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Movie Review: ‘Captain America’

July 22, 2011

Let’s face it: Captain America is one goofy superhero.

I mean, let’s start with the outfit:  Sky-blue spandex mask with a big “A” on the front, followed by a blue spandex full bodysuit with a star on the chest and vertical white and red stripes alternating around the torso.  Throw in bright-red boots and gloves and a big and gaudy red, white and blue shield and you’ve got the makings of a campy, dated hero from some long-ago decade in American history (actually, the 1940′s) when lofty jingoism and world wars consumed a generation.

Director Joe Johnston, having cut his teeth on this combination of Americana and superhero action in “The Rocketeer,” goes all-in on the nostalgic current running through the Captain America origins story.  Virtually all of the movie takes place in the early 1940′s, when World War II dominated American culture and the “Super American,” as Captain America was first called by his creator, Joe Simon, reflected the American ideal of the perfect soldier and countryman.  Steve Rogers, the man inside the American Flag bodysuit, begins the movie as a skinny weakling burdened with a laundry list of physical ailments and a healthy fear of the opposite sex, although he isn’t ashamed to get his ass kicked by random bullies every week.  Rogers is desperate to join the American forces fighting Nazis overseas, to the point where he uses fake names in his successive but futile attempts to enlist.  By chance, his entreaties to join the war effort told to his more hunky best friend James “Bucky” Barnes are overheard by German expatriate scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (a Bauernregeln-spouting Stanley Tucci), who decides that the wimpy but earnest kid would be perfect for the “super-soldier” program he is showcasing for the U.S. military.

What happens next is painfully clear to all of us exposed to the Captain America: The First Avenger media juggernaut; scrawny good-guy gets injected with space age steroids and turns into the ridiculously buff Chris Evans, who looks like the biggest, baddest, blondest boy scout ever to leap off the pages of an Aryan porn mag.  It’s as if Jesus and the Statue of Liberty had a baby at a Toby Keith concert.  Evans tackles the role with wide-eyed, I’m-so-lucky aw-shucksness, but his newly-hunky Steve Rogers is actually believable in his benevolence and earnest patriotism.  What’s not so believable is the immediate expertise he gains in advance weaponry, hand-to-hand combat and military training that he uses to effortlessly dodge lasers and mow down bad guys.  Apparently his super-soldier serum was extracted from those training programs downloaded in the Matrix.

Johnston surrounds Evans with some of the best supporting actors in the business, including the aforementioned Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee-Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips, Cap’s direct military superior, and Toby Jones and Hugo Weaving as the villains Arnim Zola and Johann Schmidt/Red Skull.  The problem with casting these greats is that they are given little to do, as the hokey script demands little from them.  Weaving fares the worse, as he spends one-fifth of his screen time bloodshot and glowering and the other four-fifths bellowing from inside a painfully fake prosthetic.  He and Toby Jones portray two of the more weak-ass villains from the Marvel movie universe: Weaving’s Red Skull actually concedes a major battle within minutes after watching Evans’ Cap slap around some of his goons on video.  Deserving the most mention are Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Cap’s love interest and Colonel Phillips’ second-in-command, and Dominic Cooper as a young Howard Stark.  Atwell manages to humanize her preposterous role (a British female U.S. military officer in the 1940′s, yeah, right) and the burgeoning conflict between her job and her infatuation with the ardent protagonist.  Cooper nails the combination of Stark’s playboy/genius, later perfected by Robert Downey Jr., as his son in the Iron Man movies.

The movie ultimately wraps up and dovetails perfectly into the upcoming Avengers juggernaut scheduled to open next year, when Joss Whedon is supposedly going to cram Captain America, the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man into the same 2 1/2 hour geekgasm blowout.  Standing alone, Captain America: The First Avenger is more meh than it is a patriotic cheerfest.  But as the last domino standing before the Avengers assemble in 2012, well I’ve got my fist-pumping, comic-book-loving inner dork all set to wait in line, starting in mid-January perhaps?  And can anyone tell me where I can get an awesome Captain America costume for Halloween?

My inner geek gives it a rating of pi (3.14159265) out of 4




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