NEO BAGGINS REVIEWS CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (((LITE SPOILERS))
Does the latest MARVEL STUDIOS offering stand out from the CBM summer of movies?
In the fashion of my other reviews (all two of them and their two readers), I must recap my experience, opinions and expectations leading up to the film. From the beginning of this production, I thought a better effort could have went into casting the lead role of Captain America. I felt Evans didn't have the character and presence to embody the iconic MARVEL hero. Putting that behind me I continued to follow the production. There wasn't a single bit of news, set photo, supporting cast announcement or piece of footage that spoke to me that the film would be above average. After the official trailer was released, I found my item of interest; Skinny Steve Rogers. I never knew how they would approach this aspect of the story and I was surprised that so much thought and effort went into it. It seemed to be a very amusing technical achievement. After hearing a few of Evan's lines as Skinny Rogers, it was evident that this was the most interesting thing I'd seen related to the film. Just only recently, I saw a clip that looked exciting; the shield-combat scene. But long story short; my anticipation was non-existent. If the film had a weak pulse it would be better than I expected, and if it was terrible, I wouldn't be surprised. I went in with a clean slate and this is how it went.
Review: Special FX, cast and story
Early on, I could see that the production values were really decent, especially in the area of recreating the period piece atmosphere. The sets, live locations, props and wardrobe are on point. Things are kind of clean in spots, but nothing really bottoms out as too cheap-looking and the film maintains a good degree of solid visual structure. This aspect works extremely well being that the film appears to be less of a CGI film and more of a practical effects film. So, the production is a solid one, as is the directing.
The film starts with the well-known story of Skinny Rogers trying repeatedly to enlist in the Army, only to be rejected. I was probably going to enjoy Skinny Rogers no matter what, but Evan's pulled of the innocence, honesty and determination needed for the audience to get on-board and root for the character. It is the most developed and well-executed aspect of the film. So, instead of being amused by Evan's head on a skinny body, I was actually drawn into the character's journey through Evan's portrayal. His character is well developed on a whole and he doesn't get lost among the cast. The story is clearly about Rogers.
Soon Rogers would be approached by a military scientist disguised as a homeless drunk named Abraham Erskine, played by Stanley Tucci. For the Doctor's part in the first act of the film, his character is also well-developed and leaves it's mark. I couldn't help but notice the guy looked a little buff in what looked like an itchy suit that was a wee small for him. Tucci is sharp, his accent on point, and he serves the purpose of the mentor character very well for his brief stay on camera. He is shot to death after Roger's physical transformation. This is a Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan moment, or better yet; an Obi Wan and Qui Gon moment being that the good Doctor's naked ghost didn't leave a pile of cloths on the floor when he died. There isn't a lot invested between Rogers and Erskine, but the quality of a single scene between them was enough to justify anger and emotion from Rogers. Things move pretty fast during this part of the film but I feel the pace is necessary being that there are many things to touch on.
I was expecting Atwell's Peggy Carter to be wallpaper. Hollywood has an unwritten rule that a film MUST have a love interest and most of the time there is no chemistry or decent performance from the dame. But Peggy has character of her own and this becomes apparent no sooner than her introduction (punching an asshole in the face). Then, she is followed by another expected bore; Tommy Lee Jones, who was also a pleasant surprise to watch on screen. It is far too easy for Tommy Lee Jones to play Tommy Lee Jones when given a typical role like Colonel Chester. But Tommy doesn't phone in his performance and appears to be having fun while bringing his A-Game. There is a real sense of connection between Peggy and Rogers and it works for the brief time they are allowed. The cast is solid.
Hugo Weaving, of course brings the villain with his portrayal of the Red Skull. However, he never really gets a chance to peak. He is at his most dangerous at the start of the film. You really get the sense that he is evil. Some times the make up doesn't work and he's not as imposing as he was a few scenes ago, but he's consistent with his characters motives (tinkering with the cube for an unspecified purpose) and basic persona. But in the end, Hugo feels underused and could have fared better with a bit more to do. His connection with Rogers as hero and villain is just not there.
