Captain America: A Review
This movie should’ve been great. It barely makes ‘good.’
The old cartoon at the top is actually more memorable than the movie in every possible way. Dagnabbit.
I’m gonna review it based on my framework for making a successful superhero movie, found here.
1. Assemble a production team that has knowledge of, and respect for, the source material.
Joe Johnston both succeeds and fails at this, and it’s both geeky fun and very frustrating with what he does with this movie. What he gets right is the million winks. Holy COW I almost had a multiple geekgasm from all the winks in this movie. My favorite one HAD to be the Human Torch(gee I wonder why), the original one, Dr. Phineas’ android in the glass tube at the World’s Fair. That qualifies as a triple wink, to the time period, to the fact that Chris Evans played the Human Torch in both Fantastic Four movies, and to The Invaders. I damn near jumped out of my chair; it was just awesome.
The problem is, Joe Johnston showed us everything but what we wanted to see…which was lots of Cap being the super soldier. More on that later.
2. KNOW. WHICH THINGS. TO TWEAK.
Again, this was well done, because they stayed so faithful to the source material and incorporated a lot of tie ins from the Ultimates as well, including the main costume. Chris Evans wore the traditional costume, albeit a cheap version, when he was touring the country as a spokesperson for buying bonds and recruitment. This served a dual purpose, giving us the traditional duds while showing how silly he would’ve looked if they’d gone with that version; brilliant. And, of course, the shield. One of the most recognized gadgets in all of superherodom, right up there with Batarangs and the Magic Lasso. It was done well also, although its explanation was really rather rushed; I also didn’t like the way that other people were able to handle it. There’s supposed to be something about its balance that only Cap can feel, but oh well. Still a good job here.
The main tweak that I had a problem with was Bucky. He wasn’t young enough, he wasn’t Jimmy Olsenish enough, he wasn’t short enough, we didn’t see he and Cap in action enough, and his death just felt…kind of meaningless. Just the way it happened felt like the character was cheated, and there’s a reason for that. It’s because this movie made the same mistake that Green Lantern did, trying to cram too much comic history into a two hour film.
This is one of the reasons that Superman:The Movie is such a classic; because the story is simple. It has three clear locations, Krypton, Smallville, and Metropolis, one main villain, and plenty of room for all the leads. By the time Lois dies at the end of the movie, it has weight…Bucky’s death unfortunately does not get the pathos punch that it deserves.
3. Cast it right. FAMOUS NAMES DO NOT MAKE US WANT TO SEE THE MOVIE MORE.
My biggest reservation was Chris Evans himself. I was hoping that I could forget that Johnny Storm was pretending to be Steve Rogers. But I have to say, I bought him in the role. And Hugo Weaving was obviously born to act, he can play heroes and villains with ease. Tommy Lee Jones is looking every inch his age, playing Sam Gerard from The Fugitive in every movie now, but that’s okay, because he’s a funny & lovable old coot. Everyone else was pretty spot on…no one jumped out at me like “WTF are they doing here?”
My only other semi-related casting issue was not really with Haylee Atwell as Peggy, but moreso Peggy herself. It seems that ‘snarky bitch’ is the only female lead that can show up in superhero movies. Ever.
4. Get the costume right. Get the origin right. Get the powers right. Get the personality right.
Costume? Check. That was pure Cap uniform. Origin? Check? Almost like the were holding the comic up as they were filming. Powers? Check. That was indeed America’s super soldier. Operation:Rebirth was a success. Personality? Dedicated to king & country, with a dose of naivete, a heavy streak of self-sacrifice, and a modest unawareness of the world around him. Check.
Because this movie broke one of the cardinal rules of film making. SHOW. don’t TELL. There was simply too much exposition and too many ‘moments’ between the characters, and not enough focus on the hero in action. Period. Maybe 15 minutes total screen time of Cap being Cap, and the editing was so bad, it killed the momentum every time he sprung into action. What a shame. What a waste.
Again, it just never ceases to amaze me how Hollywood writers & directors can fail to have a grasp on even the most basic fundamentals of movie making.
5. STOP MAKING THE DAMN MOVIE BE ABOUT THE VILLAIN.
Now I’ve definitely got to give kudos here…this movie contained the Red Skull, and gave a clear picture of his origin, but he certainly didn’t dominate the way the Joker does in every damn Batman movie he’s in. Hugo Weaving was well cast. But. There were problems.
First problem was his voice. (I actually had the same reaction to Steve when he was still scrawny. His voice was too deep, it should’ve been higher, and changed registers once he became super sized.) With TRS…I was just not buying his German accent. It was just terrible. Hugo slipped in and out of it all the time, and was just not believable at all.
