In trying to describe the perfection of awesome cool that is CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER, I can’t help but think of films like THE ROCKETEER, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, all while thinking of movies like the classic WHITE CHRISTMAS, SERGEANT YORK and the classic era of serials.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER could end up being my personal favorite superhero movie, but I’ll need to see it countless times more and soon. Now I know, I like a lot of comic book movies. That’s because growing up as the son of a Movie Poster and Comic Book dealer that loved & educated himself voraciously about both… It is the genre that makes me scream loudest when I hate it – and on the other end, it is also where I get crazy drunk in love.
At this moment, which is 2:46am, I absolutely love the film. From 9:50pm – 12:30am I was geeking out with friends about the film. Then I came home, as I was driving I got text messages from friends at comic con asking how great it is? “Fucking The Dream!” I said. “Awesome!” “Great!” Those kinds of texts. Once I got home, the phone rings. It’s Paul Dini. He saw CAPTAIN AMERICA at the World Premiere. He texted me earlier today to “Hurry up and see Captain America, we need to chat!” Once on the phone, we geeked out real hard for about 45 minutes. Talking about the perfect tone, favorite little moments – some of which I’ll get to in this review, then… Well I basked in the afterglow of seeing one my favorite characters ever… was done so pitch perfect in every way that I just love that I’m beginning to walk with a walker, cuz man… this movie makes me want to dance, to run and to jump. It makes me want to play soldier with my nephew and be the super powered baddie to his 11 year old Captain America. It makes me want and tell you that this is the shit.
I’m going to deliver a heaping load of praise on Joe Johnston here, about the size of that building in Dubai.
This is THE movie that I’ve been dreaming of seeing since the moment I saw THE ROCKETEER. I love Dave Stevens’ comic… but as much as I love it, it isn’t CAPTAIN AMERICA. Cap is everything I love about the Marvel universe. A hopeful sickly man reborn as Achilles with better ankles & humility. The leader of the Marvel Universe. Created by Joe Simon & Jack “King” Kirby. The first superhero story published by Stan Lee. This is GEEK FOUNDATION.
CAPTAIN AMERICA fought WWII before America did. Hitting the newstands 21 months before Pearl Harbor, but Cap was there slugging ol Hitler in the jaw all the same! If you’re raised geek, like me… you know chapter and verse about the awesome that is CAPTAIN AMERICA, but you also might know that Captain America came out in a period of cinema. All of which is reflected in CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER.
Joe Johnston not only adapted CAPTAIN AMERICA as he was originally conceived & written in March of 1941, not only adapted it in style befitting the Brubaker era, but also the classic Silver Age… thus hitting the triple crown version of the character. BUT – Johnston also peppers the film with echoes of German Expressionism, the style of montage of 40’s cinema, the spirit of optimism and the basic goodness that embodies the spirit of America that I love. All while absolutely making perfect use of the highest tech and digital wizardry of the day. This is a film with a thrilling score, a catchy tune and a spirit of pure fucking fun!
I love Steve Rogers as played by Chris Evans. He is a simple, humble man that knows weakness, is in awe of his own abilities, humbled by his power, caring for his fellow man and loving the country that gave him everything he loves about life. This is Steve Rogers. They didn’t wise ass him up. They didn’t sexualize him. They didn’t make him hip. They made him exactly the way he is supposed to be. This is a dream of a comic book geek movie. FULL GEEK.
They didn’t shy away from completely nailing the fetishry that everyone that loves Captain America the comic character as classically told should just fall over themselves in love.
I love every decision made about this film. I love that the energy weapons have the same sounds as Repulsors from IRON MAN. I love U.S.O. era dressed Captain America. I love 1st real mission costumed Captain America. I seriously love Howlin’ Commando’s commanding Captain America. So they win on all 3 costume designs. I love that there is zero smug, zero cynical, zero typical Chris Evans performance, but instead – he gives the character a soul that I didn’t honestly know was in Chris Evans.
