Saturday, July 23, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-II) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s Review -

Captain America: The First Avenger (directed by Joe Johnson, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) is one of a slew of comic book superhero movies to be released in recent months.  First published in the months leading up to the U.S. entry into World War II, the Captain America comic book series published by Marvel Comics were conceived as being intentionally patriotic.  The arguably propagandistic past of the Captain America character proved both an opportunity and a challenge to the makers of the current film.  And in my opinion, Johnson, et al _succeeded_ in their task.

The opportunity that director Johnson and the writers were able to identify and then advantage of was to set the movie in the America of the Captain America comic books of the 1940s.   So the comic’s protagonist Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) is introduced as a short, scrawny 90 pound teenager from Brooklyn who spent most of his life standing up to (and getting beaten-up) by assorted bullies.  With the U.S. entry into the war, Rogers tries to enlist in the army.  Indeed, he tries to enlist four separate times, but gets rejected - 4F - each time for simply being unfit for service.  The head of the local enlistment board tells him, “Son, I’m just saving your life.”  

Meeting a long time friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (played by Sabastian Stan), who as per the movie saved him from all kinds of bullies over the years and who’s about to “ship out” to Europe to go to war, Rogers goes with him to a “Future Exposition” in New York.  There, at yet another recruiting booth, Rogers tries yet again to enlist.  There he catches the eye of a German accented scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (played by Stanley Tucci) who’s moved by Roger’s desire to serve.   So he comes over to Rogers and asks him, “So you want to kill Nazis?”  Rogers answers yes.  Dr. Erskine goes through his recruiting record and tells him that he could help him.  He’s responsible for a military experiment that would make him much, much stronger.  Roger’s agrees and Dr. Erskine changes his recruitment classification from 4F to A1 and Rogers is inducted.

Colonel Chester Philips (played by Tommy Lee Jones) responsible for Roger’s basic training is utterly unimpressed with Rogers who is a foot shorter than all the other recruits and simply can’t keep up with the others in their physical fitness drills.  Still the good German (and _probably_ Jewish) immigrant doctor insists that Rogers _be the first_ of the soldiers to be given the experimental treatment that he has devised to make him stronger.  When Rogers asks about the treatment, whether it’s ever been tried before, Dr. Erskine answers that yes, one fanatical Nazi soldier had demanded the treatment because it promised to make him invincible.  Dr.Erskine tells Rogers that the treatment went awry with that soldier and that the consequences of that experiment convinced him that the treatment should be applied only to the weak because they would appreciate the gift of becoming strong. 

The treatment involved injecting the muscles of the subject with a serum.  To do so, Rogers is placed in a metal casket fitted with syringes to inject the muscles of his body all at the same time. Then a good deal of electrical current is run through him and after a scene involving sparks and electrical arcs befitting Frankenstein the casket is opened and Rogers is now a foot taller and much, much stronger.  Almost immediately after Rogers steps out of his casket, Dr. Erskine is assassinated right in front of him by someone who turns out to be a German agent who’s been watching the experiment and steals the remainder of Dr. Erskine’s serum.  Rogers, now with super human speed and strength runs down the agent, who swallows a cyanide pill to avoid interrogation but not before ominously telling Rogers, “I’m a member of Hydra.  You kill one of us, and two others will spring in our place.”

An instant hero for killing the German agent and now looking like a _perfect physical specimen_ of a soldier, Rogers is given the name “Captain America” put in a red-white-and-blue uniform, cape and mask along with a shield and is then used by the Army to recruit _other soldiers_ and sell war bonds.  Damn.  What Rogers _really wanted to do_ was to actually serve/fight.

Of course he gets his chance.  And the mysterious group, Hydra, is headed by non-other the Nazi soldier, Johann Schmidt (played by Hugo Weaving) who had undergone Dr. Erskine’s treatment.  Schmidt also has a secret ... 

Helping Rogers / Captain America is Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) a British agent who had served as an assistant to Dr. Erskine’s work as well as the Howard Hughes-like American industrialist Howard Stark (played by Dominic Cooper) who becomes important as the father of Tony Stark of Marvel Comic’s Iron Man series (Tony Stark being played recently in film versions of that series by Robert Downey, Jr).

Captain America comes to do many great things during the War, coming to fight, above all, this Johann Schmidt.  Near the end of the war though, Captain America is able to save the United States from a devastating air-attack planned by Schmidt.  In the course of bringing down the giant Nazi flying wing that would have wreaked havoc on the whole of the American seaboard, Captain America is brought down somewhere over the Arctic wastelands.  He’s lost forever?  Or is he? 

I have to say that I enjoyed the film.  Yes, the story is of a comic book quality, the characters being larger-than-life and having only the basic outlines of personality.  But the story was based on a World War II era comic book.  And then the story presented the origins of “Captain America’s” persona in a sympathetic manner.  He was a scrawny “kid from Brooklyn” who was made strong with the aid of an immigrant scientist and who used that strength to do basically good, even though many times those around him didn’t know how best to use him. 

I’m not sure how this movie will fly overseas.  In some some countries, the movie was renamed “The First Avenger” rather than “Captain America.”  But I do have to say that all things considered, the movie was done very well.  It portrayed World War II era America very well and yes America to this day would relate to that “kid from Brooklyn” made quasi-miraculously strong but seeking to use that strength then (generally) for the good of all.

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