Okay – we finally saw this last night. Out of the gate, let me say, not bad at all – this by no means is The Dark Knight, Spider-Man or even Iron Man, but Joe Johnston’s reinvention of this iconic but misunderstood Marvel hero (well, especially compared to the first attempt at bringing this character to the screen in the ‘80s…remember that joke?) is definitely appreciated in this day and age of comic film adaptations. It definitely left a mark on me, and I will be picking it up on Blu when it arrives, along with Thor, which I suspect many of you will as well. As I stated, this was nowhere near the ultimate comic adaptation story, and it wasn’t as good as the aforementioned “classics” we now look to as comparative pieces (especially Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man), but in the context of the world Captain America himself occupies, and in keeping with the efforts of tying together the characters for the upcoming Avengers project (slated to be one of the most anticipated motion picture endeavors ever in the history of cinema), it was pretty effective.
Of course, speaking of The Avengers, let me say this off the bat right now – the teaser trailer for this film which comes at the conclusion of Captain America’s credit roster looks absolutely awesome. If this can be pulled off correctly, Marvel Studios and whichever master studio decides to greenlight this will have an absolute masterpiece on their hands, you can just tell…there are snippets of Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) gathering with the characters that make up this band of superheroes at the SHIELD headquarters, testing their abilities and other cool sneak peeks, and we get to see Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, of course, being as cocky as ever, making a comment to Thor about his “killer throw” with the hammer. Amazing stuff. Captain America gets a reworked, updated and revamped suit, it looks like, and the only character that wasn’t in the clip was The Hulk – but I am certain they’re working on a way to get the character into the storyline, as we’re not sure if there’s even going to be another Hulk feature film with Ed Norton. But I gotta tell ya – Avengers looks to be the coolest film to come out of Hollywood in ages, and I hope they do it right. I’m dying to know who the super villains are slated to be who are going to face off against the group; additionally, one has to wonder if DC Studios is thinking about a Justice League variant to answer Marvel’s Avengers – this would include Superman teaming up with Batman and the rest of the gang. Imagine? What a great time it is to be a comic fanatic.
But do yourselves a favor and don’t leave the theaters after seeing Captain America until the last credits roll – you don’t want to miss that teaser.
That said – Captain America had very good fight sequences between ‘Cap (Chris Evans) and Red Skull (which defines every comic adaptation), decent acting and surprise casting from the likes of Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones. The biggest problem I had the with the film was the “futuristic technology” that the underground Nazi “Hydra” group possessed given the time period in or around World War II – we see blue laser lights being fired everywhere from what looks like ray guns, supercharged submarines flying through the water, ridiculously out of place aircraft and more. I realize you have to “go” with a comic story and its “world” and I realize these weapons were explored in the run of the comic in terms of how they related to Hydra, the Nazis and Red Skull, but it seems unbelievable in this film. Moving beyond that, I actually had no issues with Evans and Steve Rogers in this; notably, when he’s in his Captain America getup, the facial gestures and “look” behind his masking seemed spot on from what I can remember in the comic. What I didn’t like was the fact that Johnston used an actor that played another Marvel character – Evans of course portrays Johnny Storm in the Fantastic 4 films, and I thought that made for some conflict of identity within these comic adaptations; but otherwise he was proficient in the role.
The film is definitely bathed and coated in a beige/olive color scheme, befitting the time period we’re dealing with, and it’s going to be interesting to see how this translates on Blu-ray – but no matter, the color timing was appropriate, given the World War II backdrop to the story, and the lead character’s red, white and blue punctuation through the beige sheen during his onscreen time was effective. That brings me to the costuming – before we get into the plot analysis – for the film, and I have to say, much like Superman Returns, the Captain’s outfit and legendary shield looked fresh, appropriate and decidingly un-cheesy. Of course, once The Avengers comes around, he’s going to have a modernized, updated suit – but in this origin story film, his leather-based, subdued red, white and blue costume and the impervious-to-any-material shield looked great.
