Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A New Feature

I’m going to start something today that I hope to make into an occasional regular feature. And while I know this feature may give you, the 3 readers of this blog, more fear than you would have if Edward Cullen showed up on your doorstep on a sunny day and asked you if you wanted to hang out, here it goes: I’m going to start reviewing movies. I realize I’m no professional movie critic. However, since most movie critics nowadays are simply paid hacks studios throw tons of money at in order to generate glowing review quotes for the crapfests they turn out, I don’t see how I can do any worse than they do. And since I would never sell myself out like that (unless they offered me a LOT of money), you can count on my honest opinion.

Do not fear, gentle readers. It won’t happen very often, if for no other reason than I don’t go to see movies very often in theaters. After all, there are very few movies coming out of Hollyweird today that are worth paying ten bucks and sitting for 2 and a half hours to see them. And I don’t see that trend ending any time soon.

But enough stalling. On to the review.

Today’s movie: Captain America: The First Avenger
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Chris Evans: Steve Rogers/Captain America
Tommy Lee Jones: Colonel Tommy Lee Jones
Haylee Atwell: The Hot Chick
Directed by Joe Johnston

Ah, The Comic Book Movie. Fast becoming all Hollyweird seems able to come up with these days. Why, just this summer alone we’ve already been treated to Thor (mediocre) and X-Men: First Class (good) from Marvel comics, and The Green Lantern (ridiculous) from DC. And now we have this latest entry from Marvel, which takes a look at the origins and adventures of America’s first real superhero.

An aside: I suppose the latest Transformers movie could also be called a comic book movie, since that’s where the series originated in the first place. But I digress.

I suppose it was fairly predictable that the comics would be fodder for Hollyweird. After all, most comic series have fanatical fan followings whose members spend millions of the dollars they save not paying rent by living in their parents’ basements on issue after issue of any given series.

This, unfortunately, is where the problems usually start. Y’see, these fans can be...let’s just say, a bit...um...fickle. And, thanks to the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites, they aren’t shy about sharing their opinions. With EVERYBODY. And those opinions can have sharp knives. And those knives can tear into any tiny flaw in any comic book movie adaptation and turn that flaw into an enormous sucking wound that can kill a movie quicker than a movie producer telling a studio head he’s gone over budget. Twice.

Fortunately, as far as I can tell, this movie stays faithful to the C.A. storyline. For the first one-third of the movie, Chris Evans’s head, carried by a much smaller body, spends his days getting rejected at the Army recruiting centers, getting beaten up in back alleys, and striking out with women. Then, after his fifth attempt to enlist is noticed by a German-American scientist, who is apparently impressed either with his determination or his stupidity, or possibly both, the scientist (Stanley Tucci) allows him to join a special unit of the army.

This unit, led by Tommy Lee Jones playing his trademark gruff, no-nonsense character, also features a hot chick who is also, of course, as tough as nails herself, but with a tender side (naturally). The goal of this special Army unit is to provide the U.S. Army with a regiment of super-soldiers who will, in the words of Jones, “Escort Adolf Hitler straight to the gates of Hell.”

Naturally, Evans’s head is chosen to be the first subject of the super-soldier experiment. He undergoes a Mad-scientist style lab procedure in which, apparently, they remove Evans’s head from the much smaller body and put it back on Evans’s real body, which is much taller, stronger, and about 10 times more buffed. This is done by injecting the smaller body with an experimental serum and then bombarding it with “Vita-Rays” (whuh?) until the smaller body agrees to give up the stolen head and give it back to Evans.

OK not really, but that’s what a comic-book movie novice might think.

At any rate, the experiment works. Rogers/Cap A. is now 5 times stronger, faster, and more agile than any normal human. His body does not age and constantly regenerates itself, allowing him to heal damage quickly and completely. The only downside is that he can no longer get drunk, which would make me wonder if it was worth it.

All well and good, until a nefarious Nazi nogoodnik (whee!) destroys the lab, steals the only remaining sample of the supersoldier formula, and kills the German scientist. Rogers then chases the agent (barefoot!) along the streets of Brooklyn, finally catching him just as he is about to escape. Unfortnately, the stolen serum is destroyed, and the spy kills himself, but not before bragging about the extensive reach of HYDRA, the Nazi division he works for.

It seems that Hitler is the least of the Allies' worries. HYDRA, apparently, is a secret Nazi research division, led by Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving, who is very good at being a very bad man), that is determined to win the war by harnessing the powers of the Norse Gods (I'm NOT kidding). Red Skull has already taken a dose of the supersoldier serum and it has made him just as strong and powerful as Rogers. Unfortunately, it also left him severely disfigured, and, apparently, an insane megalomaniac. Seriously. This guy makes Hitler look like Winnie the Pooh in comparison. And that’s saying something.

At any rate, the U.S. Government, now worried that they have lost the secret of the serum for good, wants to keep Rogers in a lab and experiment on him to re-discover the formula. Some other government types, however, have a different idea, and decide to put him on display in a series of War Bond tours as “Captain America”. This, by the way, is one of the best parts of the movie: It shows just how ridiculous the war bond tours were during WW2, and at the same time how effective they were (my dad, who was in the audience with me, remarked about how authentic the tours looked. And he would know.)

And this is fine with Captain America, until he travels overseas to entertain the troops and sees just how different the real war is from the sugarcoated version being fed to the folks on the home front. This is one of the most poignant moments of the movie, as Rogers realizes how little he is actually contributing to the military side of the war effort.

Then, after learning the unit containing his best friend has been captured, he decides to infiltrate the HYDRA base they are being held in. There, he liberates the prisoners while simultaneously learning the extent of the danger HYDRA really poses, and how dangerous Schmidt really is. So Rogers and his unit set out to destroy HYDRA. Naturally, this is where the movie devolves into the usual cliché-ridden action fest that is typical of a summer movie.

I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. You don’t go to your average summer blockbuster to see Shakespeare. You go to be entertained.

And it is entertaining. At my first viewing, I was transfixed. I sat for two hours enjoying nearly every minute. It was only after I went back to see it again with my dad that I viewed it with a much more critical eye. And began to spot the obvious flaws. For example, how did HYDRA obtain such vast resources and so many able-bodied men in war-torn Germany? Surely someone was keeping track of such things.

Of course, the largest flaw is the lack of credibility. I realize that watching a comic book movie requires a certain suspension of disbelief. But in this case, you have to blindfold your disbelief, tie its hands, put a noose around its neck, and hang it until it’s dead. Then you have to toss it off a cliff. I know that, by most accounts, the Nazis were probably 10 years ahead of the Allies technologically, but come on! They used devices in this movie we don’t even have today, more than 70 years later.

Obviously there won’t be any best acting Oscars for this movie. The dialogue, while cliché-ridden, does has some very funny moments. And the special effects compliment the movie rather than overwhelming it, as they do in some movies (Green Lantern, I’m looking in your direction).

All in all, however, I found the movie to be very enjoyable, and I look forward to the Avengers movie that is coming next year, which will unite the Marvel characters introduced in Marvel films that have come in previous years.

UPDATE (7/28!2): Cap A. is now available for streaming on Netflix. Just as a trivia excercise, I counted the number of shots fired by the Hydra spy from his standard 9mm Luger pistol before he ran out of ammo. This is a pistol that holds 9 rounds. You can count the exact number for yourself, but it's just a little less than twice that number.

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