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Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

There's something about superheroes that's been lost over the years. We never grew to love them simply because we thought they were cool, or because they beat up the bad guys. These things were part of it, but the real reason we've always been drawn to them is the fact that we can relate to them, and see them as real people. In the characters of Joe Johnston's Captain America, we find a return to that nostalgia - a return to what makes superhero movies so great.

Joe Johnston directed The Rocketeer back in 1991, and it still stands as one of my all-time favorite movies. To this day, The Rocketeer is thought of more fondly by its original graphic novel creator than most other graphic novel adaptations. Joe Johnston did something right with The Rocketeer, and he found out how to do it again with Captain America.

We start off in the 40s with scrawny little Steve Rogers. He wants to serve his country, but his list of ailments simply won't do. As they say, his asthma alone makes exempts him. However, he ends up becoming a supersoldier, and has just enough firepower to save the day.

It sounds silly, but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have done something incredible - they actually managed to make the birth of a superhero completely believable. As the story unfolds, you understand why Rogers is chosen for the project. You understand where his costume and his name comes from. You understand people's motivations for doing things. Plain and simple, the script is logical and it makes sense. With all the Green Lantern s these days, I almost forgot that was even a possibility.

Captain America is superbly crafted in almost every aspect. Shelly Johnson's cinematography is gorgeous, Alan Silvestri's score is powerful, and Johnston's direction is compelling. Johnston has always been among my favorite directors and his attention to detail is still intact. I can't help but admire the little moments he has, always giving each piece of each shot the proper weight and attention it deserves. Watch as the camera creeps in on Buckey as he fully understands what his friend has become. That's the kind of shot that brings this movie one level above others.

There are some great performances to be found throughout as well. Chris Evans surprises me and plays the Cap with a depth I never would have thought possible for him. Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci also shine. Jones may very well steal the entire movie. Hayley Atwell, while cute as a button, manages to be more than just eye candy and play a respectable role. (Cough, GemmaArterton, Cough...)

Hugo Weaving deserves honorable mention as my all-time favorite Marvel villain Red Skull. His makeup team certainly deserves an Oscar, and he breaths life into Red Skull with such precision you'd think that really was his face. The point is, these characters seem real. Weaving reminds us of the old actor's saying that it's usually better to play the villain than the hero.

Marvel is an independent studio now, and they've got something special going. While Captain America left almost nothing to be desired, I can't bring myself to give it a 5... mostly just because Christopher Nolan exists. I can't even imagine what this movie would have looked like under Nolan's wing. Then again, it'd be at least an hour longer. Regardless, what makes Captain America great are some very basic elements. For one, it's the fact that our characters seem real, and we care about them. Two, we're given a different setting than present day - the 40s backdrop makes everything more interesting. And finally, the movie wraps up with an ending scene that will leave you quite shocked - an incredibly bold move. If you think you already know how Captain America will end - you're wrong.

In the creation of this Marvel Cinematic Universe, something fresh and new has risen out of the superhero genre. Credit may in fact belong to Jon Favreau who allegedly had the idea to stick Nick Fury in after the Iron Man credits. Regardless, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a brilliant and compelling thing. It gives every film we've seen in it an unfinished feel, and when sequels start crashing down to theaters, we can anticipate them as more of the story to be told, instead of a scheme to make more money by the studios. It goes without saying that The Avengers is going to kick a substantial amount of ass. The groundwork is laid - now they just need a competent filmmaker to handle it. What's that? They got Joss Whedon to write and direct it? Well then, by the Hammer of Thor -

Avengers assemble!

4 stars

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