While we’re not the biggest fans of the superhero genre here at Film Geek HQ (for the reasons why, please see this page), but we are willing to admit it when a well-made superhero movie rocks our socks off. It’s been awhile since one was able to do that, of course, but that drought’s over now: Joe Johnston’s Captain America isn’t just the best Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man, but it’s also the best summer movie we’ve seen this year. Read on for our full-blown Captain America review, my fellow film geeks …
Joe Johnston’s had a strange career as a director in Hollywood. Way back in the late ’90s, Johnston made Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and his directing career was off to a great start. That film led him to The Rocketeer, a film that’s gained a cult following in the years since its release … but one that wasn’t universally beloved upon release. Since then, he’s alternated between reasonably good stuff (October Sky, The Wolfman) and flat-out bad movies (Jurassic Park 3, The Wolfman), and along the way he’s developed a reputation as a dude that delivers an inconsistent product. When he was announced as the director of Captain America, more than a few eyes rolled.
Come Monday morning, three days after Captain America hits theaters, many of the film geeks that rolled their eyes are going to be claiming they were rooting for Johnston all along: Captain America is so good, you’ll have trouble believing that it came from the same dude that directed The Pagemaster. It’s the best Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man, and it kicks Thor‘s ass all over the summer-movie landscape. This is a kick-ass, adventurous, crowd-pleasing summer movie.
Johnston wouldn’t have been able to pull it off, though, were it not for Chris Evans (who stars as the titular Captain). For the past half-decade or so, people have been waiting for Evans’ career to take off in Hollywood. He’s landed several high-profile gigs (and a handful of not-so-high-profile gigs), but none of them were enough to kickstar his superstardom. After seeing Captain America, I fully expect that to change: Evans was born to play this role, and he makes what could’ve been a very wooden, goody-two-shoes character into someone that even the harshest of cynics will find themselves rooting for. Those of us that’ve considered ourselves fans of the dude won’t be surprised to find this out, of course, but it’s nice to know that others will now catch on, as well.
The film’s two-hour running time gets divvied up into what feels a lot like three disproportionate acts: there’s the opening bit — the “origin story” — where we meet Steve Rogers (a short, rail-thin weakling desperate to get into the army during WW2), the film’s other supporting characters (including Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, and Stanley Tucci, all of whom are excellent in their roles), and watch Captain America being born; there’s a concurrent bit that deals with the Red Skull’s rise to power (the Red Skull being the film’s villain); and then there’s the bit where Captain America hunts down and defeats the Red Skull (spoiler alert). That first bit feels like it takes a long, long time to wrap up, while the other bits feel like about 40% of the film, collectively. Twist is, you won’t care: the origin stuff is handled so deftly, you’ll be happy to watch it play out even if you know Cap’s story be heart.
Special mention should be made of Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. The makeup work here is incredible, so much so that I found myself having trouble paying attention to Weaving’s lines on more than one occasion, as I was too busy staring at the awesome handiwork of the film’s makeup wizards. Weaving employs a Werner Herzog-like voice for the Skull, and while that might not sound like the most obvious choice for the character, it plays like gangbusters. I’d bet vital parts of my anatomy that Weaving had Herzog in mind while reading those lines: it’s too similar to be coincidental. But again, you’re probably going to be too interested in Weaving’s face to notice.
The film’s big action sequences are above-average, but — even though I loved the film — I should make it clear that these aren’t the most thrilling action sequences you’re going to see this summer. If you want crazy-spectacle, go see Transformers 3. If you want to see adventure, you see Captain America: though all the shooting and motorcycle chases and hand-to-hand combat and battle sequences are all done well enough, none of ’em are going to become iconic in the superhero genre. But I’ll take a pervasive spirt of “adventure” (Johnston used Raiders of The Lost Ark for inspiration here, and it’s obvious; he even tosses in a couple nods to that film … see if you can spot ’em) over “nonstop things-blowing-up” any day of the week. I could’ve used one more action sequence (it feels like it should’ve come just after the montage), but complaining about that would just be me being picky. Everything else works great, and if the film had been 15 minutes longer, it wouldn’t have worked as well.
It’s also worth noting that — contrary to my expecations — the screening I attended was in 3D. When I saw the security guards at the door into tonight’s press screening retrieving a box full of 3D glasses from behind a counter, my heart sank: after seeing Thor and only really “seeing” about 50% of Thor (thanks to the dimness of the picture), I’d sworn off any non-animated 3D movies for good. I didn’t want to see Captain America in 3D, and hadn’t even expected that this was a possibility. That said, the screening we saw seemed to have gone out of its way to get the lighting just right — the picture was never too dark, the 3D worked well enough (though it’s obviously a post-conversion job) — and I didn’t have any real problems seeing it in that format. I wouldn’t recommend seeing Captain America in 3D if you don’t have to, but if you do, just be sure it’s in a theater that gives a damn about its projectors.
Captain America probably won’t end up on my top-ten list at the end of the year, but in a summer that’s been one crappy movie after another, it was an absolute breath of fresh air. Only time will tell if Cap’s peers (read: the other movies released this summer) have made it seem better than it actually is, but I don’t think that’s the case: Johnston’s film is amongst the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen, and with Evans in the lead, it really scores. If you’re interested in a summer movie that’s a) loyal to its source material, b) just the right length, c) filled with a slew of great actors turning in great work, and d) a superhero movie you don’t have to be ashamed to buy a ticket to, Captain America‘s your man. Or, your movie. You know what I mean.
My grade? A-
NOTE: If you’d like to read our slightly-snarkier take on Captain America, head on over to THIS page.
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