Captain America: The First Avenger.

23Jul11

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t expected to see Captain America on its opening weekend; not that I didn’t want to see it, but I wanted to wait until I had a day off for one of the matinee showings. I won’t go into details, but the reason can be boiled down to the fact that whatever downsides my job might have, they at least try to keep us happy. And while I won’t try to talk about every single plot point, I will say that this will have a lot of spoilers.

So how was it? Very good. Very, very good. Where I thought Thor was almost as good as the first Iron Man, I would say that Captain America actually edges it out a little, though I might have to rewatch the first Iron Man before I could say for sure. It’s certainly a very close race between the two of them. But much like Thor, the reason why Captain America works is that it takes a lot of time in the first half to build up our main character, letting us know what he’s like as a person. Which…doesn’t change much, really. He becomes more confident in himself, to a degree, but this isn’t Steve Roger’s journey to realizing the power was in him all along. If anything, the only thing that changes about Steve is that he gains a superhuman physique; his decency and bravery are there at the very beginning, as he tries repeatedly to enlist in the Army, doing his best to serve his country in its time of need.

Of course, having a good buildup doesn’t help if the payoff isn’t satisfying, and it is. We do get a bit of an expectations subversion at first, as the character “Captain America” is created as a way to sell war bonds to the country. It’s only after they try to use him as a PR tool on the troops themselves that Steve actually gets into action, and it’s in an appealingly human way; his friend is behind enemy lines, no rescue attempt will be made, and Steve decides to do more than be a traveling show, so he can save his friend. And that’s when things kick into high gear, for pretty much the entire rest of the movie.

I will admit, some of the ways that Captain America can just toss Hydra soldiers around is a little silly. He seems to be throwing people 30 feet in the air without really trying. But for the most part, it’s satisfying. Lots of shield tossing is had (how he gets the shield back doesn’t really get addressed, but it’s just fun to see him do it), and the film never tries to hide the fact that Steve Rogers is a soldier fighting in a war. He doesn’t take the time out to kill the enemy on an individual level, but he wields a gun without any reservation, and leads a commando team to take out whole facilities. And the plot neatly sidesteps the real result of the war by not only focusing on the Red Skull instead of Hitler, but actually having the Red Skull as a scientist making a bid to take over the whole world, Germany included, effectively making it a shadow war between the two of them, while their respective nations fight the public battles.

Captain America would never be mistaken as a truly deep film. But it’s the best kind of summer popcorn movie-well thought out and shot, every actor turning in good performances, and action scenes that satisfy both viscerally and intellectually. It also features a deep bench of supporting actors that were fun to watch-you get to see the birth of the Howling Commandos right on screen in Captain America’s prison break to save his friend, and that’s a hoot on its own, with or without Cap’s involvement. And as some reviews have rightfully pointed out, it’s a movie that does not try to wink at the audience or bring in a lot of irony. That’s not to say it doesn’t have any irony or humor, but it’s not trying to poke fun at the superhero genre at the same time it’s supposed to be embracing it. I highly recommend going to see it as soon as possible, because it’s just a hell of a good time that won’t ask too much of you, but has more going for it than just “Things go boom!”

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