Captain America Movie Reviewon July 29, 2011 at 8:35 pm
A dual review By Justin Thompson and Tom Racine.
I’ve said this before; Captain America has been my favorite super-hero since I was 7 years old and still remains so today. I saw my cousin’s stack of comics back in the late sixties and the only ones I liked were the Kirby and Steranko Captain America comics. I was drawn to them like snow to the seas, there was just something about that guy that made me want to be him more than any other character in any of those comics. Since those days I’ve bought every issue of Captain America and I still do, yes I even kept reading during those dreary, horrible, silly, early to mid 90’s years. I only reiterate this so that you know ahead of reading this review: ‘This is personal’.
I remember Tom and I speculating on what a new Captain America movie might be like several years ago when we co-hosted the Comics Coast to Coast podcast. I felt that it would be impossible to make a universally satisfying Cap movie now since the country is so divided. Much in the same way Natl. policy gets done these days, you can’t make one side happy without completely infuriating the other side and so policy gets made that ultimately nobody likes. And why repeat the mistake of that impotent Captain America film from 1990? NOBODY liked that. I felt that the only successful way to make a new movie out of Captain America, at its soul a deeply patriotic symbol for both sides of the aisle, was to set it in World War 2 because that’s something that just about everyone can feel patriotic about. Tom, was that your feeling as well or did you have a better take on it?
Tom: I remember just thinking that the real power of Captain America started in World War II, and that’s where the first movie needed to be set. It feels like America may be a land of deeper divisions these days, but World War II is one of those times in history that we all have strong, patriotic feelings about, where it’s easy to feel proud of the U.S. and her actions. So if the movie focused on that time, it would be something everyone could agree on. I also knew that if they did a 20 minute World War II sequence, followed by Cap getting frozen and woken up in the modern world, followed by 20 minutes of “gosh, how does this newfangled computer thing work?”, fish-out-of-water crap, I was going to walk out of the theater. Cap’s character was formed in the (dare I use a $2 word?) zeitgeist of the Great Depression and the pre-War years. He’s a man from a different time, with a simple, clear moral code: stand up for the little guy. If the movie were to gloss over that to get to some big, modern special effects extravaganza, then they would have utterly missed the point of his entire character. Luckily this is one of rare times where Hollywood not only met my expectations, it exceeded them.
I know that Cap is very important to you for many reasons; did you think the film developed the character correctly? Did they “get” him?
Justin: Oh yes, I think this movie went farther in defining who Steve Rogers was than the Captain America comic books EVER did. And as I stated before, I’ve read them all. The big problem in writing Captain America, that I’ve seen, is that the writers were never able to really make the comic book Steve Rogers interesting. Maybe only the movie could do that. Perhaps we had to actually see the tough, scrawny, tenacious kid in action in order for us to really feel and relate to what it means to want so badly to do good in the face of insurmountable evil, and to feel powerless to do anything about it. That’s the writer, director, and Chris Evans working together and sparking on all creative cylinders.
This was the part of the movie that I was proudest of when I watched it with my son. I was so glad to show him how a good man stood up to bullies in power no matter what he looked like, big or small. Steve Rogers never made apologies or excuses for what he was. He knew what was right and stood up for it even when he knew he was going to take a beating for it. I don’t see this in recent movies nearly enough.
Could this personality be shown in graphic form? With just pictures and a comic book font? I don’t think so. I don’t think that even Alan Moore could evoke that much feeling for the character of Steve Rogers if he were to write him because in comics there is such pressure to ‘get on with it’. ‘Show us the costume, show us the fight’. In movies there is this same pressure and thank goodness MARVEL didn’t let Sony or some other big property have this project because there would have been the same pressure for quick results. “C’mon, nobody wants to see this scrawny kid for half of the movie, they wanna see Captain America! Get on with it!”
But MARVEL, since THEY are making the movie and not a bunch of out-of-touch-suits, were able to take their time and show the humanity under the mask. The Recent Green Lantern movie is a perfect example. Very little character development there, so when the costume was in trouble- meh. So what, what are the stakes, really? But in this case the little guy getting lucky, and then he being the one and only guy with this ability in a time of global crisis,… it meant EVERYTHING. And best of all, he never changed. With all of that power, with all of that pressure and attention, he was still that same guy that was getting beat up in the alley. That made us care about him all the way to the end. It helped that it actually was the same actor. Man, what an amazing special effects job to morph Chris Evans into little Steve Rogers.
The special effects here seemed somewhat subtle in comparison with most superhero flicks didn’t you think? I mean they were obviously there but don’t you think they did a great job in not letting the effects get in the way of your suspended disbelief?
Tom: I can’t say enough about the production design overall. It’s not easy to work “advanced technology” into a film set in the 1940s. You have to make it look vintage and advanced at the same time. I remember early on seeing a production still of the machine that Steve Rogers gets into to be transformed into Captain America and getting very excited. It just LOOKED right; the right color scheme for the time, the “futuristic 1940s” look, the rivets on the metal…everything. It spoke volumes to me about the details that the artists and designers were looking at. The set design, cinematography, the SFX…all of it works like it should and fits beautifully into the time period.
