Friday, July 29, 2011

'Captain America' is a rousing adventure

“Captain America” is the fourth superhero movie this summer following on the heels of “Thor,” “X-Men: First Class” and “Green Lantern.” It would be easy to roll your eyes and say “not another one,” but the film escapes possible superhero fatigue by being a straightforward, old-fashioned adventure.
This is the fifth film to come from Marvel Studios. Starting with 2008's “Iron Man,” they've been making a series of films that will culminate with next summer's “Avengers,” which will bring together Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and other characters.
Marvel Studio's films have thus far all have been of high quality and made with a care that honors both the original source material while still making the films accessible to a broader audience.
“Captain America” is the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 90-pound weakling with a good and tenacious heart who desperately wants to serve his country during World War II. He gets his chance when Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) recruits him for a special program that, thanks to a super serum, transforms Rogers into a specimen of physical perfection.
Rogers' nemesis is not Hitler, but another ubermensch named Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), aka the Red Skull because his head turned a lovely shade of red when he took an earlier form of Erskine's serum. Schmidt has built his own army known as Hydra and he dreams of, what else?, world domination.
Before Rogers gets to see combat, the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely rather shrewdly has Captain America used as propaganda to sell war bonds during USO shows. The image of Captain America appears in comics and movies, which is a knowing, but not forced nod to the origins of the character.
When Rogers hears his buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has been taken prisoner, he goes rogue. With the aid of agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), he leads a one-man mission to rescue Bucky.
The film is a throwback to adventure film serials and war movies, albeit with a bigger budget. Joe Johnston is the ideal director for this material having already shown an affinity for this time period 20 years earlier with “The Rocketeer,” a film about another World War II-era comic book hero.
Johnston gets the look of the era right, and the pacing, with the exception of one action montage, is not as rushed as many modern action films. The film takes its time establishing Rogers before his transformation and allows for scenes like his conversations with Erskine. Tucci, an always reliable character actor, is wonderful in these scenes.
The special effects are top notch, but more subtle than in a lot of superhero movies. The effect of making Evans look like a scrawny version of himself is seamless and rather remarkable. Likewise, the effects for Red Skull are equally convincing. These are the best kind of effects, the kind you accept and then no longer notice. There are also plenty of explosions, ray guns, submarines and aircrafts to dazzle the eye.
Evans, who usually plays cocky and arrogant, does a nice job capturing the sincerity of Rogers. Evans makes a solid hero, but he may have dialed down too much as his Captain America doesn't seem quite forceful enough. Even so, getting the earnestness right was most important.
Weaving, best known for his villainy in “The Matrix” movie, is unsurprisingly terrific here. He is menacing, creepy and ever so slightly mad. All right, he's a raving loon, but Weaving plays it as a man who is thinking about foaming at the mouth rather than actually foaming.
Tommy Lee Jones does his gruff, dry Tommy Lee Jones thing as a skeptical colonel. There's a lot of typecasting in this film from Jones to Weaving to Evans, but typecasting works for a reason. Jones and Weaving have played roles like this before and they do them well. The film benefits for having them.
Atwell as the obligatory love interest looks smashing. She looks like 1940s pin-up girls that so many World War II soldiers fawned over. Thankfully, she can also act and there is a sweet, tentative, rather chaste romance that develops between Atwell and Evans.
This is a rousing adventure in the old style. Those who love the chaotic noise and incoherent action of “The Transformers” best stay away. There is action to be had here, but there's also crazy things like story and characters as well.

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