Thursday, July 28, 2011

dutch's Very Lengthy Movie Review #1: Capt. USA!

Lol. That title made it feel like something similar to Team America, which might have been no less awesome than what it actually is. But anyway.

***Major spoilers ahead!***
(seriously, DO NOT read if you plan to watch the movie)
Captain America: The First Avenger. (All pictures courtesy of Marvel Studios)
 The movie stars Chris Evans (pretty much known as Johnny Storm/Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies up until now) as Steve Rogers/the Cap, Hayley Atwell as agent Peggy Carter, Hugo Weaving ('The Matrix Trilogy', 'V for Vendetta') as the villain Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, Tommy Lee Jones as the hard-headed Colonel Chester Phillips, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark and Sebastian Stan as the Cap's best buddy James Buchanan 'Bucky' Barnes.

 The basic plot is simple enough, as expected of a superhero movie: Nazi villain (Weaving's Johann Schmidt) has godly means to destroy half the world on his rise to power (guy's logic is plausible: 'Hitler shouldn't be in charge when I literally have a red skull for a face, and an army carrying guns that zap enemies into nothingness') Now in order to prevent annihilation and ultimately win the great war, the US army must find something or someone to counter such a terrifying force. That something and someone, thanks to the genius of ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (played by Stanley Tucci), comes in the form of Captain America: a physically unfit but compassionate Steve Rogers turned super-man by the Super Soldier serum. With the help of his trusted compatriots, Captain America must stop Schmidt before he destroys everything.

Doesn't sound all that intellectually intriguing, does it? Then again, it's not supposed to be like Inception where screwing with your mind is the prime objective. And neither is it like Dark Knight where screwing with your mind is...still one of the prime objectives. Christopher Nolan is just one sadistic dude. Anyways. To be honest, even though the beautiful visuals nicely capture that wartime, 1950s New York feel, the background music all patriotic and heroic, and the CGI action absolutely captivating, that was all to be expected of a Marvel superhero movie. What really made this movie work for me was the subplots, individual characters and emotionality that runs through it. There's always a nice balance between blockbusting action and calm and humorous scenes. Despite the pace being quite rushed at points and transition between scenes choppy here and there, the movie generally flows smoothly.

Let's go through the subplots and notable characters. Not all of them, and not necessarily in chronological order, of course. I have class in just a few hours. (Once again, if you have not watched the movie and still intend to do so but are somehow reading at this point, please stop.)

Mr. Anderson, I am a Schmidt. Johann Schmidt.
Agent Smith, I mean Johann Schmidt, in possession of the Cosmic Cube
The first (truly notable) scene of the movie focuses on the villain gaining possession of the Cosmic Cube which will help him create all the shit-blowing later on in the movie. The main purpose of this scene, in my opinion, is to establish Schmidt as a fearsome villain to set the bar for the level of chaos to be expected. Fearsome, the character is. Cold. Calculated. However, I was not entirely convinced by Weaving's attempt at a German accent. In fact, I don't think any of his other accents can topple the Smith/V accent that has become part of his image. A certain sense of mystery is also cast over Schmidt. However, thanks to all the informative advertising, we all know that mystery is nothing more special than the red skull under the Hugo Weaving face he wears.

Red Skull's development, however, wasn't really that much on par with the 'good' side, IMHO. More often than not, he comes off as a slightly comical villain, rather than intimidating as his appearance suggests. That aside, Johann Schmidt/Red Skull is a fine example of the irredeemable bad guy type. As aptly put by Dr. Abraham, after injecting the serum into his own body, Schmidt turned 'from bad to worse'. He is bent on destruction, with no stance to prove to people (like most modern villains usually do: 'I should be in charge, for your good!') He just wants people dead, and himself up there, on par with the gods. That is not to say, the people around him didn't play a part in turning him into a monster. They laughed at his belief that he could harness the power of the gods. They provoked him. And they had to pay the price.

Not being much of a Marvel reader, I did not have much knowledge of Red Skull's character. However, from the movie, I gathered he isn't a guy who likes to see someone in the same league, let alone being second best. So proud of his superior powers, he appears extremely offended by the Captain, who acknowledges the strength of his own heart rather than his obviously superhuman physique, and this shows in the two's final confrontation.

"Red Skull: What made you so special?
           Captain America: Nothing. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn."

