Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Review

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (hereby known as Captain America) is a lot of fun. Playing off the WWII era, its best attributes come from embracing the period – the war bonds, the bandstand music – it was an era of heroes and just works well with the Captain America story of a measly but tough guy who just wanted to do his part and becomes America’s greatest soldier. However, all that being said, director Joe Johnston (and Marvel Studios) decided not to stay within the period, instead allowing for advanced technology to make for (supposedly) cooler or more exciting action sequences, but the film lost a little of its power, emotion and era-appeal when its characters are running around shooting at each other with tech we do not even have today (and sure the source of the power is otherworldly and the tanks and planes and so on were scaled back to still somewhat fit the period, but it still hurt the vibe). But at the same time, maybe this tech was needed to make HYDRA and Red Skull the super villain it and he appears to be (I do feel stronger writing could have circumvented this however). Another issue is with the characters. While Steve Rogers is given a good amount of background and character work, all the other characters are very shallowly drawn, relying on cinema stereotypes and caricatures to inform the viewer on who these characters are, without any real emotional connection, which makes many of the dramatic moments weak. Even Johann Schmidt (Red Skull) is not given much, making their showdown sort of meaningless, relying purely on the spectacle to carry the scenes. Marvel Studios has done a good job of mandating that their productions be not only entertaining due to good action but also funny. Captain America is no different. There are a lot of great comedic moments that really (along with the Steve Rogers character) make this film work better than it otherwise should. Comedy, action and a fast moving tight narrative can often cure character and bigger narrative issues, and this is very much the case for this film. Johnston’s directing is good and bad. He gets enough right for the film to be entertaining, but some of the scenes just have a clumsy (if not goofy) feel and do not work very well. Johnston seems to try to stuff in too much (for example, I would have liked to have seen more of Captain America’s team, but there just was not time for that), only to keep the film rapidly moving forward (something many directors do, but only a few like J.J. Abrams can still get the character moments right). The lack of meaningful characters and character relationships is probably the films biggest flaw. The audience is watching the film, due to this, to partake in the spectacle and not as a part of the character(s)’s journey(ies). However, Captain America is still entertaining and enjoyable for the most part (just not great – it seems like every Marvel Studios film has a glaring flaw keeping it from being on the same level as stuff like Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: First Class, which are both dramatically engaging while still mostly keeping it light and fun).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Joe Johnston has made one of his better films with Captain America. Like with The Wolfman, he gets the look and atmosphere right (for the most part, but again I wish it were more committed to being period) and yet he again does not give enough attention to the characters, which is the most important aspect of a film. He is more concerned with the action, look and pacing (given, pacing is very important as well) and the film as a whole (and really all his films) is ultimately negatively encumbered as the result. Alan Silvestri’s score is good, but really the best music work on the film comes from Disney composer Alan Menken (the Marvel-Disney partnership paying off), whose song is great fun. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson shoots just about everything Joe Johnston does, providing really good photography to his films. Captain America is no different. Production designer Rick Heinrichs (also working with Johnston again) does good work as well, but if only the design could have been more grounded in the period. The cast, mostly given little to work with, is quite good considering. Sebastian Stan, Stanley Tucci and Hugo Weaving give good enough performances to help shape Steve Rogers, but as principal parts in his life it is a shame their characters were not developed more. Dominic Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones are both wonderful and funny, while Hayley Atwell does a fine job portraying Steve Roger’s love interest and a strong female character. Chris Evans is the best part of the film however. He commands the screen and captures the character very well.

Summary & score: The film moves so briskly and without much depth, I just wish we had more time with Steve Rogers et al in the WWII period, but what we got was a fun and entertaining. 7/10

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