If you’re a regular reader, you’ll no doubt know that Captain America - The First Avenger has been one of the most anticipated movies of the summer as far as I’m concerned - the other being Green Lantern, which didn’t let me down as you can see in this review.
Part of my anticipation I guess was self inflicted. The fact that I’ve trawled through a mass of Captain America material for my Future Imperfect column in Starburst which focussed on earlier screen versions of the good Captain from a movie serial in the 1940s to a full length feature in the early 90s. Click here for that slice of goodness.
So, Captain America’s turn finally arrived last night. The final piece in the puzzle to the build-up to the Avengers film of next summer. We’ve had bits and pieces of this set-up from the post credits title of Iron Man in 2008 when Tony Stark was approached by Nick Fury regarding the Avengers Initiative. This was carried over to The Incredible Hulk and expanded upon on in Iron Man 2.
Then, Thor carried on the tradition earlier this summer and also set some of the groundwork and back story for this Captain America film - so all in all, for the full story, you need to have seen all these movies and to have sat through all the credits (to the annoyance of sighing ushers). But I’m certain that come next spring - it will be worth it when we get to see what I’m confident will be the ultimate super hero film.
As with Green Lantern, there was a lengthy wish list of things that my geeky, and at times nerdy little heart wanted to see in this outing. First and foremost, I wanted an origin story set in World War 2. I wanted to see some Nazi ass kicking delivered super hero style, I wanted to see a properly devious Red Skull, I wanted some comic book costume accuracy, oh, and some shield throwing. The film, I’m happy to say, delivered magnificently on each and every count.
The film opens just at the point I thought it would end - with the discovery of Captain America frozen in ice in the present day somewhere in the Arctic, and the rest of the film is told in a flashback to the wartime years.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a sickly, skinny runt. Classified as unfit for duty each end every time he tries to enlist in the army. Eventually getting in, he is chosen to be part of the Super Soldier experiment which uses Stark Industries technology, with Howard Stark playing a prominent role (Howard was of course father to Tony, who becomes Iron Man). This is the secret weapon - it builds muscle, and hones athletic capability to a superhuman peak, accelerating healing and makes wimps into imposing physical specimens.
This is one of the film’s many strong points - Chris Evans is digitally altered to look downright scrawny before the experiment and the effect is among the best, most convincing CGI or digital tweaking of an actual person that I’ve ever seen. Far better than the digitised face lift given to Patrick Stewart in X-Men: Last Stand or Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.
Meanwhile, of course the Nazis have their own super soldier - Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). Their procedure, though had the side effect of grossly mutating Schmidt’s face into a living red skull - hence his name. (Those of you with kids might want to be aware that his appearance might be a little strong for younger children.) And whereas the procedure magnifies the subject’s inherent goodness - the same is true if, as in Schmidt’s case, the subject is a barking mad evil genius with a superiority complex.
The Red Skull runs Hitler’s black ops science division - HYDRA. He is preoccupied with a mixture of super science and sorcery in his Norwegian mountain base and is in pursuit of the Cosmic Cube (an Asgardian artefact left on Earth by Odin - so here’s the Thor influence) in order to accumulate more power - he’s now outgrown Hitler in his thirst for domination. In the USA, Rogers is dubbed Captain America and used as a propaganda icon in the war effort. He stars in stage shows and recruitment films dressed in the uniform we’ve seen in the comics for decades, complete with a triangular shield with a scalloped top - the same shield that was used in the first strips before the more familiar, round one was introduced.
A set of circumstances that I won’t reveal here lead Captain America to go on a real mission and become the hero and figurehead he was meant to be. A surprise addition was characters from some of Marvel’s war comics, as we see Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos in action ( I recognised "Dum Dum Dugan" with his bowler hat instantly).
This is awesomely cool perfection. This was the film I’d hoped to see - ending where it should and leaving the audience anxious to see what happens next spring when the Avengers assemble.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that all the current crop of super hero based films are exactly what I’ve wanted to see since I was a child. They’re treated with the respect they deserve as pop culture icons rather than easy targets for tongue in cheek parody.
Although his past couple of films have lacked a certain quality, (Jurassic Park 3 and Wolfman) director Joe Johnston really delivers the goods as I hoped he would - seeing that he directed the under-rated Rocketeer film 10 years ago and is, once again at the top of his game.
I’m given to understand that The Avengers will feature the alien shape shifters The Skrull in a struggle to get the Cosmic Cube. Loki, Thor’s evil brother is also involved in there somewhere. With Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow (introduced in Iron Man 2) and Hawkeye (briefly glimpsed in Thor) in the line-up with Captain America, who now has to contend with being a man out of his time which will make for an intriguing part of the story line - May 4, 2012 can’t come soon enough.
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