Steve Rogers: A Good Man
Chris Evans as skinny Steve Rogers, pre-Super Soldier serum
He's that sickly, skinny dude from the rough Brooklyn neighborhood. Gets beat up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Can't carry on proper conversations with women. The man no man wants to be. However, the movie makers did such a magnificent job at portraying his humble, kind, selfless and patriotic personality that one might actually be able to look past his rather pathetic physique and fall in love with the character as a person. The first half hour or so focuses on telling the compelling story of Steve Rogers getting rejected over and over again from enlisting in the army for being too unfit. They tell him they are doing him a favor and saving his life. What they do not understand is that he is willing to put his life on the line in order to save others'. Chris Evans (with his expressive face CGI-ed onto the skinny body) delivers Rogers' character almost flawlessly: you feel for him. Truly beautiful soul, this man. You really cannot judge this one book by its cover.

A chance encounter with Dr. Abraham Erskine, an ex-Nazi scientist who lent Johann Schmidt a hand in gaining superhuman powers and now wishes to remedy things, lands Rogers in Colonel Chester Phillips' ranks. Militaristic and hard-headed, it is Phillips' belief that wars are fought by men, and the side with the (physically) best men wins. He is riddled by Dr. Abraham's decision on Rogers' case, for he is not entirely convinced by Dr. Abraham's faith in Rogers' good heart. At least not yet.

Colonel Phillips (left) and Dr. Abraham
Eventually turned into a superhuman in the secret testing chambers with the help of the genius Howard Stark - owner of Stark Industries and future father of Tony Stark aka Iron Man, and the witness of a dozen important figures (including a Nazi assassin who ends up fucking things up for everybody and kills Dr. Abraham), Steve Rogers begins a new life, with the late doctor's words carved in the back of his mind: whatever it is he can now achieve (which is virtually anything), he is to stay a good man.

Becoming Captain America
  Despite Rogers having been able to catch the assassin (only to see him swallow his cyanide tooth and die), it was decided that the Super Soldier is far too expensive to be risked in combat. Instead, he was used as a celebrity, parading across Europe to boost morale by performing on stage and films for American troops. He is given a comical costume that bears the colors of Old Glory for the stage that will soon become part of his tools of the trade.

This part of the movie portrays wonderfully the next stage of Rogers' transformation into the real Captain America. Straight out of the lab, Steve Rogers finds himself dying to contribute in some way. He doesn't want to be stuck forever as a lab rat, and is therefore willing to do just about anything for the greater good. He is also, still rather naive in his resolve. As agent Carter (the second most major player in this movie who I've intentionally left out for a reason I'll address a few paragraphs later) pointed out, whereas he has the capability to be much greater, Rogers still chooses to accommodate to the little things - either a lab rat or a dancing monkey. What he needs now is a goal, some more courage (he's never lacked it) and some symbolic determination.

And just as this issue is brought up, an opportunity presents itself so that this little spark lighted by Peggy Carter is ignited into a fire of heroism. Over four hundred US soldiers are held prisoners by Johann Schmidt's army. And it is 'Bucky' Barnes, Rogers' best friend's division. Go figure. Once again, Mr. Stark and his resourcefulness come into play. The guy is brilliant. He provides most of the light-hearted bits of the movie, from the humor and charm he later passes on to little Tony Stark to the inventions and love for adrenaline rushes. (It was also interesting to see him failing a few times at demonstrating his inventions - possibly a hint that Tony Stark turns out even better than him)

Howard Stark: smart, charming, humorous, rich, adventurous. You don't get much better than this guy. Unless you're Tony.
And from this point onwards, it's the regular superhero movie routine, where the Cap executes his superhuman athleticism and slips into the tight enemy compound, easily beating heavily armed soldiers as if they're plastic toys in the process. I must admit, this hour of action in between is the lower point of the movie. But anyway, Cap goes in, bust his best buddy and some four hundred other prisoners out, looks at evil master plan map and memorizes it (nice to see the movie makers insert such pointers to his enhanced abilities) and have a little skirmish with the villain. Despite being quick, the skirmish does actually say a lot. The Cap and Red Skull were 'created' by the same serum, but turned out differently due to their natures (one good, one bad). That made them kind of like Neo and Smith - polar opposites (amazing how I always come back to The Matrix Trilogy). Classic action movie setup. Never gets old.
Captain America, finally accepted by everyone after saving their asses
Returning to the camp after having rescued over four hundred men, Steve Rogers truly earns his title of Captain America and is recognized by everyone. Gains himself a new suit (based on his stage costume) and the indestructible shield, once again courtesy of Mr Stark. No more monkey business. Now the Cap is all about action, ready to take the fight to Red Skull before he blows up half the globe just for the lulz.

