Monday, July 25, 2011

Captain America: First Avenger - Double Barrel Movie Review

This double barrel film review represents Rick and Ben's separate opinions after viewing the Captain America film. Neither knows what the other will write. It contains plenty of spoilers so don't read these reviews if you haven't yet seen the film or unless knowing details of the film won't bother you. Please enjoy and leave your own comments or reviews for us!

First Avenger: First Impressions.

Review by RICK

You Need To Go See It!
Captain America: First Avenger is a fun movie which I highly recommend. Joe Johnston needs to be credited here for succeeding in making the era and the characters come alive. I recommend it for Cap fans, comic fans, families and just about everyone - as it is designed and executed with a great deal of care toward making the story accessible. When I spoke to non-comic people who had seen the film, opinion was very high and almost universally all were surprised with just how good it was to watch. This is the sort of film that hasn't been made in a while, a thoughtful character heavy summer action blockbuster. And it also has a very sweet love story woven through it. Hats off!!

Like many movies, ambitious or not, all the cylinders did not fire properly. This is not meant to denigrate the total achievement but when they go to make another Cap film some fine tuning is in order. As evidenced by the entirety of the blog Ben and I have amassed, we might have done things a lot differently. I would like to keep my focus just on what the filmmakers themselves present, it's own logic, execution and how elements work in the whole film. I will try to keep away from blog comparisons for now.

I was really quite impressed with the visual effect of Steve Rogers being scrawny. As the director has rightly pointed out, watching the character as played by Chris Evens as skinny and then puffed out as superhuman lends a lot of credibility to the transformation of the character. Unfortunately, later, the same trick can not be applied to show Cap changing from U.S. war bond shill to leader on the battlefield. While I feel that Chris Evans pulled off what he was asked to do, the story itself did not convincingly portray him changing to fill that role or commanding with any kind of authority later. This is too bad. One of the important parts of the character is his presence and this was not successful.

Red Skull Forever!
In the comics, this character has not always been treated as top shelf. For this film and under the direction of Johnston, Hugo Weaving makes a dynamic, complex Red Skull with a portrayal as evil, menacing, brainy and ambitious. The fact that his full reveal does not come until later in the film was masterfully done and suspenseful. I was rooting for the Red Skull to be a high class villain and was not disappointed. As far as the Skull was concerned, the only cheesy moment came when he and Cap fought and talked on the catwalk over the flaming munitions factory. The special effects were so distractingly bad that it was hard to take the dialogue seriously. Both characters also seemed to be in no real danger from the flames so as was an attempt at drama this fell painfully short. The Red Skull should command more screen time as he was very watchable thanks to the talents of Weaving.

To Be Or Not To Be?
With minor exceptions, I greatly enjoyed the acting in Captain America: First Avenger.
Hugo Weaving, as stated above nails Red Skull. Chris Evans is to be congratulated. Aside from handling the obvious physical portions of the film, his expressions, tone and demeanor showed a much more subtle and reserved side that was needed to capture this character. What resulted was a performance that carried a complex, action heavy drama. There is only one quibble I will get to later. I think he performed very well as both civilian and super soldier.

The supporting cast was very solid and helped move the story along.
Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter portrayed a very convincing combination of brains, strength, guts and softness. Her admiration for Steve Rogers not only seems genuine but her noticing of his character traits makes us as an audience take notice. Very skillfully done. She is beautiful and tough and you wish she had more screen time and more to do. While it is no surprise that I have liked Stanley Tucci for a long time, his brief but pivotal role as Dr. Erskine is light and masterful. The scenes where he and Evans discuss motivation really set up a lot of the rest of the movie. He is warm and genuine. Nicely acted! Many of the other supporting positions are filled with good actors giving solid turns. Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola, Neal McDonough as 'Dum Dum' Dugan, Sebastian Stan as 'Bucky' Barnes all created nice little characters to fill out the action.

Disappointment was what I felt with
Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Philips. Jones mailed this one in and the tone was all over the map. He looked pale and uninterested and his magnificent voice seemed to be on vacation. I expected a little more from him and was let down. Samuel L. Jackson is also a personal favorite but in his very minor scene Jackson was extra flat in no part due to his delivery. By then, Cap's story had already been told and it was really just a lead to The Avengers. If his cameos in Marvel films get any more paper thin, you'll be able to see through him. Lastly there is the curious case of Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. I enjoyed his performance a lot but the whole inclusion of this Howard Hughes-like boy inventor/flyer/showman skews the film. He gets plugged into every plot hole and seemingly follows Rogers/Cap around through the whole movie. There is also a serious time frame issue going on as is established in the Marvel films. Won't he be way too old to be Tony Stark's father in Iron Man?

