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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Reel Reviews: Captain America-The First Avenger



Magneto's Movies

Reel Reviews

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/37/Captain_America_The_First_Avenger_poster.jpgMovie: Captain America-The First Avenger

Release Date: 22nd July 2011

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan as Sergeant James 'Bucky' Barnes, Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Neal McDonough as Timothy 'Dum Dum' Dugan, Derek Luke as Gabe Jones, Kenneth Cho as Jim Morita, Toby Jones as Arnim Zola with Stanley Tucci as Dr Abraham Erskine and Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury

Genre: Comic Book

Score: 7.9/10 (w/out vfx: 8.0)


Pros:-Marvel builds on a spectacular phase 1 by making an action packed pulp period adventure
          -Dialogue is rife with tons of laugh out loud moments
          -Writers use the MacGuffin as an important plot point to build towards The Avengers without letting the main narrative fall by the wayside
          -They also engage you with a through character arc for the protagonist, while effectively exploring his relationships to depth especially his romantic angle. Not to mention leaving the room to grow for the character, with their poignant ending
          -Joe Johnston brings his Indiana Jones history to the film, giving it an enjoyable pulp sensation that makes the fantasy elements more probable
          -Evans gets to play a great character, he does so with utmost honesty bringing to life the righteous Steve Rogers without making him seem cookie cutter or bland.  He shares an surprisingly endearing chemistry with Hayley Atwell that drives the heart of the film.
          -Atwell herself is a dynamite, never letting Captain America or Steve outshine her. Sebastian Stan goes deeper than the character on paper, and shows hints of his future development. Toby Jones and Hugo Weaving are master thespians who add some breadth to the film's central conflict. Tucci and Tommy Lee are effective. Special props to Dominic Cooper, who follows the act of Robert Downey Jr. and makes sense of the flamboyance of the Starks
          -Music matches to the tone of the film, having that feel good patriotic sensibility. It gives the montage sequence much needed pacing
        
Cons:-The action is a lot worse than prior films, there isn't much worth to see by the second act of the film.
           -The climatic action scene is a letdown, Red Skull and Captain America never get to delve into a proper fight while the airplane bomb sequences are choreographed a bit poorly. Consider also the lighting set up and cramped set
           -VFX doesn't hold up that well, blue lighting overpowers much of the action scenes and seem completely mismatched in tone to the gritty background colors and black suits 

Best Scene: A can't get drunk Cap mourns the death of Bucky, Peggy Carter motivates him to get back on his feet and fight because Bucky thought Cap was worth fighting for. Atwell delivers with great conviction and her and Evans add layers to their already superb chemistry.

                    The final scene in the past as Steve and Peggy have a heart to heart, before Cap is forced to plunge the aircraft into the ice

Best Performance: Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Best Dialogue: 'You've been asleep Cap, for almost 70 years...You gonna be okay?'-Nick Fury
                         'Yeah. Yeah, I just...I had a date.'-Steve Rogers/Captain America

Coolest Comic Book Reference: Steve during the song sequence punches out an actor playing Hitler, this is a re-enactment of the cover page of the first Captain America comic. 


 
Story

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Captain America: The First Avenger, is a period adventure film containing high brow superhero and comic book elements. The story is of Steve Rogers, a skinny underdog looking to enlist for the war to do his part for the red, white and blue. He gains the opportunity in an experiment for a super soldier formula and becomes Captain America; a dancing monkey for propaganda. But when the enemy threatens his friends, Cap jumps into action and comes face to face with a dark mirror; The Red Skull. Cap now must face the Skull and the threat of his rising Hydra, wielding the power of gods; The Tesseract. 


Of the Phase one films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (barring The Avengers), Captain America is my favorite film. This is because it utilizes a typical underdog story but adds a lot of heart to the proceedings. 


Marvel's first Captain America is set on a universe building script that pushes further towards the dream of Assembling the Avengers and more importantly establishes the in world ideas of the Tesseract (hence bring the first Marvel McGuffin). What's great about this film though, is that while it does become a plot driving point, it also doesn't push itself into Cap's own personal arc. 

