The Culture Beat

July 27, 2011

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex @ 11:46 pm


As my earlier post on my most anticipated summer movie attested, the goal of the Marvel Studios latest cinematic rendering of one of the comics company’s all-stars was to firmly established the star spangled WWII hero in the 21st century. Becoming three dimensional in more than one way, the film had to take comicdom’s corniest hero and make him work on the big screen. Just as the studio succeeded in a perhaps more challenging task of making thunder god Thor soar in the May blockbuster, so Captain America: The First Avenger neatly makes us accept that Cap can wield the shield on film just as well if not better as he does in the comics.

The most interesting element is how the film cleverly acknowledges how ridiculous a red, white and blue costumed adventurer would appear on movie screens. In the 1940s comics, as soon as Steve Rogers is transformed from a skinny 4F Army reject to an American ubermensch through the mixture of the right scientific formula and “vita-rays,” he puts on the costume and starts hammering the Nazi menace both on the homefront and overseas (Cap was introduced before Pearl Harbor by shrewd comics masters Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, anticipating the approaching necessity of the United State’s entry into the war.) His secret identity as a PFC Steve Rogers was a cover for his heroic career and it allowed the average serviceman to see Cap as his own alter ego, similar to the Clark Kent/Superman dialectic. Because his mission, accompanied by the teen sidekick Bucky Barnes, kept him from showing up for his regular camp duties, Steve and Bucky spent time peeling potatoes in KP.

This immediate launch into a colorful career would plainly not work in a feature film so the script has Rogers drafted into a war bonds drive appearing in the original costume which of course looks ludicrous but satisfies the show’s kitschy entertainment values and succeeds with the audiences. Eager to use his enhanced abilities to really make a difference on the battlefield, Steve, still partially in costume, and with the help of Howard Stark (future father to Tony, aka Iron Man), and secret agent Peggy Carter, he parachutes into enemy territory to boldly break into the secret operations plant of the vile Red Skull aka Johann Schmidt, head of the super science cult Hydra. After freeing 400 Allied prisoners, Captain America’s career is finally born and the film successfully brings to life his exploits that will appeal to the inner comic book fan in everyone.

Rather than a campy goody-goody, a la the 1960’s Adam West Batman, Chris Evan’s portrayal of Rogers is so sincere and his demeanor so humble that the audience identifies with this American Everyman because he is so plainly decent and unselfish. The script also continues to build the cinematic version of the Marvel Universe by tying in elements from Thor’s cosmic super science by making the Cosmic Cube part of Asgardian technology, something that I believe is distinct from the comic version. This neatly sets up plot elements certain to appear in next summer’s The Avengers where (teased in the not-to-be-missed final minute after the credits). Marvel Studios is brilliantly setting up their films as interconnected narratives unlike anything else in film; it’s a shame that so far, DC’s attempts to launch a similar cinematic universe, with Green Lantern is failing. When it comes to big screen adventures, Marvel is still the house of ideas.

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