Period Piece. Marvel Fantasy.
Energy weapons during WWII? Aside from the enlistment section, it never really felt like being inside a WWII movie. When the story takes us to the streets of NY, the sets were lovingly cluttered with era artifacts, newspapers and comics. If the vehicles weren't so showroom clean, I might have been absorbed by the time period. Now I liked the fact that Cap is seen using a gun or grenade from time to time. It gives a bit of battlefield realism to his circumstances. The audience is removed from the war by focusing only on Hydra and Red Skull and they exist in a pure fantasy bubble. Before too long, everyone is running around with high tech weapons, tanks and planes. Because the real thing is scarcely established, there is no "wow" factor. Since Howard Stark is cooking up high tech of his own, there seems little desperation that forces will be decimated. 

Character Revealed
One of my favorite scenes in the movie involves Col. Phillips tossing a grenade into a group of trainees. All of them scatter except Steve Rogers. He reveals by his actions that he has the most hero in him. Earlier Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine explains to Steve Rogers that a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power. It is meant to demonstrate that power requires responsibility. It would have been great if this theme were more intentionally echoed in the character of Captain America and the Red Skull. Wasted opportunity.

The End, Beautiful Friend, The End
The ending to this film was simply 'okay.' Believe me I wanted to like it more. The filmmakers worked incredibly hard to bring the audience to this pay off point and then seemed to not know how to finish. Sure Red Skull is vaporized by the Cosmic Cube and Cap crashes into the ice but it was done in very ho hum fashion. I was not thrilled, excited or blown away. The main reason is that despite spending a lot of time building up the characters, when the moment came they did not feel in jeopardy. Since there was no peril, I was not invested in the outcome. Cap spent more screen time chasing the spy after his transformation than he did actually fighting the Red Skull at the end.

While this was a missed opportunity, another quickly followed. Cap decided he had to crash the flying wing and spent his last ninety seconds on the line with Peggy Carter, the girl he loves. Their exchange could have been dramatic, filled with tension and heartbreaking but it was none of those things. Flat acting, directing and dialogue did not give us the nail biting relationship between two people who had come to love one another but only had a few precious seconds left. Again the tension is absent. The theatre should have been moved when Cap's transmission is cut off and Peggy is left alone. Your heart should have skipped a beat. I think about a scene in Pride of the Yankees (1942) where Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright are horsing around, both knowing that he is going to die and in a short exchange of dialogue the tension and emotion are incredibly strong. Only a few strokes to create that portrait of courage. This too was a missed chance. Not to worry. More missed chances for drama and meaning are next.

Steve Roger's reintroduction into the modern era is poorly planned and poorly executed. Although this is just a brief scene to stitch between the WWII Cap and the Avenger's Cap, it fails and contains a flat Sam Jackson and Evans uttering the line "I had a date..." I do not get the sense that he is lost and confused in the modern era and when he does deliver his line it has virtually no meaning or punch. Here is a guy who minutes earlier, in his mind, was on the radio with his sweet heart, flying a plane and knowing he would die.

Don't let the details fool you. I really liked this film a lot and highly recommend it. It has action, wide scope, character development, a sweet love story, solid period feel in the New York scenes and lots of heart. If Steve Rogers teaches us anything (besides how to take down a flag pole) it is that courage is a special and unique quality we should all strive for. Many happy returns Mr. Rogers.

Thanks for tuning in,

CNY - Sun., July 24, 2011

Captain America Makes Star-Spangled Splash

Review by Ben.

I made it! I made it! I just saw Captain America on the big screen! It was a mad dash (okay, not MAD, but did include some precision driving, jogging and some luck...) to the theater, but I made it to Cap and none too soon! I didn't miss a frame of Joe Johnston's fine effort. Overall, I liked the film a lot. It was fun and bold. Comparing to THOR and X-Men: First Class, I'd say I liked it as much or a little more than THOR. I have to admit though, I left the theater with the phrase "Conflict! Conflict! Conflict!" Both THOR and Cap films sagged in the middle with a lack of conflict-- that is not a lack of action, but a lack of obstacles that push the protagonist back and change the direction of the story. Captain America: First Avenger is a rubber band being stretched back...

