Saturday, July 23, 2011

At the Movies: Captain America (The First Avenger)

Overall: 8.3

This movie is solidly enjoyable and, in parts, very refreshing.

Plot Synopsis:

A ninety-pound weakling by the name of Steve Rogers is selected to participate in a WWII-era military experiment whose goal is to breed super soldiers. The experiment works swimmingly, and Steve - after a brief stint as a USO star - sets out to defeat a super-Nazi's plot to take over the world.

Hey -- it's a superhero movie. You weren't expecting a complex story, were you?

The Skinny:

As the kids in fandom say: OMG U GUYS! Steve - aka Captain America - is so cute!

Mind you, I don't mean that in the physical, beef-cake sense. No -- I'm referring to the opening scenes of the movie, which manage to hit one of my biggest kink buttons. What's that button, you may ask? Well, as you all should know by now (especially if you've been reading my Babylon 5 reviews), I love brave-yet-underestimated underdogs -- and Steve (initially, anyway) perfectly fits that bill. I love his desperation to join the fighting overseas, which drives him to visit Army recruiting centers again and again and again (only to be labeled "4F" again and again and again). I love that he gets into a fight with somebody twice his size over the other fellow's razzing of a newsreel -- and doesn't surrender even though he's wholly outmatched. I love that, while at boot camp, he leaps onto a (dummy) grenade without a second thought. And I definitely laugh when I think about his elegant solution to a certain flagpole challenge. (Hmm. Let's see. I think I'll just pull these pins here and here... *and the pole comes down with a crash*)

Without a doubt, the scenes mentioned above successfully establish the future Captain America's bravery, intelligence, and basic human decency -- and that's actually a key thematic point. Dr. Erskine selects Steve to be his test subject because he knows that Steve will not abuse his new-found power. As he states (and I'm paraphrasing here), "The strong man - the one who has known power his entire life - is more likely to take power for granted. The small man, on the other hand, is more likely to respect it." He then explains that the super-villain of the piece, Herr Schmidt - aka Red Skull - has also been enhanced by the serum that eventually gives poor Steve some muscle mass, but because Schmidt's sole goal was and is to gain power over others, such enhancements warped him beyond all human recognition.

Overall, the take-away messages of this movie seem to be as follows: 1) A man with a brain and a heart is preferable to a man with pure brawn; and 2) Don't be a bully -- but don't stand by and let other bullies win the day either. And you know what? I can certainly applaud both of those morals. They are simple, clear, and wholesome -- just as the superhero genre in general used to be before some of today's writers mucked it up by inserting their modern prejudices.

Writing: 8.0

Sure -- some of the story beats are a bit cheesy. But as I said at the start, this is a superhero movie. I wouldn't say this script quite matches, say, Iron Man in terms of its quality, but it's perfectly respectable for the genre.

Acting: 7.0

I'd say the acting is the weak spot here. The performances are pretty average even by superhero movie standards.

Production Values: 8.0

There were no sequences that really took my breath away, but the effects are nonetheless decent. The way the production team digitally diminished Chris Evans for the opening bits is particularly noteworthy.

Message: 10.0

The heroic themes in Captain America are definitely what I enjoyed most. As I imply above, the writers really take us back to the genre's roots. And I suspect that's why this movie is resonating with ordinary Americans. (Box office take so far: $65 million plus.)

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