I have been looking forward to this film all summer. My hopes were high, particularly once footage and trailers started coming out. I have been a Cap fan since I was a kid. Not always a fan of the comics mind you, but of the character. In cartoons and movies all through growing up, there has never been a more interesting character to me.
Which is not to say that every bit of it has been good.
In the 1940’s, shortly after the Captain’s debut, a movie serial from Republic Pictures was started up. Staring Dick Purcell, this series bore little resemblance to even the character in the comics of the day. The only thing that was the same was the costume.
It really was fun by the standards of the day. It was popular with audiences, though there were no attempts to make more. By today’s standards this, along with most of the serials of the day are not much more than harmless fun.
Then in 1979 there were 2 pretty bad TV films starring Reb Brown. He was not bad and for the day they were made, they were not completely unwatchable. But the attempt to make them fit into a modern context and change the costume to something that looks a bit disco to me, make these 2 movies more embarrassing than anything else. I will confess to really wanting that bike when I was a kid though.
Then there was Matt Salinger (son of Catcher in the Rye author J.D.) in 1990. The film is not as bad as all those people who never saw it say it was. Really. It has it’s fair share of hokey, and Red Skull is Italian instead of German, but beyond that, it is reasonably faithful to the core concepts. There are LOTS of things wrong with this movie, but it is at least more watchable than the Nick Fury movie starring David Hasslehoff, which has to be the very worst comic to film adaptation I have ever seen. The 1990 Captain America movie will be released on Blu-ray August 2nd 2011. Any real Cap fans should give it a rental at least.
Now to the reason we are here. Captain America: The First Avenger is a great summer movie, and a fine film version of the character. The film starts with a modern-day setting on a dark ice flow in the middle of nowhere. After that the body of the film is flashback, set in WWII. Most importantly, the people who were worried that Chris Evans would not pull this off were wrong. Dead wrong. Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern was a mistake, but not this. He is perfect as the skinny helpless Steve Rogers and every bit as perfect as Cap. As a little nod to the effects, making him the 90 pound weakling he starts off as was one of the nicest effects I have seen in a film in a long time. This film is filled with good effects that most people will barely notice. They are subtle and convincing enough that they do not immediately register in your brain as effect like in so many films.
The story is pretty much in line with the comics, with the notable exception of the modern retconning of Howard Stark into the myth. But the movie is just following the retcon that the comics have done, so you can’t fault it there. There are also some light touches, mostly visual, of the Ultimates universe here, but they don’t really detract anything. The plot references made to the Thor movie are subtle and are just enough to remind you that these films (This film, Thor, Iron Man 1 & 2 and the most recent Hulk film) are in a shared universe that will pay off in 2012’s The Avengers. But this movie does not suffer from franchise fatigue like Iron Man 2 did. This, like Thor and the rebooted Hulk are their own films. The adventure follows Steve’s desire to get into the Army and help with the war effort, failing miserably because he is so small and unhealthy, then being picked by Professor Erskine (played all to briefly by the great Stanley Tucci) to become America’s first Super Soldier. As it turns out, he will be the only one. His jump into the role of Captain America: war hero is sidetracked by a tour as a USO poster child selling War Bonds. As this sequence started, I was cringing a little as I felt it to be a bit silly, but as the montage continues, it starts to really work well and convey that aspect of the time very effectively, if fictionally. When the chance to become the war hero comes, it is great and the waiting made it work that much better.
There is a lot to like about this movie as a film and as a comic book film. The story is clear without being over simplistic and it never feels bogged down with exposition. That is because, at its heart, the character is easy to write if you don’t over think it. It is never taken too seriously, but it is never a joke. The balance is very well struck here.
Comic book fans, especially those with a sense of history or a good memory, will find piles of fun fan service here too. Main plot points like the Cosmic Cube actually work here far better than they ever did in the comics, and blend seamlessly into the Cap story being told. (The Cosmic Cube was a late 1960’s invention.) Although its function here appears different from the various ones used in the books. There are also a couple of cameos and major appearances by other characters that I will not spoil here, except to say, be on the lookout at the World’s Fair type exhibit for a quick cameo by one of Marvel’s (Timely’s) very first super heroes!
There is a button at the end of the credits like all of these films, but this one just takes the form of a tease for the film coming next year, The Avengers. The tease is great and makes me even more excited for this than I had been. That said, this is well worth the price of tickets and popcorn, and will fit well in this current collection of Marvel movies.