Did you guys see Jurassic Park III? You know the guy who directed that also helmed this. He was also responsible for The Wolfman last year. Though that won an Academy Award, so I won’t be cruel to that one. Plus, much like Captain America, the best part of that film was Hugo Weaving straight up chewin’ scenery. My point is that Joe Johnston was a bold choice to direct what would be the final piece in Marvel’s film-puzzle before The Avengers hits next may. At the same time, much as Kenneth Branaugh was an inspired choice to take up Thor Johnston is one of those directors who, when on his game, would be perfect for something like Captain America. The number one reason that people have been giving since the day he signed on the dotted line was the fact that he directed The Rocketeer which shares some similar themes as well as the “period piece” setting. Well, Captain America is decidedly better than The Rocketeer. Though to be honest I’d love to see Timothy Dalton hamming it up against Hugo Weaving. That would be golden.
The film begins in the present day, where a team of scientists drilling in the arctic find something unusual. The story is familiar to anyone who has a basic knowledge of Captain America beyond “he fights Nazis.” From there we fade back to World War II, where we meet up with Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt laying siege to a village in Norway hoping to obtain some ancient Norse artifact supposedly taken from Odin’s throne-room. At this point we must accept that if you’re not seeing every Marvel Studios film you’re not getting the full experience. The item in question is of course the Tesseract, or the cosmic cube, which was actually glimpsed by keen eyed viewers in Thor earlier this year. We’ve finally reached the point where everything has come together and while if you missed Thor you can still enjoy Captain America, the sense of connectivity will be an added bonus for fans who have been following the buildup since Iron Man.
I have to say that this is probably the best origin story comic adaptation to date. Only Iron Man really comes close. There have been some complaints that Steve Rogers doesn’t really have a character arc, he just has a physical transformation. Those people clearly missed the point of the film. Steve was always a good man. His discussion with why he was chosen to be a super-soldier with Stanley Tucci’s Abe Erskine (another standout among many) touches on this quite effectively. Steve’s real arc doesn’t get a chance to begin until he reaches the future. With this being a true origin story, we don’t get to deal with that yet. A good portion of that will be dealt with in The Avengers I would assume. And that is the only downside to Marvel’s interconnected universe. There will always be things that get lost in the shuffle. In a movie like this you can’t get everything in a two hour time-span.
But they do manage to work in a good number of things that work, a truly epic villain who isn’t afraid to go big in a way that most villains have been lacking for a while on screen now for one. Hugo Weaving is perfect as the Red Skull and it’s good to see a true, and pardon the term, “comic-bookey” villain on screen and done well. He’s what the scenery chewing villains of the 90′s Batman franchise aimed for but missed entirely. Much credit must be given for making a character that could have been hokey and downright lame into a memorable character.
Chris Evans also does a good job portraying Steve Rogers. He’s almost too likeable. He brings that sense of honor and duty that Steve Rogers has always had as well as a truly great degree of charm. After seeing him in the role I’m not sure if any of the other names on the shortlist to play the character would have worked out near as well. This is the first time where I watched Chris Evans and didn’t see Chris Evans. I saw Captain effing America. As much as I enjoyed him in Fantastic Four, his Johnny Storm was much like the wise-cracking characters he had played in other films. In Scott Pilgrim, I got a feeling he was mostly just Chris Evans making fun of Chris Evans trying not to be Chris Evans. Here, he was Steve Rogers. The earliest parts of the movie where they used all the CGI left in the universe to make him a skinny little runt seemed to distract from the fact that this was an actor playing a part. I was greatly impressed.
But one of the things that truly stunned me, especially coming off of something like Thor, is that the romance element of the story was handled organically and sincerely. Hayley Atwell, who will likely become a lot of young men’s new celebrity crush after this film, plays a fully developed character in her own right whose relationship with Rogers is given time to shift and grow in a way that feels very real and genuine. Compare this to Chris Helmsworth’s attraction to Natalie Portman in Thor that was basically boiled down to “She’s Pretty, He Has Muscles.” Granted sometimes that’s how real relationships do happen but it doesn’t make for the most satisfying cinematic experience. The Rogers/Carter romance is definitely more interesting. Steve’s jealousy of the attention Tony Stark’s dad keeps throwing her way over the course of the film is one of the more entertaining aspects and shows that even though Steve is a good man at heart, he’s just like you. He hates it when good lookin’ dudes start eyeballin’ your girl.
Personally, this is my favorite of the Marvel Studios entries. I’m a big Cap fan and I feel they nailed it with this one. Iron Man comes very very close. But there was something about this film that just felt more like a Marvel comic come to life than any of the previous entries. Iron Man II attempted that feeling but in the wrong manner. Cameos out the wazoo do nothing. But capture the tone and feel of the page and translate it to screen, and you’ll get something truly special, which Captain America is. I plan on seeing it again very very soon.
This is probably the first legitimite comics related article I’ve written in a while since I’ve been unable to get my books in a timely manner that is conductive to reviewing the actual comics. I guess the film adaptation of a comic is about as close to comics reviews as I can manage for the moment. I’m sorry. I may start reviewing books about a month after they hit stands just to make sure I get my opinion out there but I’m not sure I will even bother.
But the focus today will be the adaptation of Thor.
