Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

A movie like Captain America offers its viewers two choices: to either accept what is undoubtably an amazing experience which is truer and more appropriate to the character than we could ever have hoped for, or to pick apart the movie and find those aspects that hold back the movie.

Here in The Middle Room, we shall do both.

It is important not to overlook the forest through the trees. This is a period superhero flick, a World War II adventure following Marvel Comics's most archetypal hero through his origin. And it's a damn good one. This is Captain America in his own element, in his own time. It establishes him as part of his era, all while setting him up as a fish out water in The Avengers and his inevitable modern day sequel.

The action sequences are pure fun, and the power levels are spot-on. This is an old-school adventure story that hits the right beats and looks pitch perfect.

The characters are right. Captain America comes off as confident and unwavering, and not solely because of his transformation. The supporting characters and villains are likewise universally excellent, from Peggy Carter to the Red Skull.

And, most impressively, this ties everything that's come before it into a comprehensive package. Threads from all four prior Marvel Universe movies - Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor - are connected in ways that miraculously enhance this movie, rather than bogging it down.

The action was exciting, the jokes were funny, and the tension was earned. As a movie this worked. As a period piece, it worked. And as a superhero film, it worked.

And yet, there was something bothering us, something that felt off. To be honest, it took us a while to put our finger on it. But there was certainly something missing.

There simply wasn't enough time in one movie to properly build Captain America's legend to where it needed to be. There were a number of montages showing Captain America fighting, but there was one too few. We needed to see him involved in more than one campaign against the Red Skull.

At no point in this movie did we see Captain America fight a single Nazi: only Hydra agents. And Hydra, we are quickly informed, no longer considers itself aligned with Germany. Strictly speaking, the Red Skull did far more damage to the Nazi agenda in the course of the film than Captain America. We needed the sense that Captain America fought in dozens of battles, not five or six. We needed to see him really become a leader and step into his own. We needed to see the world realize he was a superhero and realize Bucky was his sidekick.

Frankly, we needed three movies, not one. But that wasn't going to happen. Truth be told, this was already the movie we never thought we'd get. It was a gift, a nerd miracle.

And this was great. It was stylized, exciting, and fun. We've heard a lot of complaints coming from some critics that the last few Marvel movies feel more like trailers for the Avengers than movies in their own right.

And they're right. But remember how everyone used to say trailers were usually better than movies themselves? This is a two-hour long trailer for next year's Avengers, and that's kind of awesome, even if it really needed to be six hours long.

On the same scale as Iron Man, we'll award this a similar four out of five star rating.

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