In keeping with the overall gist of the Captain America comic backstory as best as possible, Joe Johnston’s take on one of Marvel’s most iconic characters opens in present day time, depicting a group of guys who discover a massive machine of some kind under the snow; upon entering this structure, they discover something frozen within its catacombs – undoubtedly this being “Captain America” who has been suspended in this cryogenic state since the World War II days courtesy of his “super soldier” serum that apparently keeps his cells regenerating. The action then shifts backwards to the origin story period, during the era when the Nazis ruled Europe. Here, a super secret scientific underground organization known as Hydra, led by a Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), is developing weapons and technological advancements for the certification of the Nazi supremacy in the world. This is where the comic lore of Captain America gets a bit wonky when intertwined with this “advanced technology” aspect; of course, with Schmidt destined to become the story’s main villain, the Red Skull, his plans include harnessing this technology for his own destructive purposes.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the scrawny and un-soldier like Steve Rogers (and I don’t know what’s going on here exactly in these sequences – is that Evans’ face superimposed on a CGI created little guy? It’s kind of creepy, actually) is desperate to serve his country during the war in Europe, but he simply doesn’t have the stamina, strength or sheer size to get involved. He’s routinely beat up by bullies in alleyways, taking the punishment as best he could as we get a glimpse of the hero he’s about to become when he lays on the floor after being pummeled by an adversary saying “I can do this all day,” his fists still clenched to fight. While his best pal “Bucky” (nice to see his character involved in this) goes off to fight overseas, Rogers continuously gets rejected for various medical tests which pre-screen soldiers for war – that is, until during one exam (after an interesting segment involving a young Howard Stark at one of his original “expos;” I’ll get to the problems with Stark in a bit) a curious German-accented scientist (played by Stanley Tucci) notices the drive within this kid to fight for his nation and offers him a chance to be part of a secret experiment the government is working on.
Of course, what this “experiment” entails is the “super soldier” serum supervised by Howard Stark himself and the device he created to deliver the serum – with the scrawny, underdeveloped Rogers as the new guinea pig, Tucci’s character hopes to inject a measure of power into a young man that can hopefully appreciate it and never abuse it (kind of like the “with great power comes great responsibility” notion suggested in Spider-Man). These references to the “super soldier serum” project also ties in with the reboot of The Incredible Hulk in which William Hurt’s General Ross character talks about the project and eventually injects Tim Roth with a derivative of the serum, of course turning him into The Abomination – how this all will ultimately tie together as The Avengers comes to light is still anybody’s guess, as is the way Captain America’s shield is “found” in Tony Stark’s lab, the way in which Stark approaches Ross about “putting a special team together” at the end of Incredible Hulk while in the other Marvel stories thus far, we have Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury telling Stark about the team he’s assembling, etc., etc. Also in attendance at this experimental demonstration for the super soldier serum is Tommy Lee Jones’ military leader character, who has nothing but distain for the scrawny Rogers until he proves himself as Captain America. There’s also a beautiful love interest for Cap in this, but she’s kind of pushed into the backdrop amidst all the other action.
Rogers is injected with the serum and emerges from the capsule he’s tied down in as, of course, a superhuman bundle of muscle and strength – Evans was ridiculously pumped up for this role – but once the demonstration proves effective, a spy attending the event with the intentions of stealing some serum for himself exposes himself, shooting and killing Tucci’s character in the process. Enraged over the death of the man who gave him his chance, Rogers goes after the guy in an exciting early chase sequence in which Rogers shows off his newly acquired physical skills, a la any good comic origin story. Much of the action and sequencing here is very reminiscent of the first Spider-Man, and I suspect Johnson “borrowed” much of this aspect for Captain America; we see Rogers running after the murderer’s car through the streets, bouncing from car roof to car roof as he attempts to catch up with him. Once he angrily confronts the man after a shootout sequence in which we get to see Rogers’ affinity for defending himself with shields, the spy ingests what appears to be a cyanide tablet that disintegrates his body – indeed, this was a Hydra mole put in place by Schmidt and the organization in Germany in order to steal some of the U.S.’ super soldier serum. What’s made clear later is that Tucci’s character, at one time under the Nazi regime, had been making experiments of his own back in Germany for the Hydra group, one of which had resulted in Schmidt’s transformation into a red-skinned madman. A bit wonky, but you have to go with it.