Review: Action, events and emotion
The first action sequence we are introduced to is the newly enhanced Rogers chasing an agent of Hydra. This is an exciting scene given the circumstances. It doesn't break any new ground on the chase scene in general, but in the context of a super soldier chasing a vehicle on foot (barefoot) in a 1940's setting, it's easy to set it apart for the typical modern day action chase scenes.The chase becomes most interesting when he finally runs the agent down to an industrial dock area. I can't help but to MARVEL at the period piece setting. It is quality down to each extra's socks. During this event, there is a brief comical moment where the agent tosses a boy into the water. When Cap runs over, prepared to jump in, the kid tells him to keep chasing the guy because "I can swim". I guess he can smell the "good" on Rogers, but the comical lines throughout the film are witty and genuinely funny enough to at least make you smile. I don't remember anything too cringe-worthy or overly corny. However, when asked what makes him so special, and Cap replies to Red Skull with "Nothing, I'm just a kid from Brooklyn", the intended results falls flat. The lack of relationship and interaction between Cap and Skull is a large weak point fort he film.
Other action sequences include the rescue of the Howling Commandos and the scene where Cap enters the Hydra strong hold to save them. For the most part it's by the numbers kick, punch, jump, explosion. The action takes it's most unique route when Cap is using a combination of hand-to-hand combat with shield banking while whooping the asses of a few Hydra soldiers. I think this is the most extensively his shield throwing and fighting skills are displayed. The Endor bike chase promises thrills, but once you're all worked up, the scene is over and not much happened. Cap deploys some trip-wires from his bike, 007 style, and a couple guys go flying while others duck. The survivors are blown up before another explosion and then... another. I think Michael Bay was sitting behind me blapping off. Cap really doesn't have much problem getting by, so there isn't much tension, but the rescue itself sets up the most cheer-worthy scene in the theater; Cap returning with the rescued soldiers. This scene is powerful because of the doubt displayed by Tommy Lee Jones' Colonel Chester.
There's the Cap and Bucky scene that we saw online where Cap makes a super jump to escape fire and explosions below. This scene actually saves itself. There's really no need to think Cap is going to die, but once he jumps midway over the fiery distance, the scene cuts to another without seeing his landing. It's awkward editing, but you get the feeling that the landing looked awful and they opted for a mystery conclusion take on it. After all, it's Cap's new stages of testing his abilities. Whatever. So, we move on to a scene where the Howling Commandos, led by Captain America, must stop a Hydra-filled train. I don't remember this plot point exactly, but once Cap starts to fight more Hydra along with Bucky, we're back to typical, and not too exciting sequences. There is a moment of uncertainty with Bucky's fate and I start to wonder if they're trying to make you guess when he "dies". But when it does happen, it is uneventful and underwhelming. There was more emotion invested in the doctors death, who had a brief relationship with Rogers. Bucky's death should have been presented with more of an impact. You really didn't care when he fell, and when he reaches the point of peril, it's so quick that you really don't have time to evaluate his situation. He makes a wrong turn and he's done. I'm not into the whole Winter Soldier thing, and I understand it's quite popular, so, if I thought it was cool that he picked up Cap's shield for a moment, it must have made Winter Soldier fans cream their nickers.
In the end, we close with a lack luster hand-to-hand between Red Skull and Cap, with the previous aerial scene between Rogers, a Hydra agent and a plane, being much more exciting. There is a very moving exchange between Peggy and Cap, communicating as Cap transmits from a doomed craft he is piloting.
Skinny Rogers: Evans shines as the underdog and the visual effect is nearly seamless. Rogers remains the same good man once he's transformed, but eventually, Evan's will have to portray a Captain America that is strong and confident. This being an origin story, I understand his current state. Evan's is Cap now, so, I'll see how it develops. Harping on better casting at this point is a waste of brain cells. I have Vodka to do that.
The return of the Howling Commandos: The film needed more scenes like this, but at the same time, this is a particular event and it only happens once. When Rogers comes over the clearing with the soldiers behind him, you are rooting for him all the way. It is a crowd-pleasing moment.
