Review- Captain America: The First Avenger

Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger (Disney/Marvel)

As is always the case when dealing with a superhero film I feel that one’s personal history with a character is an important factor to consider when discussing the film, at the very least so I can relay to you my frame of reference. In the crop of superhero films released this year Captain America is likely the property I had the least amount of history with, which if you think about it is an advantage to the film. For as much as I talk about disengaging expectation built by other media from a film the reason I write on it so much is that it’s a fight against human nature to more purely and accurately judge a film.

So Captain America, to me, is free of the restraint of expectations but does it take advantage of this advantage? Not fully, no. The film sets its character up well enough: Steve Rogers is a kind, disciplined, brave young man who yearns to serve his country in the hour of its greatest need but is repeatedly rejected due to his build and health problems. This film, especially the opening, runs the risk of being overly overt propaganda, however, it focuses on character enough, at the beginning at least, such that it narrowly avoids that.

Another manner in which it dodges the P-word is in the turn the film takes immediately following the experiment that gives Steve his abilities. The trajectory from everyman to super-being isn’t a straight ascent because at first the only responsibility he’s given is that of pitchman. He has to fight the power and be a little rebellious to truly fulfill his destiny so that makes it a bit interesting.

Another strength that the film has to fall back on is the strength of its cast, the supporting cast mainly. Not to discredit Chris Evans, he does a fine job and is believable as Steve at both stages though he’s not as dynamic as he was in Star Trek and it seems like he was always waiting for the transition- that CG job making him skinny is quite impressive.

First and foremost among the supporting cast is Hayley Atwell who plays Peggy Carter and the love interest in this film and is not only a strong, intelligent woman but makes the love interest in a superhero film vital for the first time in some time. If you think about it many of the recent crop have had love interests as either an afterthought or not at all. The relationship between her and Steve gives this film the little extra it needs to get by.

Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving each do rather well in their respective required roles: Jones as the disbelieving Colonel and Weaving as the villainous Red Skull, replete with an authentic-sounding accent in a film with too much foreign intrigue to dabble in foreign tongues like others have recently. Also quite enjoyable is the performance of Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine who takes Steve under his wing.

This isn’t the only recent superhero film of late to deal with actual historical events in a fictionalized context, see the recent X-Men film, what that film did though that this failed to do (and it was the major failing of it) is that it made its tale as high stakes and intriguing as the historical incident in which it wrapped itself up. It also re-wrote history in a major way this film decided instead to write a subplot so to an extent you’re watching the undercard of World War II as Captain America and co. go after Red Skull and his rogue band of occultist Nazis and Hitler and the majority get second billing and no play. When an actual man who wanted to take over the world takes a backseat to a fictional creation who does, it’s a monumental task to make that notion as scary regardless of how likely it is in the world of the story.

Thus, in Captain America his initial battle as a hero, which in the end is more climactic, is also more effective.

When it’s all said and done Captain America is an effective and enjoyable film with obvious flaws that could’ve been handled and addressed better than it is.

6/10

Review- Green Lantern

Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern (Warner Bros./DC)

Note: Some spoilers within.

Of the rash of comic book films that are due out this year I’d put Green Lantern near the bottom of the list with regards to how much prior knowledge I had about him going in (As opposed to The X-Men with which I am quite familiar or the upcoming Captain America, which would rank lowest). Thus, the expectations might not be as great but the onus would be squarely on the film to convey who this guy is what the rules of this particular universe and his abilities are. It’s serviceable but it could’ve been handled better. A lot of information about who the Lanterns are and what they do is disseminated immediately in a voice-over and considering that there will be more information to absorb later along with a lot of flashy fight sequences that don’t require thought it’s a risky strategy and there was some debate of the finer points amongst my party after the film.

Having said all that for the most part the foundation is laid and laid well not only in establishing Hal, his world and how it changes when he is summoned but also going forward should the films continue. A factor this film benefits from is that it’s not a super-being tale but rather gifts endowed to a regular person, which makes identification somewhat easier. While typically I am more drawn to the vigilante-type a la Batman, this film does do enough well to be considered better than The Green Hornet, who is of the vigilante mold, especially when you consider that this film managed to incorporate comedy with making it one, which is a tribute to the casting choice of Ryan Reynolds.

One of the decisions that didn’t work as well for this film is that in essence it contained dueling antagonists. On the one hand you have Parallax who is essentially a personification of fear that grows more dangerous and violent the more it defeats and consumes, which was pretty cool and different from what you typically get, and on the other you have Hector Hammond. Hammond is a scientist who gets infected by contact with one of Parallax’s victims and that creates a psychic link. Part of the problem with devoting so much time to Hammond is that he’s essentially a tool. It does give us a good performance from Peter Sarsgaard but his narrative ends rather unceremoniously.

Not to say Hammond was unnecessary but it just feels certain aspects of the film are short-changed in the interests of keeping the running time manageable. While Hammond’s being developed, I wanted more Hal, while Hal’s having his doubts I wondered what was happening on Oa. It seems as if in the interest of trying to get a lot covered the whole wasn’t all it could’ve been. On the positive, I thought the sequence with the requisite backstory regarding Hal’s father was very well-handled as was the introduction of what relationship all these characters had to one another. It’s just that plotting and pacing suffered after a while when trying to do too much all at once.

There are then with two antagonists and two climactic battle sequences; little fish then big fish. While I’ll be the first to complain when one seems far too long these were oddly truncated and anti-climatic. They each have their “Oh, that was cool” moments but also have that “Oh, it’s over?” moment as well.

The animation was rather good considering that there was a lot of it but definitely could’ve been improved further. For the record I did not see this film in 3D as I saw no need to as it is a post-converted film and I try to avoid those.

Lastly, don’t leave as soon as the credits start rolling as there is a little teaser at the end. Or you could leave because it really bugged the hell out of me. Can we knock it off with the teasers already? I recognize that running time begins at fanfare and ends when the credits stop rolling but more often than not these tacked on scenes leave you scratching your head or rolling your eyes rather than giving you anything you’re actually glad you stuck around and watched. Any superhero film has a built-in “excuse” for a sequel: it’s about a superhero. There’s always a bad guy. You don’t need to bend over backwards for it.

Anyway, having said all that I do want to stress that I think this film does more well than it does poorly it just sometimes that the latter is easier to expound upon. It’s a fair indoctrination to the character and the Green Lantern concept as a whole and is enjoyable popcorn-fare.

6/10