Captain America: The First Avenger and Super-Hero Fatigue

I initially wrote this right after watching Captain America:The First Avenger (or just The First Avenger if you’re not in the USA or Canada). Before I get into an actual review of this film, I’d like speak about a phrase I’ve seen quite a lot lately:superhero fatigue. I most recently saw it in this unintentionally hilarious Captain America review on time.com that called Pirates of the Caribbean, Conan the Barbarian, Transformers, and the new Planet of the Apes “superhero movies”. Seriously, I kid you not, they said that. They might as well call Rambo a superhero. Jesus…

Anyway, the phrase is a silly one that seems to have no basis in reality. People who use this phrase often use it to say “we’re all tired of superhero movies” which is demonstrably false. There are, to my knowledge, 5 actual superhero movies being released this year, and according to boxofficemojo, three of them are amongst the top 20 highest grossing films released in 2011, with Thor, a B-list mostly-unknown superhero to non-comic geeks, raking in nearly half a billion dollars internationally. If we go by that Time article, Transformers 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean:On Stranger Tides are also amongst the 5 highest grossing films this year, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is sandwiched between Captain American and Thor at #11, and if we count Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes as superheroes too (and why not? Harry has magic powers, and Dr. Strange is a superhero, and Sherlock Holmes is basically Victorian-Era Batman with a sense of humour) then 5 of the top 10 and 3 of the top 5 highest grossing movies released in 2011 are superhero flicks, including #1 and #2. Granted, the Green Lantern did lose money at the box office, but that isn’t because it’s a superhero movie, that’s because it’s a very bad movie.┬áSo clearly, audiences aren’t tired of superhero movies, and given what’s set to be released next year I highly doubt “superhero fatigue” will actually set in any time soon.

This review of Captain America: The First Avenger will have a few very minor spoilers, including one for the end scene. None of the spoilers are really big twists, but be forewarned anyway.

I’m not going to lie, I had some apprehensions about this movie. Was it going to be jingoistic, and would I, as a Canadian, feel uneasy watching it? Emphasizing the patriotism of the character too much would be a dumb move on many levels, but it’s always possible when your hero wears a flag. Would it disappoint? I’ve been let down by over-hyped superhero movies before (like The Dark Knight, which, while good, was nowhere near being the masterpiece everyone claims it is) and this movie has been getting quite a lot of praise. This is perhaps the most accessible superhero movie since Batman Begins or Iron Man, which is a very good thing given that Cap is set to lead the Avengers in the upcoming movie of the same name. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, about as much as I enjoyed Thor. There are only a few of things keeping me from enjoying this more than I did Thor, and four of them were seated in the row in front of me. If a law were proposed to allow murder in cinemas if the victim is a crying child or a mouthy teenager, I would wholeheartedly support it.

As for other things I did not like, well, it’s mostly nitpicking. Unlike the horrendous Green Lantern movie (did I mention that movie was awful?) the flaws here aren’t easily apparent. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull, while deliciously evil, is not quite as good a villain on screen as on the page, and is quite a far cry from Loki. Part of it is the skull itself, which helps keep the film from getting too serious, but part of it was that the enemy was Hydra, not the Nazis. Perhaps Nazis are overused as villains, but they’re also more of a threat than a science cult, which is what this movie turns Hydra into. As one of the Nazi officials stated before (first spoiler) Hydra officially cuts ties with the Nazis, Hydra is wholly funded by the Nazi government. Without robbing banks or selling technology to someone (though it’s hard to imagine them selling it) they’ll run out of funds quickly, meaning they’re a lot less dangerous in the long run. But this is a small point.

The other small point is the integration of the U.S. military. There’s a female officer (Peggy Carter, who makes me hopeful that a Sharon Carter will show up in The Avengers) during a time when women couldn’t join the military, and the group that Cap leads to take on Hydra, the Howling Commandos, have a black guy and an east Asian. (While people of non-white ethnicities did serve in the USA’s armed forces in WWII, they were in monoracial, segregated units, and not multi-ethnic ones like in this movie) In fact, there are a few black soldiers seen in group shots, which makes me makes one wonder what exactly happened to cause this. Perhaps Thor used Mjolnir to take himself, Nick Fury and the Black Widow to 1800s America, where they start up a sort of Civil Rights movement? They could perhaps have them fight off a Kree or Skrull invasion or something, and maybe even meet up with Wolverine if Fox loses the X-Men rights. It could end with Nick Fury speaking before Congress about how, if a couple of immigrants, a black guy and a woman can save America, then they deserve equal rights…in fact, I’m now convinced that if Marvel made this movie, it would be the best movie ever. I’m totally giving Nick Fury: Time Traveling Civil Rights Hero a pre-emptive 25/10.

As for the positives? Well, basically every other thing about this movie is a positive for me. Chris Evans really knocked it out of the park as Steve Rogers. He’s a likable hero who, despite lacking any real character flaws, still feels like a rounded character. He’s noble, kind, caring, selfless…the closest thing to a real flaw he has is his shyness and inability to connect with women, which serves to make him more relatable to the target audience. The script was consistently excellent, the dialogue believable and clever, the overall tone was perfect for a superhero movie (not overly serious and unaware of the inherent goofiness of superheroes, like Superman Returns, nor was it too goofy, like Batman & Robin) and the small nods to the fans were well placed and well appreciated. Amongst others, there was a quick cameo from the original android Human Torch, an homage to Cap’s old suit and to the Reb Brown Captain America movies, and of course, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo. Also, the fact that this movie didn’t at least get any Special Effects nomination for the excellent work making Chris Evans look tiny makes me (more) convinced that the Academy Awards are worthless.

The supporting cast was excellent, especially Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Dominic Cooper. Tucci as Dr. Erskine really stands out, because his conversation with Cap is probably the most emotionally moving part of the whole movie. In his short time on screen, he becomes one of the most relatable characters in the whole film. A special mention, however, goes to Sebastian Stan as James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. Bucky, who was a lamer version of Robin before his grim’n’gritty revival as the Winter Soldier, was much cooler in this movie, and (second spoiler) his death was better handled here than in the comics. In the comics, he died in Cap’s last WWII mission. Here, he dies on a mission, and this motivates Cap to try end Hydra once and for all, making the death more meaningful.

The final scene (aside from the teaser trailer after the credits) is the closest thing to a negative to me, after the aforementioned nitpicks. (Obvious Spoiler) After the film’s climax, in a sort of bookend to the opening scene of him being discovered cryogenically frozen in the Arctic, Cap wakes up in modern day New York. His room is made to look like it’s still the 1940’s, complete with a Peggy-Carter-lookalike and a radio rebroadcast of a 1942 Dodgers/Phillies game, which Cap recognizes. Cap, of course, freaks out, runs out into what looks like Times Square (I’ve never been to NYC, FYI) and meets Nick Fury. His reaction to Fury’s news that he’s been asleep almost 70 years and that everyone he knew and loved is either dead or very, very old is to complain that he missed a date (it makes sense in context) and then…credits. It’s a surprisingly dark end to a mostly lighthearted movie, one that is a bit jarring given the happy credits music. However, the quick acceptance of this is in character, as Steve Rogers had a real inner strength before gaining his outer strength, so I can mostly forgive this.

All in all, this is a film that everyone can truly enjoy, and it sets up The Avengers perfectly. Everyone should see this movie, but not in 3D, since the 3D is quite useless here except for literally 2 scenes. I give this 8 shields out of 10.

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