I liked the start and the film sets up things well both in present day and back in time. Of course, it was easy to tell what the men lowered down into and what, well WHO, they would find there in the arctic. I had a flash of mixed feelings with the "present day" opening because I guess I'm was hoping to grow up with Steve rather than look back at his former life. As I say it was only a flash, but considering we spend a whole lot of time developing Steve and "Cap the Performer" and not a whole lot of time with "Cap the Soldier," we could have used the extra few minutes elsewhere. A very minor oddity involves the premise that Steve got beat up a lot is underscored to tell us that not only can he take punishment, he's not gonna give up. That's neat and all but the point is kinda' beaten into us. Being someone who was bullied when he was a scrawny kid, I oddly didn't really identify with him. He can take so much punishment... why? Because he's beaten up so much? He's not even bruised when he goes on the date, how? It doesn't quite seem to match up for me. Where does his confidence come from? Why doesn't he have any fear? There are throw-away lines about his father was a soldier who died and his mom who is/was a nurse. That's cool, but why so little about them? I guess I feel like a character from their era has to have roots and if you're in NYC, your roots are right there telling you that you have to eat more. Still, it was fun. I don't think the scene with Stark really added anything and frankly, the World of Tomorrow doesn't really fit Cap's mythos. "Come on Steve, we got a date with some hot dames." "Sorry Bucky, I told my Gramma I'd get her groceries and I'm already late." That sounds a lot more like Steve in New York to me... The face mapping putting Chris' face on the smaller actor Leander Deeny was pretty darn well done. The green screen sets were done well enough, too.

Red Skull played by Hugo Weaving was pretty cool. Commanding. They trick you into thinking he's going to have the red face, but doesn't. I loved how they stretched out his reveal. He walks in and finds the cube without any trouble really, but that's fine. Wait, who is the Hydra? Wait, does Skull believe in Hitler's plan? Wait, Skull already believes he's the master of the universe so, wait. Where's his arc? Oh well, he's cool! I really liked the fact he was Austrian. It wouldn't have been my choice, but with so many German villains, it was a cool turn.

Rubber band streeeetches... Everything with the transformation was pretty cool. I really, really liked it when Steve tells them not to stop the super soldier process and that he can take it. (His voice sounded uninhibited by the massive diving bell thing he was in, but...) He's a bit surprised by his transformation, but I never got that burst of emotion from the discovery of one's new, massive power. Similar to THOR before and after his banishment, the contrast between Steve before and after his trials is minimal. If this is so, then what drives him to be a hero? Why DOES he want to join the Army? To do is part sure, but what/who gave him that desire? I loved his run as "Cap the Performer" which was a really clever twist, but he doesn't really get all that dissatisfied with his predicament. He now has the physical ability to do what he wanted, but he's being kept from it. Again and again he tried to enlist and he wasn't going to be satisfied collecting scrap metal. Why is he only slightly bummed he's spending so much time out of the fight? After the USO scene, I would have to think he'd have been really pissed. The men he believes in and wants to join more than anything in the world jeer him. Gads! Yet, it's not until he hears Bucky and others are trapped (and he happens to be in Italy) does he finally make the break.

Streee-e-etch... I think when Steve heads to free the men is probably around the halfway point time-wise. He's easily able to infiltrate the base even though we've never even seen him so much as punch a guy as do a tumble. (Speaking of, why didn't he do any acrobatics in the film?) He frees the men and then all heck breaks loose including zappy ray guns. Red Skull watches the action through video security cams (which did exist although would have been much larger) which pushes him a bit further toward the mustache-twisting villains of serials. I love, love, love serials and actually enjoyed the serial aspect of the film, but we need real conflict here folks! The image of serial villain is solidified when Skull and Cap meet for the first time. Biff, bam pow, moo-ah-ah. Skull whips his cape and escapes. Then we get treated to a cool little cliffhanger, which was great, but the lead-up is ho hum. And Cap returns with 400 men! Hiphip, hooray! Fun stuff. Oh, and Cap has a memory for maps...

Streeeetch...... WHOOSH! The rubber band is released and film explodes into a montage that doesn't ever really stop. Once Cap assembles his team, they begin crushing all the Hydra's bases like cans a spinach. (Isn't there a war on? Shhhh! There are no Nazis...)  Hydra is apparently Cobra from G.I. Joe with massive amounts of resources and enough metal and large enough factories to make ultra/mega-sized tanks. Good thing Cap and his Howling folks are so awesome, those tanks are about as hard to cut down as butter left out on a hot day. Hydra never knew what hit them! But don't they have ray guns?! Actually, I had the same reaction to that really bad G.I. Joe live action movie. Cobra somehow had ray guns, but were unfortunately really bad shots and severely disinterested in taking obvious opportunities to kill the good guys. It's never explained how Cap's shield is impervious to the also ill explained cube energy, but it sure works well. I had to look passed the UN special forces team we figured was coming. I welcomed the inclusion of non-Americans but considering America's Isolationist policies and the American internment of Japanese and Germans, it seemed a bit odd. (Shhh! That's like... history stuff!) I guess it just comes down to there being no back story for these folks. They come in and start kicking ass. Yo Joe!