Second issue was…The Crimson Cranium just didn’t have any…presence. He wasn’t crazy enough, he wasn’t maniacal enough, he wasn’t menacing enough, he just kind of…..was. I know I always talk about Vader and the Terminator, but there’s a reason that they’re still so popular. Because they have incredible ooomph. Skully here didn’t really have that…plus his motivation was really thin. For a religious zealot, he was often strangely dispassionate. Especially for someone that
basically had the power of Creation in his hand. More on the Cosmic Cube later. The movie basically said that Cap and the Skull were “brothers,” both sons of Erskine as it were, TRS being Cain, and Cap being Abel. If they were going to play that angle, they should’ve worked it more…because their fight wasn’t really personal, and it should’ve been. And also…the Skull’s ‘master plan’ was kind of stupid and vague.
All in all, his performance was kind of…under the top.
6. Balance the action, CGI, and character development.
And here it is…the single biggest flaw in a well cast movie. Too much damn talking, not enough action, action edited so poorly until you miss the impact of it, and action scenes brought to a screeching halt EVERY DAMN TIME. Know what made The Matrix so cool? It was the fact that you got to see the fighting. Whether it was the training sequences, Trinity vs. the cops/agents, Neo vs. Smith, whatever. You got to see them fight, clearly, with lots of great mixed martial arts action. Here…again, 15 minutes MAXIMUM of Cap being Cap, and my new standard for judging movies, not one memorable image. Not one. Cap didn’t have one pose, one scene, one situation that gave us a classic Cap image. Who can forget Superman rescuing Lois in the helicopter scene, with the unforgettable “You’ve got me? …Who’s got you?” or even in Superman Returns, as much as I disliked that movie, damn if I haven’t watched that plane rescue over and over again, because it just kicks righteous ass. It really looked like what you’d expect something like that to look like if Superman were real. Nothing like that here tho.
7. Master the basics. People want A COMPELLING STORY.
Again…the story of The Matrix is simple. The Terminator? Simple. Superman the Movie? Simple. But here? Clearly the issue was, just like Lucas is in love with CGI, and story and characters be damned, the writers & Joe Johnston were WAY more in love with the time period of WWII and the war effort than they were with Cap himself. If you don’t think that’s true, which got more focus & screen time? We didn’t really need a rehashing of WWII; the opportunity here was to show how much of a difference Captain America made. And that idea was unfortunately barely realized, mostly glossed over, and couched in too much humor. Don’t get me wrong, the humor itself was great, I laughed in all the right places. I mean that Cap’s presence in the battle didn’t garner the respect and awe that it should have. It was just a little too light-hearted, at least for my taste.
I also think I’m somewhat jaded when it comes to the love story portion…not because I have anything against a good love story, it’s just that I’ve seen the same one so many times now, until, I guess I’m just unmoved by it. Underconfident but noble guy meets snarky ball bustin’ babe, and they fight until the end, where they magically somehow confess their deep feelings for each other. Bored now, show me something new. At least the triangle with Clark/Lois/Superman is unique and funny. Not too often that a man is his own competition, and his girlfriend can’t see what’s right in front of her. And, as is the soup de jour of the day, they spent so much time making SURE you KNEW that Peggy Carter was a tough ball bustin’ babe until they DIDN’T spend that SAME ENERGY showing THAT SAME QUALITY in THE MAIN MALE CHARACTER.
So, from Cap’s impact, to the amour de leuvre, to the Red Skull’s master plan, it’s all very ‘wha…?’ or ‘meh.’ Sorry.
At least Haylee’s got a guh-REAT rack. #YeahISaidIt
The emotional journey of Captain America in this movie is not clear. I wanted more scenes of him coming to grips with his new physique, and some damn scenes of him TRAINING. Because there were none. ZERO. I wanted to see him spending time mastering his shield technique, and I wanted to see some really cool shots of him being more than just an awesome athlete. Johnston just didn’t do it right. And, just like I feared, Emil Blonsky in The Incredible Hulk gave us a better version of Cap than his own movie did. So with all of the aforementioned, when Cap wakes up in the present, we feel…nothing. It’s a shame that he and Peggy never got to consummate their like, but again, too much comic history to try and squeeze into a two hour movie. They should’ve left Cap in the WWII era.
The resolution of the conflict between Cap and the Skull is incredibly lame,
mainly because Cap beats him on a fluke. Cap had no idea what would happen when he attacks the Cube apparatus, and the way the Skull goes out is just….what? If you’re not familiar with the Cosmic Cube from the comics and the animated series, you have no idea what it really is, or what it really does. If you do, that still doesn’t explain why it reacts that way and disintegrates? the Skull and sends him to Heaven. It just makes no sense. It’s ironic that the one song that defines the hero says that “he has a plan” and yeah UM no, he totally doesn’t.
And, once again, no memorable music. As I said in the opening, the old cartoon is better in every way. This movie had no theme song, no tag line, nothing. It’s like Hollywood has forgotten how to be epic.
Oh well, Cap is a great character, he’ll survive this. And yes, there is a scene after the credits, which turns out to basically be a trailer for The Avengers. Gawd I hope that doesn’t suck.