From this point onward, Rogers is quickly embraced and labeled “Captain America” by society around him, appearing in ridiculous commercials supporting the American soldiers in the war while wearing the horrendously cheesy red, white and blue outfit that would have been appropriate in a Captain America strip of the ‘50s. He’s pretty much regarded as a joke by everyone around him – even the soldiers he’s vowed to protect and fight next to on the front lines – and even to Jones’ character, who is in charge of trying to bring down Hydra in Germany. When he discovers that his friend Bucky and some other men have been lost behind enemy lines, he decides to go after them on his own, using his superior strength and freakish hand to hand combat abilities. His first encounter with Schmidt at the Hydra headquarters is exciting, as the two of them exchange powerful blows demonstrating their unique abilities – and then Schmidt eventually rips is facial skin off to reveal the red pigmentation underneath, thus becoming the Red Skull (in reference to Hydra’s super battalion fighting for Nazi Germany). When ‘Cap arrives back at the U.S. camp with the soldiers who had gone lost, he’s immediately embraced by the military and Jones, who gets him hooked up with Howard Stark, and from there, Captain America heats up.
Stark provides Rogers with the star-spangled, leather-bound battle suit with the iconic star on the chest , in addition to a high-tech shield made of a steel material seemingly impervious to any kind of impact. Rogers goes straight into battle with his new get-up, riding on a specially-designed motorbike with all kinds of Stark tech onboard, and taking out German soldiers left and right. These sequences involving Evans as Captain America, riding around, taking out Nazis with his strength and super shield, are exciting and while many, like my wife did, will view this as “not entertaining” as compared to, say, Iron Man, Spider-Man et. al., it definitely fits with the character’s backstory and time frame. Toby Jones (W, The Rite) turns in a performance as Schmidt’s assistant, who helps develop the Hydra technology, weaponry and compound, but Schmidt already has his plan of what he wants to do with the Hydra technology, which has been harnessed as glowing blue rays of light powerful enough to incinerate anyone or anything upon contact. His plan? To wipe out most of the U.S. using specially prepared missiles which he will drop from the rather futuristic multi-engined plane he is flying – the same “machine” the men in the opening sequence find in the snow and ice.
Of course, at the end, it’s ‘Cap that must save the day pretty much alone, as his battle with Red Skull takes him aboard the plane Schmidt is flying to bomb the U.S. – there, an exciting hand to hand battle sequence ensues, in which we see ‘Cap use his shield flinging abilities to their max, ultimately resulting in Red Skull incinerating himself with one of the weapons which powered the Hydra experiments (eerily similar to the “puzzle box” seen throughout the Hellraiser series, but with a bright afterglow). Rogers must then attempt to crash the crippled plane before it reaches the U.S. with its weaponry aboard, and brings it down in a frozen tundra – thus, the next stage in The Avengers story is born. A very clever and interesting closing sequence of the film ensues, which suggests that Rogers has been rescued from his frozen plane some 70 years later, but is now in modern day New York City, eventually caught and confronted by Nick Fury of SHIELD in Times Square who explains to Rogers how he has been “sleeping” for these 70 years. The whole way in which the Avengers characters and their respective time period occupations are going to gel is definitely going to present a challenge for the upcoming film…for example, how did SHIELD know about Captain America? Should we assume they read about him in history books, and Fury wanted him for the team? If so, did their research lead them to learn that he indeed crashed outside New York somewhere those 70 years prior in Schmidt’s plane, so they assumed his super soldier serum kept him alive via cell regeneration and thus they could thaw him out to be a member of The Avengers? Also, will we see any more sequels prior to the launch of The Avengers – such as a new Hulk, an Iron Man 3, a second Captain America or another Thor? My guess is no, because each of these had the announcement at the end of them that the respective character “would return in The Avengers,” and in the case of Captain America anyway, he’s already been “flown in” to modern day time to join the group, so a sequel involving just him is unlikely.
The picture quality on the screen at the theater we saw Captain America in was excellent, with hardly a pop or scratch on the image. The beige-tinted color timing looked perfect from beginning to end, and as I stated, we’re going to have to see how Paramount brings this to Blu-ray and if it retains the theatrical impact in terms of visual style – my guess is it will. Further, the audio in the theater actually didn’t wow me as much as I thought it would, and I hope this was just a restriction in terms of the theater’s system and won’t impact the Master Audio track of the BD once launched; I don’t know what it was, but there really wasn’t much surround activity to speak of and the explosions in the film didn’t have much impact. The whole thing felt very front-soundstage heavy without a lot of encompassing support; but we were so wrapped up in the story, it didn’t distract much at all…and isn’t that what it’s all about?
As I said – make sure you do not leave the theater until all the credits are done rolling. You’ll thank me.