In the comic… You always know that Captain America is going to kick ass when he lowers his chin and looks out the tops of his eyes with a furled brow. That’s here. The sounds of Cap’s shield? Fucking awesome. I love how awkward Cap is with Hayley Atwell’s PEGGY CARTER. I love her. She’s just kind of perfect. She’s a pin-up beauty with strength, but there’s a sweetness to her relationship with Steve Rogers… who impresses her before and after, while also driving her nuts. All without being fucking lame. That’s so hard. So hard in these kinds of films. Hayley just nails it.
The soul of the movie comes from Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Abraham Erskine… One of those names I’ve known as long as I’ve known “Moses”. Seriously. I was that lil kid that would ask his dad, “How did Captain America become Captain America, Daddy?” and well, Father Geek never failed to mention the name of Dr. Abraham Erskine. Well this character, who always in my mind had just a smattering of panels… he had such a profound effect on this character’s life. Everything he is he gains from Dr. Abraham Erskine. As handled in the film, it is SO MUCH BETTER than it has ever been in the books. It’s just… it is fucking perfect. His character is so perfect because of the effect you see him have on 5 other characters in the film. But none of those relationships would be felt quite the way they are without KNOWING this character as Tucci plays him. He is a dash eccentric – he see’s the necessity of his science and the evil of it. He finds a man of such boundless determination and such a perfect moral compass that he will give him this miraculous gift.
Superheroes are sometimes Frankenstein Monsters, and in Cap’s case his “father” was Dr. Erskine. Tucci not only plucks Evans’ Steve Rogers from a chance encounter, but he enables him to accomplish his dream in a manner so far exceeding his dreams, but tempered with tragedy and strength. When Tucci begins discussing Cap’s future nemesis Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) – and we hear his voice over a stunningly rendered sequence that was just so much fun.
Speaking of which, the film has 3 major MONTAGE SEQUENCES… this first one is here. It is pure villainry on display. Big Silvestri score – and it is just pitch perfect. In a way that kind of fits perfect in that INDIANA JONES universe.
As a result of Erskine’s Schmidt story, we just get a perfect framing for the character. At this point in the film, we already love to dislike him, but this blows up our dislike of this bad guy. Literally Power Mad. But the great thing about this movie, each character’s performance enhances what we know of each character. How Erskine describes Schmidt – we see not only more about Schmidt, but how Cap will relate with him, but also how Schmidt affected Erskine – made Erskine afraid of his “miracle science” – taught him that Marvel of Marvel lessons… that with Great Power comes Great Responsibility. Before Stan Lee coined the phrase with Uncle Ben and Peter… Erskine gives that to Cap – and I LOVE IT! I love that it isn’t just a flashy montage, but it is actually educating us to a trio of relationships in a quick and fun way. Great job, Joe!
Well, Erskine also has such a great straight man with Tommy Lee Jones’ Col Phillips. Tucci and Jones need to work with each other often. Love their chemistry here. Each man respects the other, but Erskine… you can tell, what he has told and shone Col Phillips… It changed his military career and perhaps won WWII for us. Erskine also inform Phillips with how to pitch his relationship with Rogers. He takes that same playful antagonism that Jones has with Tucci – and plays it with Rogers. Again… LOVE THIS.
Then there’s Dominic Cooper’s HOWARD STARK. Cooper’s Stark is a foreshadow of all of Robert Downey Jr’s future dynamism with the son character of Tony. But what I love is… Watch how Stark is with every character in the film, but watch his face when Erskine talks. There’s so much admiration and awe in the way that Stark watches Erskine. Later we will see this again with Stark’s reaction to Captain America… and I found myself wondering if Stark was in awe of Rogers… or the power of Erskine’s science. Love it!
Lastly, there’s Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt / RED SKULL. Erskine’s mere scientific linking of Rogers and Schmidt creates an automatic NEMESIS/FAVORED SON kind of thing. You see in Rogers the respect he has for Schmidt, because he knows Schmidt is dangerous. That he is “like” him. And I love that that dynamic comes from Erskine.
Also in this aspect of the film we find Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and she’s a great character match for Steve Rogers. Both characters have everything to prove and to live up to. Every reason to resist each other and be attracted for each other… but let’s face it, they’ve got a war to fight and as Shortround would say, “No time for love Dr. Jones,” but it’s just the right dash. Stronger and less goofy than Marion Ravenwood, but not wiley Willie Scott… She’s a girl of those universes though. You could totally imagine her trading lines with Indy, but instead we have Captain America – and personally I’m glad.
