26 July 2011

Thoughts On: Captain America: The First Avenger

I think the first hour of Captain America: The First Avenger is the best single hour of comic book moviemaking ever.  It is touching and economical.  In comparison to it, the endless melodrama of Spider-man 2 and the bombastic nihilism of The Dark Knight are charmless horse-poop.

But Captain America's second hour is a mess.  Not bad exactly, but slight and sloppy.  It's pretty clear the money and the guts ran out during the production.  After taking us out on the town for the wooing of a lifetime--caviar and compliments, wining and dining--we were--to put it crudely--porked in the backseat of a Subaru and left blinking and unsatisfied (and slightly sticky) on the side of the road.

As soon as Cap puts the actual outfit on--as soon as he's actually Captain America--the movie detaches itself from… everything.  Not only is there no sense of peril or place or context, there's no sense of basic geography or that a war is going on.  We get no World War II love.  At all.

 And really, what is there not to love?

What we get are montages and brief action set pieces without the slightest bit of context.  Cap and his commandos are here, then there, then here.  Seemingly it's no problem for his small band of fighters to get anywhere with the E.T.O. to fight the Red Skull, who's doing… something.  We don't know what.  Advanced weaponry and endless goons aside, Skull's apparently a little namby-pamby as a bad guy.  He's so underdeveloped here you kinda wish there were Nazis, y'know, for the dimensionality.

(Anytime you're wishing for generic Nazis to show up for dimensionality it's a bad sign.)

Next thing you know, bam!, Cap's on his motorcycle going somewhere else.  Where?  We don't know.  Is it dangerous? We don't know.  Is he in danger?  Probably not, he's Captain America.  (Which seems to be how we're supposed to read the second half of the movie: there's no danger, just Cap's fateful freeze looming in the future.)

And, bam!, like that we're in the climax, which I still don't know where it began or how everybody got there.  Cap needs to catch up with the Red Skull, and bam!, Cap's girlfriend is there with a car, and then he hops onto Red Skull's big black plane, and then bam!, he goes down in the ocean, and…

What the hell happened?  Nothing was built up whatsoever.  Cap's love interest story was touching, but the rest of it didn't seem to matter at all.

I don't know if Marvel was scared of making the second half of the movie too dark, or of being disrespectful by doing more World War II stuff, or if there was footage they shot that just didn't work.  Hopefully there weren't time-consideration cuts, because a two hour and thirty minute version of this movie with a second half that took itself seriously would've made for a genre masterwork.

Oh, and Chris Evans was Captain America; his performance here was so good, so on target with the Captain America from the comics of my youth, that I would let him French kiss me.  He went full-on sincere, brought vulnerability and humility, and managed to sound tough without any bombast whatsoever.  Kiss me, Chris.

 Use your hands too, if y'wanna... just keep 'em outside the clothes, sport.

Finally, now that the two favorite superheroes of my childhood--Spider-man and Captain America--have both been adapted by big budget efforts, I find that they've suffered similar fates.  

Like Spidey, Cap got a first movie that was brilliant in spots, and with a character portrayal that was heartfelt and accurate, but in a film that was just too off the mark with its bad guy, its drama and its threats.  Now all I can hope is Cap follows in Spidey's footsteps a little farther: getting a follow-up that gives him one real moment in the sun... before the third film shows up and has, y'know, a pie-eating contest or a Busbey Berkeley water-dance number, or whatever "third movie ridiculousness" that's bound to happen.

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