Enlist To Fight
Up until six months ago, I hated the Captain America character. I detested the concept of an unyielding, flag-waving pillar of patriotism and refused to believe he could be anything else. Of course, that completely changed once I read Brubaker’s entire run from Winter Soldier to Two Americas (around 50+ issues) in just over four weeks. The only reason I mention this is because, outside of the States, the notion of such a die-hard patriotic character is a hard pill to swallow – akin to Mickey Mouse singing The Star Spangled Banner at you for two hours while Ronald McDonald whispers the entire US constitution in your ear (I was going to go with a Statue of Liberty fellatio thing but that would probably be too far). Thankfully this film embodies the true message behind Cap, the concept that even the weakest of men can possess the courage to stand up for what is right.
After briefly discovering a wrecked aircraft, the narrative leaps back to 1942. Here we are introduced to the film’s central antagonist, Johann Schmidt [Weaving] – Hitler’s head of occult and mysticism research, who suffered unfortunate side-effects due to a yet unfinished super-soldier serum, earning him the nickname Red Skull. Commanding a legion of Nazi soldiers, Schmidt sacks a small village in Norway, looking for a tesseract that he believes to be the jewel of Odin’s treasure room, a device powerful enough to completely change the world. On the other side of the Atlantic, Steve Rogers [Evans] – an incredibly honest and patriotic man, who simply wants a chance to enlist alongside his fellow countrymen – is turned away from yet another recruiting office due to his petite build and various ailments. During one such try-out, Rogers’ determination impresses an expatriated German scientist, Dr. Erskine [Stanley Tucci], who recommends him for a secret super soldier program. After the experiment is a success, transforming Steve into an uber-mensch, Erskine is assassinated and the secrets of his serum die with him. Seen as little more than a lab rat, Rogers is subjected to a life of war bonds sales and propaganda appearances – outfitted in a typically cheesy costume. After appearing before frontline troops, Rogers discovers that his childhood friend, Bucky Barnes [Stan] has been taken hostage and mounts a one-man rescue operation, disobeying a direct order in the process. Following the grand success of his operation, the Captain America persona is welcomed as more than just a propaganda symbol and finally utilised as a secret weapon.
As with The Rocketeer, Johnston has managed to harness both the gritty realism of a period drama and the cheesy clichés found in serials of the 40’s and 50’s; the overall effect is a bit of a nostalgia run, both in a sense of visual treatment and the creation of a genuinely fun action blockbuster. From the dialogue, costumes, set pieces and locations to the faceless henchmen, CGI effects and cackling maniacal lead villain, Captain America does a certain amount of justice to that golden age comic feel. Of course, this may also piss a lot of people off but I’ll get more into that later. In addition to the pleasant cinematography and keen direction, the visual effects are pretty stellar; there are a handful of shots that look somewhat suspect but when you take into account that ‘Skinny Steve’ isn’t a body double but a seamless digital alteration, it’s a pretty amazing achievement. On top of that, the personification of beloved characters and overall engrossing performances ensure that the action takes a back-seat to personality development – something quite prevalent in the majority of Marvel’s recent releases. Speaking of Marvel, there are also several nice nods to their back catalogue, referencing individuals, events to come and (curiously) sound effects. The success of Iron Man and Thor meant that Captain America had a great deal to live up to. Not only would this film need to work for any following Marvel films to succeed, it would also be required to survive scrutiny and comparison with two incredibly well-received movies. But in the same way that you can’t really compare Marvel characters, you cannot compare Marvel films. It’s not a case of which is better (as they’re very different characters) it’s more an example of on par excellence and personal preference.
**Spoiler in the last few sentences**
Of course, it’s not a perfect release and there are several glaring flaws. The first being the completely underwhelming score by Alan Silvestri. Despite the atypical rising brass and strings, there is almost nothing stirring or memorable about it and although it seems to fit the on-screen events, it happily fades into obscurity without a fight. I’m not saying Cap needed a catchy theme but without a resounding presence, we’re left with a flimsy phone-in from an exceedingly well accomplished composer. Additionally, the editing is incredibly sloppy in places, I understand there was a vast amount to cover in two hours (how much of which would be included was a personal point of contention before the screening) but after several decent acts we’re rushed through a half-hearted montage which fell flat on its face visually and structurally. Finally, there’s the ending – to put it bluntly, a bigger finale would have been nice. I appreciated how the final events unfolded but your average cinemagoer is probably not going to accept Red Skull’s ‘demise’ and may feel a little cheated by the whole confrontation.
Looking ahead to The Avengers, Marvel have created an incredibly strong foundation of characters and stand alone films. Granted they’re working themselves into a corner which implies that eventually you will have to watch all their releases in order to follow what the hell is going on in their latest release – a mindset which has continually hindered the comic industry for decades: with such in-depth, intertwining plot threads, where does a newcomer jump in? Either way, their actions to date have been more than commendable and Captain America is a genuinely fun addition to the stable, without being bogged down by the necessity of taking itself too seriously. For you DC people, that means it’s not trying to be The Dark Knight but still doesn’t feel as stupid as Green Lantern.
29th July 2011
The Scene To Look Out For:
Before his transformation, Rogers undergoes extensive training with the other hopeful applicants. In each scene Rogers displays unprecedented determination, only to be failed by his body. Despite this, there are a few key moments that demonstrate his ingenuity and selflessness. I have no intention of listing them and breaking down the scenes, suffice to say, they’re exemplary.
Nailing Steve Rogers without coming off as a lantern-jawed, propaganda patsy is a difficult task. Not only has Chris Evans proved his maturity as an actor (first seen in his outstanding performance in Sunshine), he has managed to bring a credible realism to the character’s unwavering drive. Equally, Hugo Weaving’s performance as the Red Skull – a character which should be completely laughable – is greatly impressive, reminding us that he is quickly becoming the go-to actor for villainous roles. Furthermore, the background support are also equally engrossing, no matter how long or short they remain on-screen.
“I don’t want to kill anybody. I don’t like bullies.. I don’t care where they’re from”
In A Few Words:
“Upbeat, funny, entertaining and corny (in a surprisingly good way), Captain America is a very strong release that should strike a chord with fans of the Marvel universe and 40’s pulp”
Total Score: 4/5