Sunday, March 23, 2014

Captain America: The First Avenger

I am pretty proud of myself to sneak in today's timely blog for 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger (trailer) within a couple weeks of the sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier hitting theaters. It was like it was crying out of my backlog box to be watched at this time. I have followed numerous comic book franchises off and on over the years, but have never been a big Captain America fan. I think I own a handful of the comics, and have fond memories of using him a lot in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games.

I have heard of his origin from fellow comic fans many times over the years, and thought they nailed his origin story to a T. Props to Marvel Studios for spending 35 minutes to get us acquainted with Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) before he gets injected with the super steroi-.....ahem...I mean the "Super Soldier Serum" to jack him up to the gills and become the one man red, white and blue army on the big screen. Before that experiment, Rodgers is just an undersized 20-something who desperately wants to fight for his country in the middle of World War II. One of the army's scientists takes notice of his persistence and enrolls him in the Super Soldier program that injects him with the aforementioned serum that transforms him into Captain America.

By the way, if any of you have still been boycotting this film all these years because you could not get over the fact Chris Evans also played The Human Torch from the pair of Fantastic Four films several years ago, just give it a break already. There is a vast difference from Evans then and now, and the thought did not even cross my mind once while watching the movie because Evans does a superb job as Steve Rodgers and Marvel picked the perfect candidate to play the everyman that became Captain America.

In the comic books, the original Captain America run in the 1940s was all about him fighting the Nazis, and was more or less the rah rah USA material the country needed to get through WWII. While this takes place during WWII, the Nazis are not the antagonists. They play a minor role in the beginning of the film, but are quickly pushed off to the side when they are overthrown by another German resistance, Hydra. They are led by one Johan Schmidt, aka The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who manages to procure the all powerful tesseract from the Thor films to and uses it to make tesseract-infused weaponry showcased throughout the movie.

I always associated Hydra as more of a primary villain of Wolverine, and while they play a nice foil for Cap here I cannot help but just shake this sour feeling in the back of my head as being Marvel's way to PC up this film so they could make it commercially viable in Germany. The Red Skull has always been one of Cap's top adversaries, and Hydra was linked to them in Marvel comic book lore, but this seems a little too convenient. That goes doubly so when you see most of the weaponry being featured in this film is Hydra's tesseract-infused weapons that reminded me of the kid-friendly laser rifles used in the animated GI Joe andX-Men cartoons of the 80s and 90s. I am probably reading too much into this as I still very thoroughly enjoyed this movie from beginning to end, but could not shake these little PC nuggets Marvel inserted throughout the film, and I could not help myself to imagine how much better this movie could have been if Marvel went all out with a gritty R rated version of Captain America.

That rant aside, I still very much enjoyed this film. The first origin act does a tremendous job capturing the essence of Steve Rodgers being an innocent, do gooder everyman who wanted to fight the good fight. The second act kicks off with Cap being the showpiece of a hilarious USO show-style American propaganda tool to promote war bonds, and captures his comic book style uniform to a T, it actually looks so ridiculous in the live action world they thankfully tweak it a bit once Rodgers is legitimately in the line of duty. After pushing back Hydra all the way to their main underground base in a very enjoyable series of montages, we get the climatic final battle against The Red Skull, and it pays off in spades like almost all the other Marvel films in recent years. Watching this film a second time, one of my few gripes I picked up on is a minor pacing gripe with not a lot whole lot of risk really being in Captain America's way as he essentially runs over Hydra forces nonstop through the film, with only minimal setbacks. I guess there is the whole, 70 years frozen in ice thing the filmmakers do a fine job conveying, and Marvel also does a fine job transitioning into bringing him into the modern day with some amusing tomfoolery on SHIELD's part. Like I said, it is a minor nitpick, and ultimately it seemed if there was to be a Captain America film, this was the prime way to go about it with him kicking all kinds of ass in 1940s.

I am thrilled that the first Captain Amercia film we got from Marvel Studios was his origin story from WWII, and not set in modern day. I am of course neglecting the extremely low budget Captain America film from 1990 which I only caught enough bits and pieces off of cable over the years to know to stay the hell away from it. The upcoming sequel is set in modern times, post-Avengers, and I am a little trepid going by the few previews I have seen as it makes Captain America seem like more of a secret agent than the super soldier we got on display here. However, early buzz indicates that this is another winner from Marvel that will not disappoint so I have good faith they know what they are doing.

Marvel did a bang up job delivering a good chunk of extras. Aside from the requisite commentary track, we have nearly another hour of extra features on top of it. There are five minutes of throwaway deleted scenes that really did not do a whole for me other than an extended first meeting between Rodgers and Nick Fury where they took their time explaining some back story. There is also a four minute original short featuring Agent Colston of SHIELD where he makes a road trip pit stop to get some snacks and some good, stupid, fun hijinx quickly transpires. There are six behind the scenes featurettes ranging from 5 to 10 minutes apiece. The ones I recommend checking out are Outfitting a Hero, that shows how they made Cap's suit come alive on the big screen, Howling Commandos explains the back story on Cap's WWII montage squad that has a brief role in the film, The Transformation is really fascinating as it dissects all the camera tricks and body doubles used to pull off a pipsqueak version of Chris Evans before he gets injected with the serum. Finally, make sure to watch Captain America's Origin, it is a quick watch that interviews the co-creator Captain America, Joe Simon, who has some entertaining stories on how he came up with Cap's original antagonists.

Other than The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger marks the only Marvel Studios release I own, and I think that is saying something. Do not get me wrong, I am a big fan of the Iron Man trilogy, the two Thor films and The Incredible Hulk, but those all wounded up being films that I got the most out of in a big budget action flick experience that I only desired to see in the theaters. Maybe it helps with me getting more out of Captain America's backstory and it taking place in the WWII theater, but in my opinion it rises above all the other Marvel Studios movies that focuses on the individual heroes.

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