 The Best Friends and The Team:
'Bucky' Barnes talking to Rogers on his last night before going to the army
 Very early on in the story, the movie makers establish the close friendship between Steve Rogers and James Barnes, who, unlike Rogers, is the typical quarterback type, smooth with the ladies, and is of course fit for the army. Seeing Barnes sticking up for his best buddy, and the two of them cracking inside jokes kind of makes me a little sad inside. Never had such a friend. /foreveralone.

This early buildup of chemistry between Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan's characters is crucial to the subsequent development of the story. As mentioned, the mere fact that it is Bucky that is imprisoned by the enemies is a drive strong enough to complete Steve Rogers' transformation into the true Captain America. Their friendship is the fuel and the key, to pretty much everything else in the last half of the film.

In that same process of rescuing his Barnes, the Cap also gained a few trusted comrades, who all agree to be on the front lines out of complete trust in one another and a lot of fighting spirits. True soldiers. You get to see all of them performing their incredible specialties and executing masterful team efforts. They were a joy to watch. Precise, professional, and in a word, sublime. Together, the team of five is always a step ahead of an enraged Red Skull, and foil the majority of his plans before they are even carried out.
The team. Minus Captain America

However, the one time things don't go according to plan results in the death of Bucky Barnes. Even though I would have liked Steve Rogers' pain at the loss of his best friend to be illustrated more clearly, the very short moments on film that they did show were quiet, subtle and packed enough sentiments to touch viewers' hearts. Once again, it is this friendship that drives the plot forward, as Captain America decides to head straight for Red Skull's hideout for the final confrontation.

 Can I Have That Dance?
It's a superhero movie. The superhero gets the girl. That's the formula. And of course 'Captain America: The First Avenger' is no exception. However, the girl in this movie isn't your typical damsel in distress. Neither is she Lois Lane, who is a strong female type but always eventually ends up damsel in distress. Peggy Carter is actually a badass who can hold her own against her male counterparts. From the first moment she appears on screen through to the final act (where she can't fight just because she isn't there) Peggy is shown as a perfect mix between a femme fatale and Wonder Woman (I'm not exactly sure how that works, but you get the idea. Or not.) For the most part, she is Steve Rogers' main source of inspiration and motivation. In fact, the Cap appears to unconsciously rely on her willpower up until the end, where he finally musters all the self-determination he needs.
She's a fucking sharpshooter, man.
In return, Peggy is moved by Steve Rogers' goodness. Every time he says something to her, her soul seems to light up a little. If at the start of the movie, you are introduced to a rather cold and fearless woman, by the end of the movie you get a softer, emotional girl in love (though she's still badass as hell) Truly beautiful moments, every time Peggy and Rogers talk. Short conversations. About normal things. Never actually admitted affection for each other until the end. But you can feel their chemistry much better than in other superhero movies. I personally feel their open-ended love story is the most well written and acted subplot of this movie. Their final conversation is also something that makes you smile, and feel immensely sorry at the same time. It's bittersweet. It's perfect. And in the end, it is love that matters the most to Steve Rogers.
"Nick Fury: You've been asleep, Captain. For over seventy years. You're gonna be okay?
  Captain America: Yeah, I'm fine. It's just... I had a date."
A dance they never had.

The verdict (Jesus H. Christ, I thought I'd never get to this point):
'Captain America' is a solid movie overall. Not just for the superhero genre, but generally. All the various elements in it work nicely together, and although there are visible flaws here and there, it is truly a treat. If I had to compare this one with other recent Marvel movies, I'd say 'Captain America: The First Avenger' beats the crap out of 'Iron Man 2' and falls not too far behind 'Thor'.

I give it a 7.5/10

That's about it from me! And just in case you're gonna complain about the ridiculous amount of spoilers you've just read: You were warned!

Thanks for reading and until next time! ;)


1 comment:

missroxor said...

OMG the spoilers, waaaa!!! :p

Awesome review, I wasn't bothered about seeing this but I'm actually looking forward to it now :D Didn't know there'd be romance, I <3 romance, lol. Especially loved your funny captions ;)