CHRIS EVANS is fantastic as CAPTAIN AMERICA. I’ve already spoke to that, but it must be said. I LOVE CHRIS EVANS’ CAPTAIN AMERICA. I love that he’s just a great guy. I love his tenacity. His determination. His nobility. His dumb luck. His leadership of the HOWLIN’ COMMANDOS… and folks… Holy shit.
There are things that. Dammit. I just love this movie.
OK – so after Cap’s transformation, he is given the choice to either be a guinea pig or a publicity tool – and he chooses to be the poster boy, the pitch man… to help Uncle Sam pay for the war. This is the U.S.O. career montage to Alan Menken’s absurdly catchy STAR SPANGLED MAN – and this is awesomely accompanied with an ever evolving U.S.O. performance that essentially plays like an evolution of the history of theater from High School to Collegiate to Community to B-Serials to Broadway. All at the same time, the montage informs Steve’s awkwardness, his confidence grow, the kernal of his leadership born and the humility he has. AND THEN THERE’S THAT AWESOME Menken tune! I’ve been humming it. Already. One day, I sense I’ll know the lyrics and might be able to just suddenly start singing it to myself. Like I do some of Menken’s Disney Tunes. And I love that that is in this Comic Book Movie! It isn’t camp… it’s the era and how that exploitation affects a man that knows he can do so much more. He’s a waking giant here and it is this sequence where we come to just love Steve. Joe cages up CAPTAIN AMERICA action hero for a bit, but he does it to make us feel exactly like Steve. Let me go! We want to see Cap fighting the bad guys – but Joe treats Cap like a Hitchcock ticking bomb.
We see a great chase, but then there’s a lot of building. Building character. Building tension. Building anticipation. Then he here’s Bucky is in trouble and Cap becomes fucking Rin Tin Tin. THEN… oh god. I so love Captain America action. We never see a TESTING or big power exploration. We do see him holding that chrome motorcycle with 3 hot and breasty babes upon it all MIGHTY JOE YOUNG style – and while that was a fun image, it tells us… Well looks like he can safely and patiently press well over 1500lbs with ease. So when you see Cap in action, everything he does makes me feel like we haven’t even begun to see the POWER in Cap. I’ve always felt he was… STRONG ENOUGH. That’s what I love about him. Cap may not be in Thor or Hulk’s strength level, but Cap’s endless determination and sheer battlefield smarts just always makes him come out on top or at least even.
So then Cap is in Rescue Bucky mode – and at this point, I just love how we see that Cap is careful, observant, without hesitation, assured and over-whelming in a fight. It’s like a guy that’s never been trained a day in his life fighting like he always dreamt he could. It’s fucking Fairbanks man. It is gymnastic. It is brutal. It SOUNDS like it hurts. He’s the kinda man that leaps while others cower – and man… I could watch this non-stop and constantly. I like that Steve in battle is always just this side of a smile. A smile he won’t let out, but is in his eyes. He doesn’t yet have THE SHIELD, but has the old school Kirby shield.
OH – I LOVE that we have multple times across the film where the Red Skull comes Skull to Face with Captain America – and I love how they get separated… I love that this film evolves the character and relationship between the two of them. I love that Schmidt goes from feeling invincible to being annoyed by and then hating & wanting to KILL Captain America… and the reason that happens is that we get what could have been a few movies where we’d learn about the intel for a single mission, but over the length of this movie – we see a war’s worth of battles fought and won.
What that means is that while this is an ORIGIN movie – it also reflects an entire Hero/Villain story arc over the entire WWII history – and that rules.
Out of this initial rescue solo Captain America mission comes the Howlin’ Commandos. Their “Break-out” sequence is some crazy sci-fi Dirty Dozen style awesome. Great big sci-fi WWII battle sequences. You’ll see Neal McDonough just own Dum Dum Dugan! One of my favorite and most perfect comic to film translations. It is literally what I have always imagined. The posture from which he fires his weapons, the looks that were drawn on his face. The kind of ferociously spirited character that is often times my favorite type of character in a movie. That’s how he plays Dum Dum. Note perfect. Same with all the Howlin’ Commandos. These are just characters that I always felt nobody would ever pepper a film with.
