'Captain America' brings heart and soul to Marvel film franchise

Courtesy of Paramount

BY KAVI SHEKHAR PANDEY
Senior Arts Editor
Published July 24, 2011

Captain America shouldn’t work in the 21st century, neither as a comic book character nor as an action movie hero. Alongside his superhuman abilities, he’s super demure, super wholesome and idealistic to the point of naivety — a propagandistic product of the 1940s that doesn’t fit in today’s jaded, post-ironic, post-everything world. But look around at America nowadays — embroiled in three unpopular wars and facing a debt crisis machinated by politicians more concerned with their own futures than the country’s — and the entrance of Captain America and his unsullied righteousness into the public’s consciousness has never been more appropriate. And that’s just the character — in our grim cinematic climate, where summer blockbusters are defined by CGI running reckless with abandon, the old-school filmmaking of “Captain America: The First Avenger” is exactly what the industry needs right now.

Captain America: The First Avenger


At Quality 16 and Rave
Paramount

The great, creative victory of “Captain America,” brought to you by the quality-cognizant executives at Marvel Studios, was sticking to the character’s true origins and setting the film in the midst of World War II. It was a time when bad was bad, good was good, and the best of them was Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, “Push”), a scrawny kid from Brooklyn with the eye of the tiger, the heart of a lion and the physical prowess of a 12-year-old child. For his intangibles, Rogers is chosen as the prototype for the government’s “Super-Soldier” program, which transforms him into, well, a super soldier destined to lay the smackdown on those damn, dirty Germans.

Yes, those dastardly Nazis are at it again (technically an uber-evil faction of them), making this a retro story in the best sense of the word, filmed in an exceptionally retro way. Director Joe Johnston, who was the art director for “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” permissibly cribs from Indy’s greatest adventure with minimal use of CGI, elaborate sets and grandly choreographed action sequences that graciously subvert the trend of shooting action like a chimpanzee-on-crack-with-a-camera would. When Captain America thwaks fools with his star-spangled shield, every millisecond of the combat is seen in all of its full-throttled glory. Old-fashioned action has never felt so refreshing.

Marvel movies have an uncanny ability to fill out its cast with Hollywood’s finest character actors, and for the first time, the presence feels justifiable. “Captain America” struts out Tommy Lee Jones (“The Fugitive”) and Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”), who bring their standard gravitas to pivotal roles, peppering the film with quality quips. Hugo Weaving (“The Matrix”) plays the Red Skull of every neck-bearded comic book fan’s dreams, seething menace, but creating a whole new monster than his iconic Agent Smith.

The Red Skull’s quest for global dominance with his secret weapon is where the film notably falters. It’s a fairly nonsensical plot device that is never acceptably explained, severely diminishing the stakes throughout the movie. But the stakes are stabilized by the terrific love story between Rogers and Peggy Carter (Hayley Altwell, “The Pillars of the Earth”) the va-va-voom British soldier who does her part to make the phrase “damsel in distress” obsolete. Evans brings a lot to what is essentially a perfect depiction of Captain America, and his earnest relationship with Peggy is one of the best among all comic book adaptations.

As the final tile in the Marvel movie mosaic, and though it clearly sets up for next year’s team-up “The Avengers,” “Captain America” stands on its own. As enjoyable as "Iron Man" and "Thor" were, "Captain America" is the only one of the lot with the heart and soul characteristic of the Avengers' leader.

When asked why he wants to fight, Steve Rogers responds, “I don’t like bullies,” reflecting the unequivocal steadfastness of the United States in the ’40s. Now, 70 years later, global perception is clear that we’ve become those bullies. If we want to change as a country, we’re all going to have to find a little captain inside of us.