My take on Captain America: The First Avenger

My take on Captain America: The First Avenger

Thor was an opera without the arias; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was a musical without the songs.

Captain America is a movie.

Director Joe Johnston (Jumanji and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) knows how to make special effects serve the human story.

Sure, Captain America has special effects. Hydra (“We’re not Nazis…we salute with both arms!”) has super science that leads to the kind of liquid light effects that you might see in an effects-driven spectacle.

The best effect, though, and the one I hope gets them an Oscar nom (although the Academy is weird on special effects nominations) is having Chris Evans be able to act both the 98 pound weakling Steve Rogers and the buff Cap.

I’ll admit to looking for the “matte line” in the first scene or so, but I quickly forgot about it. Supposedly, Chris Evans thought it was important that he play the pre-transformation Rogers, and that really works. There is a scene where he has a conversation with Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine…and it’s moving while showing us at the same time that lack of size matters.

Tucci’s performance is strong, by the way, which can be said of a lot of the supporting actors. When that happens, credit has to go not only to the actors, but to the director. A great director knows how to let the actors act, but have them fit together in an overall vision. Johnston accomplishes that nicely. Some of the stand-outs:

  • Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia!) lit up the screen every time he appeared as Howard Stark (Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s father). While clearly inspired by Howard Hughes, his mischievous intelligence reminded by of a Mercury Theatre era Orson Welles
  • Toby Jones (Swifty Lazar in Frost/Nixon) brings a sort of Peter Lorre feel to his  Hydra scientist. We feel sorry for him…we feel his desperation
  • Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black) has a great Tommy Lee Jones part. His performance was my Significant Other’s favorite part of the movie
One actor had us both thinking…who is that? “That” was Neal McDonough (Desperate Housewives) as Dum Dum Dugan. You’ll recognize his eyes, but his hair and mustache may throw you.
Dugan is one of a “Dirty Dozen” group of soldiers…while small parts, that’s one of many things that makes it feel like a 1940s movie. I know, The Dirty Dozen was a 1960s movie, but the idea of a Blackhawk/Hogan’s Heroes/Howling Commandos/Doc Savage’s Amazing Five diverse group of misfit specialists shows that ensemble balance brought about by a World War.
Johnston has visited that era before, with 1991′ s The Rocketeer. I think this movie is helped by not bringing in actual people from history (the vaudeville Hitler doesn’t count). We’re able to avoid thinking about the reality of the way…that’s one of the biggest pluses of having the Nazi-esque, but not actual Nazi organization Hydra as the main villain.
One minor negative: I thought Hugo Weaving (who had previously worked with Johnston on The Wolfman) was fine…until he really appeared as the Red Skull. That make-up didn’t work for me…it was simply too monotone and immobile.
Generally, though, Captain America brings what you want in a summer blockbuster: fun and adventure. We cheer when Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers puts himself out there for others. Cap isn’t invulnerable, can’t fly, can’t shoot webs, doesn’t a billionaire’s bullet-proof ride. He’s just “a kid from Brooklyn” who has been medically-enhanced into a super-soldier, but not a Superman. He’s still human: he can be hurt, he can be killed…he can be ridiculed and embarrassed by the grunts whose respect he most wants, until he proves his worth through self-sacrificing action.
Don’t go into this movie expecting your mind to be expanded or your life to change. Just figure you are along for the fun, while rooting for the little guy to prove his worth.
Oh, and there is an “extra” after the credits…if you want a preview of next summer, stick around.
What did you think? Did you have fun? Did you think some of the action sequences just went on too long? Love the Red Skull look? Feel free to let me know.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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