The script and more so the film choose to focus on Steve's own journey into finding and bringing forth that hero within him that no serum can create. A large chunk of the film is spent with skinny Steve, who is tougher than he looks and has a brave heart. It's not an arc you normally see in comic book films, in normal films heroes might have the external power but they need to find the internal drive. In Steve's case he is already a hero in heart and soul, and all he needs now is the power to back it up. 

The writers could have easily then been stuck on where to go, but kudos to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that they found concepts to keep the viewer intrigued. While Cap doesn't have to learn to be a hero, he has to strive to be a leader. It's an arc that relies on Cap's relationships with the supporting players. 

While not fully explored, the dimensions and depth of the relationship between Steve and Bucky are noticeable in the few scenes they share together. It makes Steve's regret at Bucky's death resonate. His friendship with Howard Stark also helps give breadth to the characters (Howards) ideas in Iron Man 2 and the birth of SHIELD. 

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The dichotomy between Captain America and Red Skull is established although not gone deep into. Their differences mark their similar origins, and it was a smart writing decision to make Skull closer in origin to Cap thus binding the two characters. This allows that divide for pure good vs. evil idea, although manifesting from an idiotic reason given to the serums powers. (the reason being that the serum augments your inner qualities, such that 'a good man becomes great; bad man becomes worse'-Abraham Erskine)

But the most important and best exploration is the romantic angle between Rogers and Peggy Carter. Their relationship develops at a meticulous pace, giving us a very in the times romantic story that completes the film. In just a bunch of scenes the writers craft the best love story in Marvel movies to date.

Their first interaction is highlighted by Steve's own fumbling as he points out the places where he's been beaten and why his small stature distances women from him. It ends with a declaration of their love and a joke they've been sharing since the beginning, as Steve gets ready to sacrifice himself to save the world. 

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Cap and Peggy share a kiss, this would be the last time they met (for now)

It's such that the last line of the film 'I had a date...' hits you hard. It's also great that Peggy can handle herself in the field, and isn't a basic love interest or damsel in distress.

But between all that, the writers reign in the film with the use of Marvel's brand of humor, that is balanced out thoughtfully with the main narrative. There's tons of laugh out loud gags simply based on the dialogues, Colonel Phillips is constantly spouting comedic gold while certain times the writers cleverly use Steve's naivety as a way to insert hilarious gags into the film.  The early musical numbers are also chock full of laughs.

It's great then that Markus and McFeely don't lose sight of the films goals. Unlike the first Thor film and mostly Iron Man 2, Cap doesn't get bogged down by having to build towards Avengers. The writers fit those ideas seamlessly onto the picture, and even get to advertise The Avengers in the post credits scene without being contrived.  So the incorporation of Stark being a prototype SHIELD for Cap and the Tesseract's powers (barring the plot device it is) don't feel inorganic in any way.

There are issues with the script though. While action is normally a visual point of contention, here it seems that the writing feels lazy, as much of the action takes place within a montage sequence. But the main issues as with any blockbuster films, are the plot holes.

From the Nazis not preventing Hydra's ascension to the Hydra killing Erskine after his experiment has been successful rather than before (to prevent Captain America's birth).

All in all, this is a finely written film. It doesn't have many major flaws, but the whole underdog idea has never really been original. While certain plot points seem silly in retrospect compared to the original comics, that should have been changed such as Cap being juiced to get his powers. A lot more could have been done to explore Cap and Bucky, since the sequel requires it to. The best thing is the romantic angle, which really strengthens the protagonists overall arc without compromising the lead female character.

Score: 8.1/10


Direction

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The film is directed by Joe Johnston who assisted Steven Spielberg in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. As such, he brings a terrific sensibility to this film. Every Marvel film delves in different genres such as to make each film feel fresh and different. With Captain America, Joe Johnston is forced to set the film in a period setting. As such he plays hard and fast with the rules, by making this film a pulp adventure. This can be seen from down to the music to the montage action sequence littered through the second act of the film.

It's here where not only the writers, but the director loses you. The montage prevents the establishment of the characters of the Howling Commandos, and doesn't even help much in exploring Steve and Bucky's relationship. It also doesn't look much, as the only thing we see is the use of Cap's Shield to make it look cool in 3D. 