Red Skull is mad. His bases are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Twist mustache. Before or after that, Bucky falls to his "death" (Hey, Cap found him being experimented on, right? Yep, he's comin' back...) in a very anti-climactic scene. By this point, I have no idea what bombed out WWII vacation spot they're in. I'm still enjoying this ride, but it seems to be heavy on the explosions and low on the emotions. We continue the near-romance with Peggy which isn't really explored, just used as a peripheral element. Everyone has started listening to Steve, which is fine, but I don't totally see why. Frontal assault. Gets them every time. Infiltrate through capture. Time honored tradition there. Then suddenly it's Star Wars. Speeder bikes are replaced by motor bikes. A huge attack force has managed to take the last base by surprise. Like, er, uhh, and we're just blaming this all on Dr. Zola not being a good tactician? Red Skull is not seeming to be the sharpest corner on the cosmic cube. ZAP! ZAP! There is ray gun fire everywhere and then... "Foiled again!" Skull just runs away again twirling his 'stashe, but this time into the really big Valkyrie flying wing. Vroom! What green screen! The Colonel drives Red Skull's fancy car with Peggy and Cap on board a hundred miles over its top speed to catch the massive aircraft (pause for kiss. Okay fine, I'll buy that cheesy goodness) and... we're on the ship. And we're off the ship flying around in X-Wing fighters complete with (robotic?) turrets firing blasters. Crash! Back on the ship. This is when I suddenly realize it's the end of the film. Wait, what? This is going to be the final fight? Already? But we just started the rapid series of action scenes... And so Cap and Skull have a pretty short and not very tense fight and WHAMMO Skull makes the mistake of beaming himself across the galaxy or somesuch with the cube thing. There's an almost touching Cap "death" scene and... the end. Crashing the airship wasn't really all that climactic because although Cap sacrifices himself, we already knew the airship failed to complete its mission (because, well, there is a future.) It just feels kind of impersonal I guess. Maybe if Red Skull had managed to drop one of the bombs on a city and we saw the devastating effects it would have felt more tense, but they're just unarmed, nonvolatile nuke-looking things with city names printed in English on them... The sequence where Steve sort-of wakes up from a dream they did to transition him to modern day was almost cool, but very see-through. Not only did we not get to see him come out of the ice a broken shell in need of healing, he just wakes up laying on a bed on top of the blankets in similar clothes as before. A half-drank lemonade on the side table. I just don't why they chose that. It's so... nothing. There is no character, no tension, no drama. Perhaps it's a Twilight Zone nod? Just seemed trite. After the credits, I was hoping for another cool scene. Unfortunately, all there was was a commercial. Really? An Avengers trailer after the credits? Really?

Although there were a (ahem) couple things I didn't like, I want to say that I did enjoy the film. Seeing Cap up on the screen was awesome. Their efforts to capture the times were great although, they seemed to forget it at times. The performances were pretty good with only a few cheesy moments. Chris did well in the role although, it seems they had trouble keeping him looking bigger than other folks. The suit turned out looking fine, but the shoulder pads on the sides never looked right. Also, it didn't work to accentuate his size I mean, he looked bigger in his performer suit... Kick-ass agent lady "Peggy" (Hayley Atwell) was well played although, her relationship with Steve was awkward at best. Her place as a woman of the world didn't really play into her almost immediate attraction to teen Steve. I totally bought that she was looking into him though which was cool, but they didn't really get enough screen time to develop the love the film makers tried to say existed between them. Tommy Lee Jones (character name unnecessary) plays a fun role even though we're not breaking new ground here. The rest of the cast was really great, Dominic Cooper was excellent as Stark. Richard Armitage was completely wasted in such a small role, but it was nice to see him. Hugo Weaving of course was great with his well done Voldemortian lack of nose. His eyes also looked huge in the red which was cool. He just didn't have very much to do. In the end, I think there were many missed opportunities and the whole lack of Nazi's and WWII was pretty lame. It places the story firmly in fantasy and loses all that possible historical and mythical weight. I was a fun film, though. Shield-flinging, serial throwback goodness worth watching!

I hope you enjoyed another double-review from Rick and I!

Thanks for reading folks!

LA - Mon., July 25, 2011

1 comment:

  1. I am writing this in the late hours of Thurs. 12/15/11. I found out today about the death of Joe Simon (98 years old). He lived a life of bold imagining and creativity. Captain AMerica was one of his greatest creations and I hope we are able in some humble way to do service to Joe and Jack Kirby who passed away before he could see all the Marvel characters explode on the screen. Joe witnessed the tides rise once again and Captain AMerica was accepted as a hero by a new generation of fans. Ben and I put our two cents worth in but not until after creative giants roamed the land and sweated out the details of characters that had enormous lasting power.

    Not as well known was Joe's efforts to protect and expand creator's rights. He wanted more compensation and better deals for artists and writers and this was a cause he championed his whole life. It is important that his voice will no longer be a part of this conversation.