You are the machine-gun toting vintage British agent of my dreams.|
The bottom line is that I didn't trust director Joe Johnston. Yes, he made The Rocketeer, but he also made Jumanji, Jurassic Park III and last year's DOA The Wolfman. Apparently first-half of the 20th Century-era superhero movies are where he excels. Who knew? Maybe he had more freedom on this picture? Maybe he really liked the material? But he manages to find new ways to challenge the notion for Steve Rogers of how to serve without smacking you over the head with it, and without making Cap seem like a milquetoast or simp. And, hey, how about that musical number? (you guys think I'm kidding, but I'm not).
I still remember watching the 1970's-era made for TV Captain America movies as a kid, and thinking Cap was cool (he had a motorcycle that shout out of the back of his van!). It was in college when I rented them from United Video that I realized "these are absolutely, stunningly awful", and everyone involved should be ashamed. Even you, Christopher Lee.
|No matter how goofy this looks, this is not what was wrong with the movie.|
In the wake of the success of Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, Marvel rushed a cheap version of Cap into production, and I recall seeing the poster at Great Hills 8 and about having a coronary. Wisely, the studio buried it and it never saw the light of day, and despite the fact it supposedly went to video, I never found it anywhere. It wasn't until about 2003 that I actually saw the movie, and those were two precious hours of my life I was never able to retrieve. Good, golly.
|Again, this does nothing to suggest the eye-bending awfulness of the movie|
If the movie has a political bent, I didn't see it. It doesn't go in for jingoistic hoo-hah about how America is magical and thus always right, and it doesn't get into whiny speech making to satisfy the moonbats. Instead, it focuses on what Cap is about, and that's being the one who stands up to those doing wrong to others, especially people you don't even know. In Cap's framework, that means the Axis overrunning Europe, but its a core belief that I think we'll see translated into the next films.
As per structure... the movie isn't exactly retro, but it also has a lot more to do, laying out Cap's career in the European theater across the second half of WWII. Something about the slow build to even get Cap throwing punches showed a kind of restraint you just don't see much in movies, and especially superhero movies, that doesn't have a bit of a filler feel before the hero leaps into action. Green Lantern, in particular, was like a parade of cliches from the intro of Hal Jordan to the moment he launches into space. Cap's slow boil seemed less like biding your time and more about genuinely establishing the characters. No small thing in a big budget action flick.
I think people may be burned out a bit on yet another superhero origin story, but this movie seems to push it a bit farther than Thor or Green Lantern managed to do this summer. And I know its the end of the summer, but its likely my favorite flick of its sort of the year. I've seen gritty superheroes and snarky superheroes. I think I am ready for a new/ old-fashioned take on the superhero film.
*I KNOW. And yet, he LOVES Cap. The international appeal of ol' Wing Head.
**I am aware these characters are fictional and we wouldn't be reading their tales in comic form if it were "Steve Rogers: The Caring Accountant", but I think you get my drift.