Sunday, December 11, 2011

DVD Review of Captain America: The First Avenger

It wasn't bad. It wasn't bad at all. I think Chris Evans turned in a pretty good performance as "Cap", allaying my fears that he'd play Steve Rogers in the same crappy manner as he did Johnny Storm in both lousy Fantastic Four movies (2005 and 2007 respectively).

By the way, if you haven't seen the film yet and want to be surprised, stop reading now. I'm jumping right into some major spoilers. Here we go.

I was initially dubious about changing Bucky from a teenage sidekick to a "big brother" character, but there'd be no way to realistically introduce a 14 year old onto a World War II European battlefield. The main point of Bucky anyway is to provide Cap with plenty of guilt and post-war angst over how he should have prevented Bucky's death, but didn't. In that sense though, the separation between the time of Bucky's death and Cap's going into deep freeze diminishes the impact (at least as far as I could tell). If Bucky had died just seconds before Cap crashed the plane, it would have been the last, horrible thought on Steve's mind when he was flash frozen and the very first when he woke up almost 70 years later. Oh well.

I thought the pre-Cap Steve Rogers was handled pretty well. The film was a little light on why Steve wanted to enlist so much or for that matter, why he was always so courageous, even when getting the living snot beaten out of him, though. After getting a brief look at his medical records early in the film and noticing he had heart problems, I'm a little surprised the repeated beatings he alluded to didn't put him in the hospital or even kill him. It's one thing to be a 98-pound weakling with asthma and another to be extremely medically fragile.

I know Director Joe Johnston wanted the character of Captain America to be less about being a patriotic symbol and more about how nice guys make better heroes, but Cap is all about being the American hero at a time when we are all about symbolic inspiration to help us endure the sacrifices of war. I found Steve, both before and after his transformation, to be a little too humble. Captain America is a decisive leader of men. His character started developing in that direction but Evans never took it quite far enough. To be fair though, it's a difficult balance to strike between being heroic and always being portrayed as a "nice guy" (as opposed to an arrogant ass like the guy Colonel Phillips [Tommy Lee Jones] wanted to put through the experiment).

I still can't believe that douche politician turned Cap into some sort of cheesy performer. How many millions of dollars were poured into the experiment to turn Steve into a Super Soldier and yet, his only options were being a lab rat or a USO actor? What a waste of resources. I'm stunned the military went along with it. I suppose this was the only way Johnston could figure out how to put Steve in a red, white, and blue outfit in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) and then get him into action. I still wish he'd have found another way to do this.

I loved how Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, and the rest of the Howling Commandos (minus Sgt. Fury for continuity reasons) became Cap's "team". In the 1960s Marvel comic books, Cap would sometimes team up with Fury and the "Howlers" for one mission or the other. I didn't expect this and it was a welcome addition to the film.

I did expect Howard Stark to be in the film and he was depicted in a way that it's easy to see why Tony ended up being such a womanizing, arrogant playboy. Like father, like son. I was a little surprised at a few of the "miniaturized" devices Stark was able to create in an age when vacuum tubes had yet to be replaced by transistors (which were still bulky but allowed Marvel to justify the comic book Tony Stark creating the Iron Man armor in 1963). I thought the levitating car (even if it didn't work) was a little over the top. It's much more "real" to imagine Howard being part of the Manhattan Project and creating "the bomb".

The whole Steve Rogers/Peggy Carter relationship was interesting if expected. They never really "hooked up" (and for that matter, never got to that dance Steve had promised her), but they were really hung up with each other (sometimes to Peggy's surprise), adding the required "romantic relationship" to movies like this. I found myself wondering that if Steve didn't know how to talk to a woman and had never danced with one (because he was so puny at first and then too busy as Cap later on), what else had he "never done" with a woman? Does this mean Steve Rogers wakes up in the 21st century still a virgin? Maybe the Black Widow would be able to help him out later on. Either that, or Peggy's granddaughter or great-granddaughter (Sharon Carter AKA Agent 13 is bound to make an appearance sometime or another) will finish what Peggy started.

There is one, really big plot hole (not the only one, but I can live with the others). Why did Steve have to "die" at the end of the film in order to save New York from the Red Skull's "doomsday" plane? He'd already exited and re-entered the plane in flight by using one of the on-board "mini-planes". Couldn't he have just set the big plane into a dive and then escaped using one of the smaller modules? This was pointed out with great panache by the gang at How It Should Have Ended.

When the Cosmic Cube "short circuited" or whatever it did when it "ate" the Red Skull (great job by Hugo Weaving, by the way), Cap should have "discovered" that the energy discharge destroyed the mini-planes or fused the controls that opened the bomb bay doors or something, but it was just overlooked by Johnston. Steve didn't have to die/get frozen at the end of the film.

In spite of my bitching, I really enjoyed the movie overall. It wasn't exactly what I would have expected out of Captain America, but it was still good. Musical score had a hard time trying to figure out if it wanted to be 1940s nostalgia or modern hero theme music. Credits at the end (none at the beginning of the film at all) were straight up lame. The end and then the real end (after all the final credits) were good, which brings me to my last point.

Captain America and the Avengers. In the 1960s Avengers comic books, there was no one, permanent leader. Each Avenger took a monthly rotation as far as leading the team. Having said that, whenever Cap was around (and always when he was leading Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye), he ended up being the de facto leader and the unofficial "heart" of the Avengers. Nice guy aside, even when he was the weakest member of the team, having no "real" superpowers, he always had the soul and the vision of a leader. He was used to being obeyed instantly, not because he was some kind of dictator, but because he was just that good at taking command, sizing up every combat situation, and taking decisive action in deploying his "forces". In the Silver Age comics, this was pointed out again and again by the other team members. I hope that he gets to fulfill that destiny in the upcoming Avengers (2012) film as well.

Unfortunately, based on the trailers I've seen so far, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is more likely to dominate any screen time he shares with Rogers (Evans) and Cap will just be another guy in a costume, probably more spectacular than Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) but trailing behind the other Avengers (the Black Widow will attract more attention only because she's played by the very beautiful Scarlett Johansson - yowza!).

Back to the current review, I would definitely watch this film again...and again and again. It's not perfect, but it's still Captain America. In an age where we have no one to look up to anymore, we need an American hero like Cap.


  1. Great review! I agree with the points you raise and just enjoyed it too much to worry long about the problems.

  2. Thanks. Glad you liked it.

    Forgot to mention that the whole thing about the Red Skull being "destroyed" by the Cosmic Cube, the Cube being lost in the ocean and then found by Howard Stark just screams "sequel villain", maybe in "Avengers 2".

  3. I honestly don't know why they didn't shoot 2 Avengers movies back to back while they had the cast assembled. It might be harder in the future to get that team together again.

    The more I think about it, my only real gripe with Captain America is that there wasn't enough gravitas to Bucky's death.

  4. Agreed. One of the central themes of Cap's post-frozen life is constantly blaming himself for Bucky's death. There was also the possibility that Bucky might have survived, somehow (which was finally realized decades later in the Winter Soldier storyline.

    Who knows what the future might bring? I hope it's good.