Call it some advanced recon - - I had the most bodacious opportunity last week to see CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. Since there are some fans who’re still on the fence about this flick, I’ll do everybody a favor and hold off on spoilers. I want you maniacs to see this, I want you to be as surprised by its twists as I was and I really want you to enjoy it as much as I did.
To cut straight to the point, this is the best Marvel movie yet. Ever since reading the criminally-underappreciated ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN AMERICA mini-series from the 90s, I’ve always felt that Cap had the most iconic origin in this universe of heroes. While not being a direct adaptation (even if does take a lot from that particular mini-series,) this flick realized everything I was hoping for and reminded me why Steve Rogers' heroic journey is so potent thematically.
As we finish a decade of superhero flicks following X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN, it’d be real tough to think of a more fitting bookend than this. After a lot of learning on the go, this is the movie that finally brings the connectivity that tied THOR and IRON MAN together into a critical mass. It's a picture that, at last, captures the unique, precise appeal of the shared superhero universe we enjoy in comics every week. You don’t need to know anything about Cap or Iron Man or Thor before watching this but, if you do, you'll get a real charge out of noticing where it fits into the greater mosaic. Actually, if you know a lot about Cap’s continuity and all his reinterpretations throughout the decades, you’ll get an additional rise out of how the changes to the mythos actually fit all the characters and circumstances together more sensibly.== TEASER ==
The Red Skull gets the best makeover, to be sure. Anybody pitching a fit about “How can there are no Nazis in this World War II!?!?” needs to relax. They’re there. Trust me. The Skull’s a lot more fearsome as a rebel "god" within the German war machine than he is as a loyal servant of the Furhrer, anyway, and the reconceiving of HYDRA as his personal cult handily defuses the questions of taste and appropriateness that have dogged this particular historical fiction for so long. Cap makes a lot more sense, too, when he’s leading one side of a prototypical “G.I.Joe vs. Cobra” secret war instead of his super-heroics being messily fit into real campaigns and battles.
On a more basic level, I relished how this was a red-blooded superhero movie that pitted a hero against a villain without apology, for a change. Chris Evans is a big, strapping hoss who gets his hands dirty without ever breaking down about his misfortunes and Hugo Weaving isn't some misunderstood n'er-do-well who just needs a hug, but a steely-eyed madman. There's no dancing around that.
Audiences have sort-of been conditioned to expect every hero today to be a snarky smartass or an anti-social anti-hero. While this Cap defies orders when he needs to and cracks the occasional joke, Joe Johnston and his team refreshingly let him be a classic lead who still isn't the “boy scout” cynics so detest. Or, maybe more accurately, they make the "boy scout" angle work for him. Much like how Thor was shrewdly kept true to his ostentatious personality by being spun as a fish out of water, this presents a Cap whose awkward inner self never quite catches up to his impressive outer transformation. That’s spelled out in Prof. Erskine’s plea to Steve to remain a good man no matter what changes come from the serum, but it also manifests in some touchingly less-desirable ways.
150 lbs of muscle won’t immediately turn a pipsqueak who’s been dumped on and ignored for his whole life into a confident Adonis, after all. Even as Cap proves himself as a bold warrior and clever tactician, he never gets savvy in dealing with his hardened, worldly comrades, nor does he ever get comfortable talking to women (even as they’re throwing themselves at him.) It’s actually more moving to watch Steve clumsily struggle for any words to tell Peggy Carter how he feels about her than it would’ve been to see them go through the steps of your traditional romance. Like THOR, this smartly keeps its "lovey dovey stuff" to the tentative early stages of a relationship and, thus, the end of the arc's actually that much more tragic for its interruption. Indeed, Cap's scenes with Peggy demonstrate clearly how he has an identifiable personality next to Thor and Tony (and also insures that AVENGERS won't be about a team of cookie-cutter leads.)
There's so much more to cover here than this space allows. There's so many more qualities I'd like to praise, but can't for fear of spoiling anything. Suffice it to say, I walked out of CAPTAIN AMERICA with a wide smile and a keen eagerness to re-watch it immediately -- and I haven't felt like that about any movie, comics-based or otherwise, in a long time. There's no way I'll be able to check it out while I'm at Comic Con this week, but you better believe I'll be grabbing a ticket as soon as I get home.