Friday, August 05, 2011

FILM REVIEW: Chris Evans's "Captain America"

Captain America is actually one of the superheroes that's never really interested me. I've always felt like he was a plant—a government propaganda tool meant to encourage young, impressionable wanderers to put on a patriotic costume of their own. And in this time of war, when we're fighting not for the liberties of an oppressed people, but for the resources of another nation, I find the 5-10 minute montage of newly transformed Captain America, promoting enlistment and "serving" one's country, to be especially off-putting.

Running at 124 minutes, it begins to feel like the longest Uncle Sam commercial in history. Photos don't have to flit across the screen rapidly like the Marvel title sequence for it to feel like brainwashing. The three acts function at a slow burn pace: introducing an eager American, proudly stating he's from Brooklyn (twice!), who wants to stop the bullies of the world, mocking the idea of people who are more men of words than men of action when it comes to war, and then taking down a faceless villain who is after an energy source, much like the ever-changing figurehead of the Taliban forces.

By the end of it, you're impressed that Captain America doesn't so much become bigger and better than his fellow soldiers, but just as good. When he reunites with his captured best friend he explains that his change in size is because "he joined the army," suggesting that if you're a scrawny pushover all you have to do to become a hero is join the army. And even though they try to make it seem like the girl liked the pre-transformation Steve Rogers just as much as the post-, they also suggest that if you want to "get the girl," join the army.

The final nail in the coffin of the viewer's free will is (SPOILER) the Captain's final self-sacrificing act. Sure, in any other film this would've seemed noble and necessary. Unfortunately, the entire set up was nonsensical. He decides to steer the plane filled with city-labeled bombs—heavy-handed much?—downwards onto an icy surface and crash-land. But if he can steer, then why doesn't he just turn the plane around and fly in circles until another plane can come, disarm the bombs, and rescue him? Or even as my friend suggested, why didn't he just land on the icy plane, which went on for miles? The kamikaze mentality felt almost as orchestrated as the "Up yours!" scene in Independence Day—the difference being that that self-sacrificing act was completely necessary and the key to their victory.

Don't get me wrong. I am a proud American and I have no problem with the government searching for unorthodox means to encourage recruitment, especially if it leads to the guarantee of our safety and the rescuing of our captured soldiers. Earlier this year I commended Battle: Los Angeles for doing just that—for illustrating the determination of our courageous forces in the face of resource-sucking outsiders. But I don't like when they hide their propaganda in the threads of a superhero costume. It seems underhanded and manipulative.

Both films share more than just that plot point—the most interesting being the notion that the best soldier is one that automatically regenerates like a machine, always ready for the next fight. In BLA, the moment feels caked in honor, but in CA, it just feels unsettling, like he's a toy soldier getting his strings tugged. It'll be interesting to see how this glorified marionette functions having been reborn in our era, and whether his patriotic beliefs hold up within these politically tumultuous times.

While the film failed to impress, Chris Evans didn't disappoint. He balanced "brave" and "modest" very well and succeeded in honing the proper physique to fill out the costume. But aside from all the selflessness and eagerness to fight, you don't really get to know anything about Steve Rogers, so I think his character was lacking in that, making the film fail to be a true origin story. Even the less profitable Green Lantern had a fleshed out personality.
The scene-stealers of the film were Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Chester Phillips) and Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark)—Jones for his wry sense of humor and Cooper for his chameleon-like ability to disappear into roles. Sure, Papa Stark is groomed like a 50s circus magician, but what's important is that there are no remnants of History Boys-Cooper or Mamma Mia-Cooper to be seen. Very few members of his generation can disappear like that. For him it doesn't seem to be about vanity but immersion.

Nonetheless, what usually makes-or-breaks a superhero film is the caliber of the hero and the villain. Hugo Weaving (Red Skull) was sufficiently creepy and deranged, but all I kept thinking while watching the film was: "That's the guy from The Matrix." He's good at being evil, but I kept wishing it was someone else less distracting, less high-profile. Alas, the best Nazi villain to date is still Christoph Waltz (Ingloriuous Basterds), and the best villain of the year is still Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class).
Perhaps he would've been less distracting if his face didn't look like a matte, lip-less mold, instead of a skinless man. He looked like Voldemort's less high-maintenance, less reptilian brother—half, of course. They should've also put put more money in the Captain's running sequences. You could tell in some instances that it was a CGI figure running and leaping through the streets—reminded me of The Hulk. And don't get me started on his pre-experiment body that had such a long neck he looked like Stretch Armstrong's bastard kid. Besides the ultra cool fan-like propeller planes, I think my favorite construction was the R2D2-like laser gun mounted on the top of the Red Skull's plane. For a minute there I thought I was watching Star Wars. The cinematography, however, was beautiful—very comic book-like.

I'd recommend this film to comic book adaptation lovers who treat each superhero's origin story like a collector's item, and are dying for a new shiny toy for the shelf. But for lovers of plot and intrigue, I suggest you read the Cliff's Notes version of the Captain's life story and just wait for The Avengers.

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