There’s that one cool sequence where Cap is in action in the field on his motorcycle, blowing up huge Hydra tanks. That’s a little over the top, but is utterly meant to be, and was, quite frankly, thrilling. Gave us a lot of money-shots of Cap in action and was a very effective montage. Overall, I thought the effects blended nicely into a slightly sci-fi World War II movie.
Justin: I love that huge tank too. It worked for me because he was fighting this Hydra super-army, not just Nazis and they had these super-weapons that used Asgard-fuel. High-octane fascism!
Lastly, I think that what made this film such a huge success was the cast. Every character in this was so specific and interesting. It lifted the material so high off the page that it didn’t feel like a comic book movie, did it? Nobody seemed like someone we had seen before and what an amazing thing to pull off in this kind of setting with this kind of hero. I agree that it was not only just a great movie but a great WWII movie, and since there have been so many of those- both past and present- there must have been a great temptation to move toward either stereotypes or worse, a parody of the behaviors of that time period. But no, they just didn’t let that happen and that could have only come from a company like Marvel protecting its own baby. Any other film company at the helm would have dusted off so many stock characters it would have gone into ‘Flash Gordon’ territory.
Who were the characters that just blew you away?
Tom: Honestly, I didn’t feel there was a weak link in this chain. You have to start with kudos to Chris Evans. I think a lot of people were concerned about him as he played Johnny Storm in the “Fantastic Four” movies and was playing sort of a cocky, brash guy, which is the antithesis of Cap. But I always said that he was the best thing IN those not-so-great movies. Also, as you and I know very well, actors usually have a lot more range than we know. People, especially internet-fanboy types, are WAY too quick to judge actors by previous roles, and I don’t think that gives them enough credit. Did people just assume that was all Evans could do? Cocky and brash? He utterly NAILS Steve Rogers. Earnest without being hokey, and innocent in his own way.
I was also happy that Tommy Lee Jones was in the movie a LOT more than I anticipated. Seeing the previews, you think he’s just going to be around for the training and transformation period, but he shows up a lot in the film, and although he’s not straying far from his Tommy Lee Jones-ness, he’s perfectly cast. You buy his sarcasm and yet his leadership. Stanley Tucci as Professor Erskine was superb. His character is the emotional heart of the film. If you don’t believe him, you don’t buy the movie. Tucci is one of those stunningly underrated actors; everyone seems to know him, but I just don’t think he gets enough credit. Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter probably surprised me the most, because I didn’t know her at all, and I loved how they stayed true to the time period. You can tell right away that she’s a strong woman in a time when women didn’t have a lot of power, and they didn’t “sex her up” at all. She looked great in the 1940s fashions (which I love), and she obviously was falling for Steve Rogers before he became all buff and powerful, so you really get a sense of their budding relationship. Their last scene together over the radio of the plane (trying not to spoiler here) was touching and moving, MUCH more than the end of “Thor” where I’m supposed to believe the strength of the love between Thor and Jane (Natalie Portman)… which I didn’t.
I didn’t even touch on the guy playing Stark’s dad, who was great, the amazing Hugo Weaving who gives the Red Skull real power and menace, and the great “Howlin’ Commandos” who were much more than a footnote in the film. Couldn’t have been happier with the cast.
Justin: Oh man, I had tears at the end during that radio call, BOTH TIMES I SAW IT! I couldn’t believe how moving that was. I’m glad to know that it just wasn’t just me. *ahem* *sniff*
I can’t add much to what you said, the performances all around were amazing, even Bucky, I cared about him and it was a really smart the way they portrayed he and Steve’s relationship here. It’s never been done that way before and it’s so right. I’m not seeing enough praise for Hugo Weaving in the reviews I’ve read, that guy was so good as the Red Skull. With such a horrific face, his low-key portrayal became so menacing. He kept all the power inside and you believed he was capable of what he said he would do.
One more thing about this movie that I really appreciated was even though they twisted a couple of things to make the story fit better, those twists didn’t outright deny recent comic book history as far as Bucky. They show Bucky in a brief ‘shot’ as a cracker-jack sniper, and in the comics he was resurrected from a different area of ice than Cap was and returned to the world as a sniper. They show Bucky at one point holding the shield and the fanboy-bell in me rang because in the recent comics Bucky WAS Captain America for some time. And even though Bucky’s original demise in the comics was different than the situation he was in when he met fate in the film, all of the things that we know to happen in the comic still could happen. The lore was not outright denied and as a super-fan, I really do appreciate that.
Hey, did you know that the SHIELD agent that enters Steve’s room at the very end was Sharon Carter, Peggy’s granddaughter? It’s true, I looked it up on IMDB. Same actress plays Sharon Carter, Captain America’s love interest (just like in the comics), in next year’s Avengers movie.
I love how these things all tie in.