Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Captain America: The First Avenger

Title: Captain America: The First Avenger

"First" Avenger? How Many Avengers Are There? Six. As you're about to find out.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The FIlm: Three Cosmic Cubes out of five.

Tagline: "Avenge."

Better Tagline: "America. Fuck yeah."

Brief Plot Synopsis: 98-lb weakling (a digitally slenderized Chris Evans) is injected with a top secret government formula that turns him into a super soldier (a regularly buff Chris Evans) and pitted against HYDRA, a sinister Nazi/occult hybrid organization.

And? And what?

You're A Nerd, Right? What Do They Get Wrong? I have no idea what you're...oh, fine, the Red Skull was head of AIM, not HYDRA (he was in charge of the Las Vegas branch at one point, but much later), and Schmidt was never given the super soldier serum. And while the Howling Commandos once fought alongside Cap, they were commonly associated with Sgt. Nick Fury. Also,Dr. Arnim Zola never expressed remorse about his experiments. If anything, he was almost as monstrous as the Red Skull himself.

Oh, and FDR gives him the vibranium shield, not Howard Hughes Tony Stark's dad. Happy?

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's 1942, and perpetual 4F Steve Rogers has tried and failed several times to enlist to fight the Germans. His tenacity attracts the attention of Prof. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is recruiting candidates for a secret military project. When Rogers demonstrates he's a decent, noble man in spite of his size (maybe Randy Newman was right) he's chosen to be injected with a serum that turns him into a super soldier, with heightened strength, reflexes, and healing abilities. Rechristened "Captain America" and initially trotted out to sell treasury bonds for the war effort, he's soon pitted against HYDRA, a Nazi offshoot headed by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), himself a beneficiary of one of Erskine's serum prototypes. HYDRA's aim is not less than world domination, and with the power of a mysterious tesseract, the Red Skull just might succeed.

"Critical" Analysis: I can imagine criticism of The First Avenger will be along one of two avenues (not counting the once again wholly unnecessary 3-D): Captain America isn't really a "super"hero, and the second act doesn't really live up to the promise of the first.

The latter has some validity, the former...not so much. Just because the guy uses a conventional handgun to go along with his shield doesn't take away from his super-ness; he's in the Army, for crying out loud. Batman isn't technically "super," either, he just has a ton of money to fund his escapades. Captain America has been enhanced by Erskine's formula, to the extent I'd compare him to another Marvel character: Wolverine. Both are stronger than normal humans, and both have accelerated healing powers.

But I'm biased: I've always rather liked Captain America. Not due to any jingoistic bullshit, but because I'm a cynic, and Cap isn't. And the superior physicallity has little do with it, he was like that even before he became a Super Soldier. It's a large part of why he was chosen to be the first test subject, and you knew reading from reading the comics that no matter how bad things got, Cap saw a way out and believed people were decent at heart.

I mean, I know it's bullshit, but I read (past tense) comics for escapism, not to see some moody bastard obsess over his dead parents.

Does the movie lag in the second half? Yeah, to a point. Captain America is a rare comic book movie in that the origin story is actually more interesting than what comes after. Don't get me wrong, I like Nazis with laser guns as much as anyone, but the whole HYDRA plot sort of rushes to a conclusion that's already been telegraphed in the film's opening scene.

Cap's supporting characters are largely superfluous (which befits a superhero, I guess). Hayley Atwell play's British agent/chaste romantic interest Peggy Carter, who adds significant va-va-voom to the proceedings. The anachronistically multicultural Howling Commandos (which, to be fair, were also such in the comic) include Neal McDonough as "Dum Dum" Dugan, Derek Luke as Gabe Jones, and also an Asian, a Brit, and a Frenchman. Quite the nascent UN.

But it's Tommy Lee Jones (as Col. Phillips, head of the Strategic Scientific Reserve) and Weaving who really steal the show. Evans is fine as Cap, though little of his earlier earnestness survives the experiment, but it almost seems like Jones had his own screenwriter, so deftly does he steal every scene he's in. As for Weaving, he's just a badass. It's quite a task to portray a villain that makes Hitler look unambitious.

Captain America is good, not great. Still, most all of the Marvel entries leading into the Avengers movie have been solid (I wasn't a fan of Iron Man 2, but whatever). I admit, I'm getting sick of green screen and after-the-fact 3-D, but I'm afraid it's here to stay. The biggest complaint I have about it here is that it makes World War II, the best documented/filmed conflict of our time, look fake. This should've been more like Band of Brothers...with lasers.

Is There A Post-Credits Scene? Actually, no. They go ahead and get that out of the way before the credits roll, which is nice for our bladders. Actually, yes. I've been informed there absolutely is a post-credits scene, apparently the audience at my screening wasn't deemed worthy.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it, though I'd almost say "rent it," just to avoid the 3-D. Then again, Hayley Atwell in a red dress is really something to be experienced on the big screen.

Captain America: The First Avenger is in theaters today. Go see it and loudly (and repeatedly) ask why it wasn't released on July 4th weekend.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar