Captain America: The First Avenger
An American icon is (re)born
Also opening this week:
Note: Captain America is playing in a dubbed version in most Prague cinemas, but you can catch it in English (2D version only) at CineStar Anděl and Černý most and Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům and Nový Smíchov.
At times, Captain America: The First Avenger represents the best of what the Marvel universe has brought to the screen: there´s wonderful period detail (Brooklyn, 1942) and engaging themes in this story of a 90-pound weakling, continually rejected for military service, who enters an experimental program and comes out a hulking superhero, leading Allied forces over Nazis in WWII Europe.
But this is a film of two halves: the first half (or even two-thirds) of Captain America, culminating in Cap´s recruitment as a bond-selling song-and-dance man, is a terrific origin story. Then Cap leaps into action on the WWII battleground, and director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, October Sky) really fumbles: the film turns into one big war movie montage, minus the connecting tissue that would pull an audience in; we seem to be watching a trailer for the movie, as if the scope of the production was ultimately too much to be effectively conveyed onscreen.
Chris Evans stars as Steve Rogers, the bullied weakling who only wants to serve his country, but is prevented from doing so by a laundry list of physical deficiencies. Early scenes employ CGI effects to actually shrink the actor to toothpick size; they´re so effective that when Rogers becomes the hulking Captain America, we´re thrown off and wonder if CGI has now been used to bulk him up.
Rogers is recruited by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) to take part in the experimental super-soldier program. He´s easily the smallest of all the recruits trained by Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), but Erskine likes his spirit, and he´s chosen as the initial test subject. The program is halted by a Nazi (rather, HYDRA) agent, and Rogers is also the last test subject. But he comes out bigger, stronger, and Captain America is born.
Meanwhile, in Nazi Germany, Erskine´s previous test subject, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is attempting to harness the power of a Norse artifact for use in a weapon of mass destruction. Schmidt, the “Red Skull”, has fallen out of favor with Hitler and embarked on his own world-domination plot; his soldiers, including Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), salute “Heil HYDRA!” to the leader of the Marvel Universe supervillain organization.
With the origin story nicely handled, the stage is set for an epic showdown between Captain America, who has now recruited the Howling Commandos in the absence of Nick Fury, and the Red Skull. But the rest of the film just devolves into trailer-style action - no setup, no plotting, no payoff. It´s a curious development in an otherwise expertly-conceived superhero film.
Still, Captain America: The First Avenger has a lot going for it; Marvel has always had a way with superhero themes, and the WWII setting helps transport one back a bygone era. Captain America may be a leftover gung-ho icon, but Johnston and writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely are sincere and earnest and really sell you on the American dream, at least within the context of the film; this is what it once was, they remind you, and it isn´t anymore.
Important distinction: while Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and other characters are Marvel Comics canon, and Marvel Studios has assisted in the production of their features, their film rights are ultimately controlled by other studios; the “official” Marvel Studios features - which will culminate in The Avengers next summer - have included Iron Man and Iron Man 2 , The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and now Captain America (and unlike the other studios, they´ve yet to produce a dud).
We know from the previous films to stick around until after the credits for an extra scene; Captain America continues this tradition, though it´s not exactly an extra scene - with series continuity taken care of before the credits roll, the post-credits sequence is more like a teaser for next summer´s The Avengers. Side note: not sure whether to stick around for the credits for a particular movie? Use the invaluable Moviestinger.com.
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