Captain America – Review

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 

Directed by Joe Johnston. With Chris Evans, Hayley AtwellTommy Lee JonesHugo WeavingStanley TucciToby Jones

If you are an average viewer with at least half a brain,with close-to-no-interest-whatsoever in comic books, or simply just exhausted by the overload of comic heroes out there at the moment, you might be asking yourself “Do we really need yet another movie adapted  from a comic, and more importantly, can we possibly care less about a film that flashes out that all-American gun-ho/patriotic spirit  right from the word go and proudly shows it even in its title? A spirit which is so out-of-date these days, in a post-9/11-Bush-and-economic-crisis era, like the one we’re all living today. Probably the answer to both questions will be a resounding “No, please!”.

Surprisingly “Captain America” might just be one of the best of its kind and certainly the best comic adaptation of the year (yes, I’d say better than Thor, which actually wasn’t too bad either and 100% better than that shameful Green Lantern).

The film-makers are obviously very aware of the cynical eyes of today’s audience towards jingoism and that slight anti-American feeling that is slowly creeping in beyond their own country. A misstep too far in bringing this latest superhero to the screen might not only jeopardize their international box office takings, but also (and more important) their long-awaited spin-off “The Avengers” (due to be released next year) of which “Captain America” was the last crucial missing link.

So instead of falling into the traps of the obvious patriotic gush and just updating the story for the modern audience, into a modern setting, director Joe Johnston decided to stay true to the origins of his hero and kept the story rooted in 194os, during World War II, deciding to concentrate more on the old-fashion moral decency of the characters than their “let’s kick some ass” type of mentality:  in fact in a few scenes they even make fun of that as Captain America performs in front of live audiences around America, looking more like a clown than a superhero. Of course it’s still propaganda, but of a slightly different kind and certainly less insulting.

The period atmosphere is perfectly recreated (reminiscent of another superhero film the Rocketeer, which interestingly was made  by the same director in 1991) through the sepia tones of the photography, the muted colours of the costumes but also a type of film-making itself calling back to the way the best action films used to be made, before a certain Bruckheimer decided that it was all going to be about one liners, big explosion, idiotic plot-lines, fast editing (so fast that you can’t quite tell how bad it all is!) and sex exploitation (yes, I am not a fan of Transformers, you might have gathered that). This is as much about humanity and characters than it is about big action set-pieces and special effects, because in the end those are only important as long as we care about the people involved in them (I know, this is no news to anyone, but it’s good to remind people about it once in a while).

Yes, of course, it’s all preposterous and plainly silly, but so is a radioactive spider,  a man who can fly, a giant hammer, and a silly mask that only covers your eyes and yet when you wear it nobody seems to recognise you . We are talking about Superheroes after all!! But as long as you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

To help it all there’s a splendid array of  supporting characters from Stanley Tucci, to Toby Jones, to Tommy Lee-Jones and even an-over-the-top Hugo Weaver who’s clearly having a lot of fun in this film (putting on a close-to-parody German accent!). And of course Chris Evans in the lead who embodies the physical strength of the hero and yet at the same time he brings enough charisma, warmth and dignity to make you actually care about him and feel for his pain whenever somebody close to him dies. It obviously helps that in the first 40 minutes of the film we get to know him as a frail and skinny men and somehow all that makes him even more sympatetic (with the aid of some truly stunning and seamless Benjamin-Button-Style-Special-FX… If only they had put so much effort into the 3D conversion which was actually rather bland, a part from a few shields flying towards us).

Ironically for an action film, the actual action scenes are rather unimpressive: of course they’re not bad, as I said this is a very competent film (aside from some bad CGI around the train sequence), but in the end they’re not what this film might be remembered for. In fact Captain America runs slightly out of steam in the last part and it feels more and more a collection of set pieces which are not necessarily flowing into each other, and it slowly risks to become an almost by-the-number type of affair, until of course the final coda, which is brings us a step closer to the Avengers… (though at the same time rather sad that it will mean the end of the period setting, which I rather liked).

As popcorn movies go, this is a lot better than you might expect (especially considering the blandness of the original character from the comics) and more enjoyable than most of the stuff that Hollywood tends to rigurgitate over us during summer holidays.

7.0/10

OTHER REVIEWS: 

thor

Green Lantern 

Tron: Legacy

The Avengers

Thor – Review

Thor (2011)   6.5

Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris HemsworthNatalie PortmanTom HiddlestonAnthony HopkinsStellan Skarsgård

I must confess I was never really a huge fan of the comic Thor (but then again, are there really many Thor fans out there?) so I went into this not only with the lowest of expectations, but also with pretty much zero knowledge of this viking-looking superhero. And maybe because of that I came out pleasantly surprised and I actually liked a lot more than I thought I would.

In a time of heavy-handed and preposterously dark movie adaptations of comic book heroes, full of calculated allegories and deep symbolism, it is actually quite refreshing to find a film that knows exactly its boundaries and never really takes itself too seriously: I mean, after all we are talking about Thor!

This will probably not find a permanent place in cinema history, but as a pre-summer blockbuster, it was plain fun! And while it worked as a stand-alone adventure, it also paved the way for the eagerly expected (well, among comic book fans at least) “Avengers“, a film which has been in the pipeline for a long time and it’s going to re-unite Thor, Iron Man, Captain America (to be released in July 2011), the Incredible Hulk and other Marvel heroes in what promises to be one of the biggest comic book adaptation yet. In a very calculated marketing campaign, there are plenty of references, in-jokes to other marvel heroes and several hints towards the forthcoming “Avengers” peppered throughout this film, including a semi-hidden sequence right after the end-credits which made even a non-believer like me looking forward to the summer of 2012 when the actual film will finally be released.

This is probably film-making by committee, thought of  by marketing campaigners and executive producers with big fat cigars, but mercifully Kenneth Brannagh has been able to inject it all with enough mischief and fun. In the end it might not work as well as the first Iron Man, and it certainly doesn’t have the invention or heart of the first couple of Spiderman movies but it’s polished,  fast and short enough to get away with it.

The Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth, most famous until yesterday for playing in the TV soap Home and Away, looks like he was born to play this role. he not only fits the part perfectly but somehow he manages to make the potentially dull Thor into a likable and sympathetic character.

The film does look great too: production design, costumes, photography and special effects are of very high standards. Unfortunately the conversion to 3D, once again, is not among the best. Generally speaking it is quite unnecessary and aside from a couple of instances becomes fairly forgettable pretty soon and in the end it just serves to make the film a little bit duller in colors… (I’m seriously wondering how long this 3D-mania is going to last for as it seems to be fading out already. But this is a subject too long to be taken here).

I saw this film almost a month ago and I’ve already forgotten about Natalie Portman‘s performance in all this. That should tell you all you need to know about her role in “Thor”. But then again, if she had been really bad I would have probably remembered it…

Finally you’ve got high calibre actors like Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgård to give it more credibility.

If you asked me in another couple of month to tell you about any sequence in Thor I would probably not be able to remember much of anything, but while I was with it I’m sure I never looked at my watch and I had more fun than I was ready for.

6.5/10

%d bloggers like this: