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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captain America: The Frozen Avenger, May 26, 2012
This review is from: Captain America: The First Avenger (DVD)
Captain America stands as one of the most recognizable super heroes to come out of the golden age of comics. His red, white, and blue outfit has stood the test of decades, and his origin story is perhaps the most American of all superheroes ever conceived. Cap is also one if the primary members of the Avengers, which is the current destination of the Marvel movies, so it should surprise no one that the Captain America movie has a lot riding on its shoulders.

So, how has the Super Soldier withstood the translation to the silver screen?

In a word, well. Captain America: The First Avenger stays true not only to the origin of the character, but it also preserves the very distinct retro-futurist aesthetics and tongue-in-cheek humor of the golden age comics with remarkable accuracy. The use of Cap as a USO propaganda piece perfectly lampoons the whole star-spangled get-up and lets us get the Hitler-punching action long-time Cap readers were hoping for, and, for the attentive viewer, there are references to all levels of the Marvel universe throughout.

Howard Stark, who plays a surprisingly large role in the movie, is the driving forced behind Cap's development into a proper superhero. He provides Rogers with the iconic round shield as well as the newly-designed suit. I'm not sure how I feel about the suit itself, but I like the helmet. It looks more high-tech than the classic dragon-scale armor that Captain America has worn for the last few decades, and a little less form fitting. It's angular, stiff, perhaps, and the colors are subdued, but it is unashamedly and undoubtedly Captain America. I think I like it, but from what's been shown of up-coming Avengers movie, the suit has actually changed substantially, so don't get used to it.

I've noticed that there is a certain big-screen quality to the movie that is somewhat lost on my home TV. Steve Roger's wild sprint through 1940's Brooklyn as he chases a Nazi infiltrator, for example, seems much less thrilling than it did when I saw a super-sized Rogers charging down the street at the theater. This is also true of the USO propaganda pieces that have Cap dancing on stage, posing for baby photos, and reciting lines taped to the back of his original shield. On a smaller screen, the larger-than-life presentation is woefully reduced.

Cap's origin is handled pretty well, though it does take up a good third of the movie. Within the Marvel Universe, there is often a certain blending of magic and science that makes the characters work. For example, the super soldier serum, in conjunction with the `vita-rays' "Amplifies what's inside," meaning that the patriotic, humble Steve Rogers becomes Captain America, while the self-obsessed, power hungry Johann Schmidt becomes the Red Skull. Likewise, the Cosmic Cube, which serves as the catalyst of the story, has ties to Norse mythology, and thus to the character of Thor, who was also the star of a Marvel movie released earlier this year (to somewhat less critical and commercial success). These ties will hopefully lead to something more interesting in the Avengers movie, but we'll have to wait until next year to find out.

I'm happy to report that the handling of the magic-science that drives the movie is tastefully done. It could easily have been awkward or confusing (as was the case in Thor), but the writers and actors present it as it is, and don't try to ham it up. When it doesn't make sense, the writers move on (as is the case with the "vibranium-alloy" shield), and that helps a lot in maintaining verisimilitude. The writers of Iron Man 2 might have learned something from The First Avenger's handling of silly pseudo-science.

Speaking of the actors, those who rolled their eyes when Chris Evans (who was also the Human Torch in the ill-fated Fantastic Four movies) was selected to play the role. Despite his critics, Evans steals the show. Even as the skinny, gawky CG Steve Rogers, Evans is believable, and his enthusiasm for "doing his part" by joining the military is believable and inspiring. As the filled-out Super Soldier, he is funny, charming, and even romantic, but never over-the top. With a character that wears a flag to work, it might have been easy to fall into the camp, but Evans avoids both the too-dark tone of many of the recent superhero flicks and the campy, ho-hum of the old-school superhero movies. It has more in common with the first Spider Man movie than it does with most of the others released in the last year or two.

The Red Skull, played by Hugo Weaving, does not translate so well to the silver screen, if only because he gets so little screen time. When he is allowed to show his face, it seems he can only threaten or bark evil things; we never really get a grasp for how evil he really is, and because of some story compression towards the end of the second act, first-time viewers may not even understand the Red Skull's actual mission with Hydra (who are, I'm sad to report, definitely over the top). The compression also turns what would have been really fun middle act starring Cap and the Howling Commandos is turned into what is essentially a montage... That was pretty disappointing.

Despite my complaints, Weaving's casting as the Skull isn't bad at all. Indeed, he is quite creepy and intense, and his drawling German accent is enough to send chills up my spine, but the role was limited, perhaps out of necessity, because, well, this is a prequel.

That, perhaps more than anything, is what holds this movie back from being really breath-taking. Despite awesome sets, incredible costume design, and all-around solid writing and acting, we can't help but invest ourselves in The First Avenger as anything more than a prelude. Everything feels like, and is, a set-up, from Cap's arctic plunge, the Cosmic Cube, Howard Stark, and even the super soldier serum itself.

I'm hoping with my fingers crossed that it will be a hell of a payoff. Certain characters are left with uncertain fates, and that, I'm hoping, will make for some very interesting movies in the next few years. For now I'm happy with Captain America, even after a third viewing. It is a good solid superhero movie that bucks the modern-day trend of broody superfolks, and tells a well-rounded, brilliantly-acted story that has gunfights, Nazis, romance, car chases, and a surprisingly good sense of humor.

Here's hoping The Avengers can follow Cap's charge.
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