I don't know about you, but this year's crop of summer blockbusters has seemed to be a bit thin. Harry Potter is doing okay at the box office and with the critics, but I have to confess that I am not a Potterite. I have actually never seen even a single one of the series. I know, I know, it's been a real phenomenon, and typically I will sit through anything that has to do with fantasy/science fiction and has glitzy special effects. I was the one after all who talked Sand into going to see Skyline and 2012 for just those reasons, so I can't entirely understand myself why the Potter films have been of zero interest to me. It is clear that the series did not need my support to do well, and more power to it. The Transformers movie did amazingly well at the box office despite being just about universally panned by the critics. I sat this one out too because I was unimpressed with the first movie, and I found the second movie to be downright awful. Other than that, there has been no real "blockbuster" out there this summer.
I would hope that is about to change. Sand and I went to see Captain America: The First Avenger on Friday and had an absolutely wonderful time. This is an "origins movie" as they call it, chronicling the beginnings of a well-known character. We get to watch as the scrawny Steve Rodgers desperately and unsuccessfully tries repeatedly to enlist in the war effort against the Nazis, each time being classified 4F. When he gives it one more try, he comes to the attention of a scientist working for the US government who offers Rodgers an opportunity to participate in a secret project. This project's aim is create a super soldier, bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than any ordinary man, and time is of the essence as the Nazis' have a similar project of their own: the Hydra weapons project. Hydra is run by a power mad character called Red Skull (for reasons that will be abundantly clear to the movie goer). Red Skull is bent on world domination, not for Hitler, but for himself. Rogers and the Red Skull will ultimately confront each other, but first, the scrawny Rodgers must become Captain America.
This movie is the best of the Marvel Comics movies, besting even the Spiderman and Ironman movies. Yes, we are dealing with comic books stories here and not Schindler's List, but this story is well written. It's entertaining and funny, it has meaty enough character development to allow the viewer to sink into the story, and it's fast paced; the two hours zip by. It's also a beautiful movie. There is a quality to the art in this film that is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies. The sets are designed and lit (or generated on a computer as the case may be) in such a way that not only do you see the 1940's, you can feel the 1940's. Just as Speilberg used cliche movie images to evoke the feel of an old time adventure movie (think about the image of the little plane flying across the globe leaving a line on the map to show its path, or crystal skulls with glowing eyes), Captain America unabashedly borrows from the old films to give us the look of the 1940's, or at least how the 1940's looked in Hollywood movies. From secret laboratories accessed from the backroom of a small shop on a back street in New York City, to musical revues with high stepping chorus girls, to evil minions dressed in black uniforms that covered them from head to toe, hiding even their faces and eyes, making them more ghoulish than human.
What set this movie above the others, however, was the cast. Yes, Ironman has Robert Downey, but Chris Evans as Captain America does a great job too. More to the point however, there are some great performances all around Chris Evans. There is Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, oozing evil from every pore, Tommy Lee Jones who darn near steals the show as the gruff, hard as nails American colonel, and Hayley Atwell as the Captain's romantic interest who out-peppers Pepper Potts.
Well acted, visually intriguing, tightly and entertainingly written, and with great special effects, Captain America has raised the bar pretty darn high in advance of next years Avengers movie. Grab the kids and a bucket of popcorn and settle into a cool air conditioned movie theater near you for a great movie experience.
After the movie, Bernie asked me if I thought Chris Evans had redeemed himself in my eyes. I had no idea what he was talking about, as I was still smiling at how sweet Steve Rogers -- that is, Captain America -- was.
"Whuuut?" I asked, as though I were twenty-two, male, and with my underpants showing while I proved to the world that I was a man by buckling my belt under my butt-cheeks and shuffling along with my pants' crotch around my knees.
"Come on," Bernie said. "We talked about this before. Chris Evans. He played 'Johnny.'"
"Johnny?" I asked, reverting to a grandmother and eschewing mean commentary on today's youth, and merely admitting my lack of memory.
"He was Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four. You remember."
Indeed I did, and after the fact, I was astounded. Chris Evans did play both Johnny Storm and Captain America. "Holy crap!" I exclaimed. "That was him! What is he, an actor?"
I went to see Captain America because it was one step closer to seeing the Avengers movie coming out next May. I never had read a Captain America comic book, didn't know the characters in his stories, etc. However, I have been enjoying the Marvel comic-book-to-movie experiences, and I had been missing my Friday-morning-first-showing popcorn, so no encouragement was necessary.
Bernie has been pretty thorough with what he's said about the movie; I agree that the art was luscious and the acting delightful. With no effort, I was caught up into the story and the "universe," and catching sight of a dusty bowler hat and muttonchop whiskers in a crowd of soldiers, found myself searching faces desperately, looking for the rest of the Howling Commandoes of my youth.
As to my overall opinion of the movie -- why, we're going back this afternoon to see it again.