Getting the flag: Following the adventures of Skinny Rogers, you can't help but to cheer him on when he uses his mind over body to get a ride with Peggy Carter. This scene, and the one above, elicited the most crowed reaction from myself and the theater audience.
Shield ass-beating 101: This is probably the most Captain America the film gets in terms of Rogers in action. It's brief, but it sums up his abilities and what you can expect when he's side by side with THOR or Iron Man in the Avengers.
Peggy gone get old and die: This is a gut-wrenching scene for the simple fact that Cap will live on, but Peggy will die or get really old- about 90 if she survived. This can set up another heart-wrenching scene if they choose to explore it in Avengers. It's really tragic and that's because they conveyed actual chemistry between the characters. Rogers remained the same man weather he was skinny or enhanced, and Peggy admired him weather he was skinny or enhanced. They were good people attracted to each other.
Colonel Chester visiting Doctor Zola: It's not the Dark Knight "Interrogation scene" (don't start), but if there's going to be an interrogation scene list, I'd add this scene to it. I actually got hungry watching Jones eat that steak and potatoes. Damn.
First chase: Putting Cap in a chase scene on the heels of his transformation is an exciting narrative choice.
The soundtrack is solid, if not standard for the most part. There are times when the film has a Spielberg/Lucas feel, and I'm sure we can attribute that to the director's history among those film makers. There is one generic, patriotic, cheesy piece of music that was used. Initially it was used as a comic device when the Colonel first saw Rogers in the line up. But for some reason, this cheesy patriotic score would play during certain events, in turn, bringing the scene down with an unnecessary vibe of cheese. During the Howling rescue, there's some out-of-place music that sounds like a rave is about to start. It's like the music you'd hear on CSI when the detective is trailing a sleezy club owner on foot. But for the most part it's alright.
Review: Final verdict
Captain America is far better than I anticipated (nearly zero anticipation), but most of it's strong points are rooted in it's potential to be a better film. From the start, there is a promise of an amazing film, but then it evens out into mediocre territory. If I think back on the film, events are spotty and with the lack of a more prominent villain presence, you start to wonder what the fight was about, what did Red Skull want and did it feel like a palpable threat? Some times the heroes are only as great as their enemies. In this case, they worked on the hero and didn't fully deliver the villain even though they had the right man to do it. Rogers has no real personal interaction with Red Skull and is going on little Cap adventures without a strong, overall plot. So, what you end up with is a collection of scenes that feel like short stories within themselves. Skinny Rogers to Cap is a short story, Cap rescues soldiers is a short story, commandos hit train and lose bucky is a short story. But what's missing is the adventure on a whole as a singular, cohesive, event.
The final fight between the two is anticlimactic and there is more attention paid to Cap's last task, which is dealing with an unforeseen threat that was never even demonstrated. This is a very character driven role, so, to have Cap flying a doomed plane with more urgency than facing his iconic foe for the last time, is further under-use of Weaving's Red Skull. But there's enough fun and bangs to make it a good film worth checking out. For the running time, there should have been more bang, and it feels like it had more potential then actual show and prove. I don't feel the need to see it again, but I enjoyed it for what it was. It had heart, and that goes a long way. But you do need to support heart with other elements, but it does go a long way.
Review: Avengers trailer
The scenes flash by so fast, but there is excitement in there. I got a better look at THOR'S costume without the sleeves and it looks pretty badass with the red on the wrist-bands and shoulders. Looked like there was no cape, but there was red cloth tucked into where the cape flows from. If the arm chain-mail and cape materializes when he needs it to, I will shit bricks of awesome joy and I might, just maybe, say "I CAME". But I can't make any promises. You guys have the whole coming over dudes thing on lock down. Seeing Stark and THOR on screen was awesome, but it's obvious they threw the trailer together without really having a lot of complete footage. I appreciate that they wanted to show, SOMETHING, with the last movie leading up to the Avengers.
CBM SUMMER RANKING
2. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
3. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
4. GREEN LANTERN
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
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