It's the same all over, as none of the action scenes or set pieces are really interesting barring the bike chase in the climax. This has been the major issue of Phase one films prior to The Avengers, especially when it comes to the boss battle at the end. The Captain America and Red Skull fight at the end is underwhelming and rocks the film for a long time, especially when the prior air bomb sequences are so poorly choreographed and underwhelming. 

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It's however in the small moments when Johnston and co reel you in. The period setting is well adapted and from set to costume designs it feels like your really watching a Pulpy sci-fi film set in the old days. The effort put in shows in what is a marvelous visual feast.  

Overall, Johnston gets a story that allows him to steer clear of the studio model and leave his own stamp on the film. There's the whole adventure vibe that reminds you of the Indiana Jones films, yet Johnston is kept clear on the path of building towards the Avengers without feeling inorganic. The issue arises in the action, like with every Phase One film. Here more than any other it began to feel like a cheap trick, such that when The Avengers came along; the action there would blow your mind, due to the underwhelming things that came before. 


Score: 7.6/10


Performances

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For all the comedy and all the adventure, the film requires some great actors to perform the picture such that it feels grounded, relatable yet exciting. What Marvel does so well is casting, it gets some really talented actors with powerful credentials to support a leading man who can be questionable but eventually fit perfectly into the role. 

With Cap they get the prowess of the likes of Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving. 

As the villains both Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones are effective in driving home the idea of the power of the Tesseract and the depths to simple mustache twirling villains without making them seem good in any way.

Jones nails the accent right and portrays the meek scientist with ease. He smartly stays clear from making Arnim Zola over the top like the comic book counterpart, and if need be in the future could make the idea of a robot Zola seem plausible thanks to his subtle acting.

Hugo Weaving sadly doesn't get as much to do as he should, but he embodies Skulls fascist persona marvelously. He gives Evans someone to play off from in dramatic terms. He like with Jones never slips from the German accent, and uses it to enhance the sinister qualities of his character. His delivery especially in the final speech to the Hydra men is evocative, while the simple ticks in his facial expressions make the Skull feel alive and organic. 

Tucci gets an extended cameo as Dr. Erskine, the man that created the serum. His role is too deliver some nifty exposition and make realize Steve's hero within. His delivery and accent then is pitch perfect, where as he imbues much of the first acts heart and soul with his light comic timing and dramatic style. 

Tommy Lee Jones returns to comic book movies (after Batman Forever) as Colonel Phillips. His wry delivery hits the right notes allowing the scripts funny moments to come forth. His comic timing is wonderful and adds a lot of levity to the picture. 

Major props should be given to Dominic Cooper above all. Not only did he have to contend with Downey's Tony Stark and prove why son is like father, but also take the portrayal of future Howard Stark (John Slattery in Iron Man 2) and make sense of it. Cooper is charismatic as hell, and really has a towering screen presence at times. His performance embodies the suave and swagger the Downey's Stark has, making sense of where Tony comes from.

Cooper engaged me so much so, that if RDJ hangs up his boot then Cooper should be his replacement as Tony Stark and Iron Man. 

Sebastian Stan plays it stoic and cool as Bucky. With their initial scene, he and Evans establish a chemistry that does better than the writing to make you feel that they have a lengthy history together. His expressions and body language post Steve's transformations also sell the idea of deep rooted jealousy. Watch him during a slowing part in the montage sequence, he trains his sniper on Cap which hints at a darker side. 

Along with Stan, the other Howling Commandos are also great fun to watch and do well in infusing comedy in the action albeit their limited scope. 

Hayley Atwell gets to prove her mettle for a major portion of the film. She takes the action with stride and embodies the tough as nails Peggy Carter. She also does well in being the foundation to Evans Cap, and crafts along with him a deep chemistry that makes their plight resonate further. 

She performs so brilliantly that it warranted her, her own TV show in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The TV show is coming soon. 

All these elements however lurk around Chris Evans and his portrayal as the titular character. When initially cast, there was hesitation amongst fans to watch the film. Evans prior to then had only played jock type comedic asshole characters in most of his films. Especially those that were of comic book origin, from the Fantastic Four films to Losers to Scott Pilgrim. 