Like The Red Skull’s number one man, Dr. Arnim Zola as brought to life by Toby Jones. Really? I get Zola too? And it’s brought to life with an amazingly perfect Toby Jones character performance?
I also love the evolution of BUCKY BARNES! I love his relationship pre-Cap STEVE ROGERS… I love how he is with the ladies. I love everything about him and Cap. So cool.
Think about how much I’m talking about. Realize I’ve yet to mention the whackalicious avionics of the film. I’ve yet to talk about how PULP FICTION/KISS ME DEADLY Cool that the Cosmic Cube is. Especially when it fucking gets COSMIC! There’s just an incredible amount of awesome. In this film. I love that the slowburn romance clicks & aches. I love how pain is felt by the characters. I like that they convey Cap’s sense of duty and dedication. I love the costumes, the way people react when hit with ray guns… that look like awesome rayguns that I’d love to play with. I love the Nazi design sense from which HYDRA’s design is given. That’s so cool.
Finally I fucking love a Superhero Score for a MARVEL movie. I love how when I watched SCOTT PILGRIM about 30 times in the last year, I’ve always watched CHRIS EVANS’ scenes with a high degree of fear for how he was going to play CAPTAIN AMERICA. And tonight, I am… well so in love with this film that it makes me ramble and Chris Farley out about it.
Ok – now I know… you want to hear my gripes…
Ok, I do have some major issues with this movie. Like… that I have to be satisfied with a mere running time of like 2 hours and 10 minutes, when I want 7 more like it this year – with a new one released weekly. I just want to watch Captain America and Howlin’ Commando movies doing blown big and retro-scifi with HYDRA and the Nazis. It would just be bliss. I want more subtle RAIDERS references. I love the framing sequences… shit, I can’t say that about SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.
There’s not a moment of caution to you in my review. This is AS IT SHOULD BE! It is not one hair sleight of fucking unbelievably metaphysically perfect.
I honestly haven’t stayed up all night writing a sonnet to a movie like this in a long time. Something that only leaves me only wanting more and often… That makes me happy to have been rooting for Joe Johnston for a whole lot of lean years and him come out of the blocks swinging for the fences and making something that is fun and cool for people of ALL AGES! I have a pair of very conservative Dad friends that came tonight that I feel are all kinds of crazy excessively restrictful of what their kids see. Like… The kids haven’t seen IRON MAN yet because the torture scenes were deemed nightmare worthy. Well both of those Dads are absolutely taking their kids to this… AND MAN – this is the single most violent Marvel film. I can’t wait for that geek that does the body count on this film, but none of it is so graphic as to offend, but still graphic enough to elicit 4 audible “Oooooewwwwws” from the audience.
It’s a film to applaud, because it’s the right way to react. We acknowledge and applaud the actions of those on this screen, because… it’s CAPTAIN AMERICA!
OH – Most important Information.
Stick around after the movie for the “BUTTON”
What is a “Button” you ask?
Well, a “Button” is an industry term for those post film trailer sort of teaser things – like got put on FELLOWSHIP and TWO TOWERS. They’re not trailers… they’re called “BUTTONS”
Well this “Button” is for AVENGERS – it goes by very very fast. Not sure what to think yet of Thor’s new gauntlets. Need to see it more. Kind of think it is badass, but it could also be to designery. You know? But yeah, AVENGERS is gonna be badass. Absolutely bet on it. And if I’m wrong, I’ll lead the pack demanding Whedon’s head and fighting Hercules in a knife fight. But I don’t think it is coming for that quite yet, though I am training for it.
Last thing. George Lucas, please give Joe Johnston the right to make a BOBA FETT Star Wars universe movie that starts with escaping the Sarlacc Pit. Which needs to just be amazingly Wrightson/Bottin-esque.
Man, wish I was at Comic Con. Geeking out about CAPTAIN AMERICA with that crowd would be the best. Though I have to say, folks in custom made Captain America outfits… silver parachute pants with Cap undies on top. It was awesome Geek show at the Drafthouse tonight – and it was much appreciated. If I just totally freaked you out with this Geek-view… this movie may totally not be your thing. But if you understood the dialect in which this was written. BEST TIME EVER.