Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Captain America: The First Avenger RETRO-REVIEW

Image Courtesy en.wikipedia.org
I have to admit, Captain America: The First Avenger is not my favorite pre-Avengers movie.  I like it less than Thor.  It is easily the worst of the Captain America trilogy, and probably the worst movie with Captain America in it.  Now, considering the competition there, that’s not a knock on this movie by any stretch of the imagination:  The Winter Soldier was an absolute masterpiece as a political thriller, and Civil War was amazing in its own right.  None of this should be taken as me necessarily “bashing” on this movie.

That being said, it has some definite flaws.

Let’s start with the character of Steve Rogers.  Steve is basically a Nice Guy™, and that’s the majority of his character development.  He’s a little guy who doesn’t like bullies, and then he turns into a big guy who doesn’t like bullies but does like punching mustachioed bullies in the face.  He wants to be able to fight in World War II but can’t because of his medical history, so he volunteers for an experiment to make him the perfect soldier and enhance his inner character.  And when his inner character is enhanced, he’s basically the same guy but requires less CGI.  Steve stays about like this—humble guy given incredible power—for the entire movie, up until the moment that he forces the Valkyrie plane into the Arctic so it wouldn’t crash into a populated area and cause major civilian casualties.

Image Courtesy www.fxguide.com
Steve just stays the same for the entire movie as a character.  The physical transformation isn’t matched by any internal transformation that I can tell.

Schmidt has the same problem as Steve:  he doesn’t go through any sort of character arc.  Schmidt is the bad guy because he thinks he’s better than everyone else and is the “better man” of legend who will take over the world.  Consequently he is willing to do anything and everything necessary to make his vision a reality, up to and including turning on his own people.  Hugo Weaving makes for an intense and menacing Red Skull, particularly after he removes his mask and goes full-on as the stereotypical ‘40s villain.  But he’s just the Red Skull from beginning to end, and we’re never given any indication that he was ever anything other than a raving lunatic.

Having said all this, I do need to point out that this movie is actually quite accurate to the comics, and it does a good job of embracing (and in some cases subverting) the tropes that were common in the comics of the 1940s.  Captain America represents everything that is good about America; Red Skull represents everything that Americans hate about the Nazis.  The focus is on the bonds of brotherhood between the soldiers and on the moral rightness of their actions—they are saving the world!  Red Skull is a larger than life caricature of what Americans in the ‘40s thought that the boogeyman looked like.     The visuals are absolutely incredible and look like they were pulled directly out of a comic book—something the Captain America movies have proven to be particularly adept at doing.

Image Courtesy marvel-movies.wikia.com
The best part of the movie in my opinion is actually the supporting characters.  The Howling Commandoes are awesome, even if we don’t get a ton of development from most of the team—I’m glad they were included in an episode of Agent Carter.  Doctor Erskine serves as a good father figure for Steve before the procedure:  he supports him and explains that what is important for the experiment is not who he is on the outside but who he is on the inside.  Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark is an absolute blast (it really is too bad that Agent Carter got cancelled).  Colonel Philips may be the most dynamic character in the movie:  he goes from placing all his hope in physical strength to recognizing and respecting the qualities that made Steve an ideal candidate for the experiment, self-sacrifice and perseverance.  He does this first when he bows to Erskine’s desire to test it on Steve instead of Hodge (though why Philips was so hell-bent on using the big guy in the first place when the whole point is to take a weakling and make him super is beyond me…).  After Erskine’s death puts a halt to the rest of the experimentation, he discounts the value of a single super-soldier, but when Steve proves just what one man can do against Hydra, he changes his tune and brings Steve into the S.S.R. fold.
Image Courtesy www.slashfilm.com
In terms of this movie, I think the absolutely most important character was actually Peggy, because her relationship with Steve served as the emotional heart.  I actually didn’t watch this movie when it first came out (I watched it a couple weeks before The Avengers), but I can’t imagine anyone sitting in a theater watching this movie and not realizing that Peggy and Steve are star-crossed lovers (even if they did somehow sleep through the opening scene!).  They could never be together because Steve was always going to somehow get himself frozen in ice and wake up in present-day so he could be an Avenger.  So seeing them come together only for Steve to mess it up by kissing Lorraine, and then they yet again continue to draw closer through Steve’s war service and Bucky’s death is very bittersweet.  And then when they kiss right before he has to catch his plane to New York and gets put on ice it is all the more tragic because you know that is going to be their only kiss.  This is really what keeps the movie grounded:  Steve cares for Peggy.  This is also where the movie really subverts the trope:  instead of making Peggy the stereotypical damsel in distress/love interest, she is a very capable agent and in some respects even more capable than Steve himself.

The other major supporting role in this movie is of course Bucky.  This is where the movie deviates from the source the most—comic-book Bucky is a kid sidekick, while movie Bucky is older than Steve and even bigger and stronger than him at the beginning.  At the same time, they really work in a good dynamic between the two:  they are friends, but they are more than friends; they are brothers.  The relationship isn’t really spelled out in this movie, but it is clear from their interactions how good of friends they are.  This friendship is actually the “through line” for the entire Captain America trilogy:  Steve trying to find and save Bucky.  Bucky falls to his “death” in The First Avenger.  He is discovered alive in The Winter soldier and broken free from his Hydra programming.  In Civil War, Bucky teams up with Steve once more and is once more on the “right” side.  And through all of this Steve refuses to give up on his best friend.  This was all set up nicely in The First Avenger—and who (at least comic book readers) can honestly say they didn’t see the Bucky twist in The Winter Soldier coming?

Probably the best and most emotional scene in the movie came when Steve was “drowning his sorrows” in a bar and Peggy came to console him on Bucky’s presumed death.  Both of the main relationships in the movie were on display, and this helped to set up Steve’s self-sacrifice at the end of the movie:  “This is my choice.”  I do wish they had given him a little more reason for ditching in the Arctic than that, though.  I know it had to happen, but they could have handled it better.

Image Courtesy spinoff.comicbookresources.com
The fight sequences in this movie were all really good, particularly the last one from when Steve attacked the compound through Red Skull’s disappearance into the heavens by means of the Tesseract.  My biggest disappointment in the movie is probably shared by a lot of other people:  3 years of war (and hundreds of comic book issues) getting condensed down into a single war reel.  If The Avengers hadn’t been the next movie on the schedule, it would have been really interesting to give Cap at least 2 movies pre-freeze so that we could explore more of that comic book history, particularly the Invaders (Allied superhumans teaming up to fight the Nazis/Hydra).  There may still be a way to revisit that, but with Agent Carter having been cancelled, it seems highly unlikely.

It may sound like I wasn’t a huge fan of this movie, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I really enjoyed this movie, and I thought it did an excellent job of working with both the 1940s comic book style and the 1940s/World War II setting.  There were places where they could have done better, but that’s something you can say about any movie.

What did you think of Captain America: Civil War?  Did you want to see more of Cap during World War II?  Let me know in the comments!

No comments:

Post a Comment