I am happy to report that it’s the best Marvel film they’ve made since Iron Man. I don’t know if it’s as good as that film, as I remember being dazzled by how entertaining it was but Thor does an admirable job of capturing the same sort of magic that Iron Man did. They also avoided the pitfalls of Iron Man 2 simply by virtue of not having the time to shoehorn an obtrusive amount of *wink wink* side characters into the story. There’s the obligatory cameo of a character who’ll play a major role in the Avengers. You probably already know who I’m talking about. But he isn’t mentioned by his hero moniker and if you aren’t familiar with the character you’ll wonder who the hell he is, what he’s doing and why the hell he chose that as a weapon when there was a perfectly good sniper rifle available.
The biggest achievement that Thor really grabbed was taking the source material and making it manageable in a way that it never felt hokey. The Asgardian elements could have been laughable but Branagh handles them in a way that seems reverent and respectful while tossing aside the needless “thou’s” and “thee’s” in exchange for dialogue that could have felt perfectly at home in the Lord of the Rings. Basically, the bombastic elements never felt overwhelming.
I have to say that Marvel is on a roll with their casting. Chris Hemsworth is charming as the God of Thunder and his natural charisma allows us to like the character when at times we have to agree with Odin’s belief that he is a petulant child with a rash attitude. Natalie Portman is a perfectly acceptable Jane Foster by way of her adoreable sweetness. Kat Dennings could have been cut from the film and nobody would have noticed but I still have a crush on her. I’m not going to lie, that chick’s busom is mesmerizing. Shamefully it’s not on display here and for that I will give the producers a disapproving shake of my head. Thor’s comrades are given a surprising amount of screentime and while I wished that Volstagg were more festively plump, Ray Stevenson plays him as you would imagine Volstagg should be. But the true revelation of the film was Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The man reminded me of a young William Fitchner who himself would have made a fine Loki were he about fifteen years younger.
It has its share of flaws, the somewhat abrupt ending being one of them, but it’s a step above Iron Man 2 or The Incredible Hulk due to the sheer enjoyment factor. The film does a great job of sucking the viewer into this world and not just sucking.
So after a casting search that included choices so bizarre that fanboy heads most likely exploded in a most literal fashion (I’m sure someone had a heart attack after that Will Smith rumor, and if not him then I’m sure the idea of Jim from the Office donning the shield caused someone to suffer a stroke) we have our Captain America, and he’s apparently also the former Human Torch.
I support this casting choice 100%. Evans is a fine young actor who I think is charasmatic and commanding enough to pull of Steve Rogers. But this editorial isn’t just me salivating over a decent casting choice for 1000 words or so. No, this editorial is a serious look at casting choices and their effect on the collective psyche of the pre-existing fanbase. I find the ways that the fans react to casting decisions outright hilarious at times. But in this instance we get a rarity. An actor who once appeared in a Marvel film as one character jumping into another franchise playing another character. OH THE CONFUSION!
Except it really doesn’t matter. Honestly, I think most of the general population has forgotten those Fantastic Four movies anyway. It’s only the people who have a regular and steady attachment to comics who would ever really give a damn. Do you think the average joe schmoe is going to give a damn whether the guy playing Green Lantern was also that sword guy from Wolverine Origins? I don’t think so, any more than they cared that Reynolds was in Blade Trinity before he was Deadpool. Remember that abysmal piece of trash? Yeah, you do. Because you’re a comic book fan and you can’t let it go. But the rest of the world has.
The truth of the matter is that for some reason, we as a community (I’m speaking of the comic collecting hordes) have a personal investment in the adaptations of our favorite characters. In our minds, anybody but the choice we have already picked out in our heads prior to the acknowlegement of a movie’s possibility of existence is considered a complete and utter failure before seeing anything in the way of evidence to support our claims. And so we have people saying that Evans will be a horrible Captain America because of the way he portrayed Johnny Storm. I honestly can’t see the connection. That’s like saying he’ll be horrible in the upcoming Losers adaptaion because of the way he was in Not Another Teen Movie. Or that he’ll reek in Scott Pilgrim because of his work in Sunshine. I don’t see the connection.
I remember people who I worked with in the shop talking about Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Iron Man a few years back. People were saying that it would be a disaster. That he was a trainwreck of an actor who would never be able to pull it together long enough to make a decent Tony Stark. Fortunately, they later ate their words with a side of fries because I don’t think anyone will deny exactly how amazing Downey was in that role. Looking back on it, it seems as if Iron Man was created all those years ago just as an excuse to have Robert Downey Jr. play him on the big screen.
And who is to say that in a few years time we won’t be saying the same thing about Chris Evans. He’s obviously got some measure of talent to be racking up high-profile roles in multiple films even prior to this announcement. People keep mouthing off about how he’s in too many comic book films. With this and Fantastic Four plus Scott Pilgrim and The Losers; that’s like complaining that John Wayne did too many westerns and war films. Are you going to begrudge an actor taking roles that he genuinely thinks he can do service to based solely on the source material. How many damned Victorian era literature based films has Kiera Knightley done? Are we supposed to give her hell for that? No, we aren’t. We’re supposed to give her hell for looking like she hasn’t eaten since the last lunar cycle. (She’s really skinny, people.)
My point with this little rant is this; give the boy a chance. Don’t tear him apart before you see the film. Because if you pre-judge the whole affair before a trailer even airs, you’re gearing yourself up to hate it regardless of the quality that may be there when it’s all said and done. And I honestly think this kid has what it takes to hold his own in a scene with Downey when it comes time to do an Avengers film and that’s more than I can say for John Krasinski. (Sorry Jim.)