So it came as a genuinely great surprise that Evans portrayal of Cap and most importantly Steve Rogers is in keeping with the comics. He gives Steve a heart and soul, making him seem mighty heroic during the skinny portions of the film. It's here that Evans gets a lot of scope to craft the character in his own way, and he does so by grounding the man and delving into the patriot but more importantly the hero within. 

It's an arc that requires Evans to keep with his simplicity and internal goodness yet turn into a hulking figure with a need to become a leader. Evans handles this with aplomb, preventing Cap from becoming too cookie cutter yet preventing him from losing sight of the values. 

His naturalistic delivery helps to provide some easy laughs, while his body language is calculated specifically after the transformation scenes as Evans makes it such that Steve is trying to get used to his new body.

Evans owns the role of Steve Rogers, and makes Captain America his own. 

With any Marvel movie, it's the performances that render the strengths of the script and direction. A bevy of thespians, young and hungry talented cast members and a perfect fit for the leading man; Captain America has one of the best ensemble superhero casts who actually all perform to expectations. 


Score: 8.9/10 


Sound/Score

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Like with any other film, the score is now not that memorable in my head. But what really is done well in this film, are the song montage with Captain America in the initial part of the second act. 'Star Spangled Man' is fun and kitschy with tunes apt for the period setting. 

The score itself by Alan Silvestri has a patriotic feel to it, that is supposed to evoke inspiration. It's quite basic at best, but actually much better than the ones in either Thor or Iron Man. The best thing it does is give the montage sequences much needed pacing, slowing it down when necessary. Allowing scenes for Peggy to realize Steve is enamored by her, and alluding to Bucky's future. 


Score: 8.0/10


VFX

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The film came out in 2011, as such it is hard for the VFX to hold up. 

With the Tesseract in the plot powering Hydra's weapons, a lot of blue light shines in the film. It doesn't match up to the scenery even with the Pulp style of the film, and comes of fake.

Even back then, the 3D never matched up and felt like it was only there to raise ticket prices beyond showing off Cap's shield. 

The main place the VFX still works is in the Red Skull Mask and Skinny Steve. The skinny portion in the film is cgi, and it still looks good enough where as the Skulls mask still evokes awe and isn't out of place. 


Score: 7.1/10


Source

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I mentioned before that I am not scoring source but rather just presenting the different easter eggs and comic book references in the film. 

-The opening scene present Yggdrassil; the tree of life, which is the tree of the different worlds that Thor talks about to Jane Foster in Thor

-The Cube is hidden here, in Norway. This means that the Asgardians lost it here when they fought the Frost Giants as shown in Thor.

-When Schmidt holds the cube he proclaims that the Fuhrer is searching for trinkets in the desert. This is a reference to the Nazis search for the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones, which means that Indy and Cap are part of the same world! (maybe)

-Arnim Zola is introduced with his head magnified, this is an allusion to his comic book form as a big holographic face on the chest of his robotic creations

-Steve visits the world fair, here there is an invention presented by Phineas T Horton; a red costumed android. This is the original Human Torch. It's a comic book reference to the android hero that was part of Cap's Invaders team during the war. He also formed the body for Vision, who will be seen in Avengers 2. It is also an inside joke, since Chris Evans played the second Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films. 

-At the same Expo, we see Howard Stark present his hover car idea. This forms the basis for all SHIELD vehicles including Coulson's car Lola, The Hellicarrier and the smaller Quinjets

-Cap in the song 'Star Spangled Man' punches an actor playing Hitler like in the cover for his first comic book. The comic itself is in the movie as a propaganda tool. 

-Howard Stark mentions that Cap's shield is made from a rare metal called Vibaranium. Vibranium in the comics is a metal found in the fictional city of Wakanda, whose ruler is the hero Black Panther.

-When Cap infiltrates the HYDRA base to save Bucky, he finds hims trapped to a table. Bucky was likely being experimented on, alluding to his future as...

-In the train sequence when Cap is down, Bucky picks up his shield and a gun to fight the Hydra soldier. The look is reminiscent of when Bucky was Captain America in the comics for a while

-In the climax, the Tesseract sucks in Red Skull and you can see Asgard in the distance. With Thor: TDW establishing that it is a Infinity Stone, the Tesseract is most likely the space gem from the comics opening a portal for Red Skull to end up somewhere else. 

  

'Nuff Said

Aneesh Raikundalia

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