Movie Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE FIRST AVENGER aka why AMC and REALD 3D should be ashamed

Just came from seeing Joe Johnston’s CAPTAIN AMERICA. Verdict In six words or less?

‘I can do this all day.’

The above being a quote from the film, and translates into me saying: “Yeah. I dug it.”

CAPTAIN AMERICA:FIRST AVENGER is an exceptionally well written encapsulation of a character I grew up with, and yet tweaked to make an easy jumping on point for those coming into the film without any prior knowledge of this character.

The script by the screen-writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely delivers the universals of courage and sacrifice, that are as old as the race of man; as old as our ballads of heroism and blood.

Plus I was quite impressed, with how well the movie does touch on much of Marvel Comics’s rich mythology. Offering easter eggs for those in the know, from Bucky Barnes to Stark to the Howling Commandos to Arnim Zola (his first appearance his face framed in glass, ala the comics) to a quick view of the golden age Human Torch, while not bogging down newcomers with exposition on this minutiae… it’s an impressive script.

Impressive, even touching performances, Chris Evans laying to rest any qualms about his ability to own the role, Derek Luke as the howling commando Gabe Jones (I like this character in the comics, and I like the fact of this character in the film. I like the fact the film notices, if only peripherally, the large number of people of color, some would say disproportionate number, that serve in every war, but particularly WWII). Hugo Weaving, even acting under tons of latex, delivers the gravitas, as of course does the great Tommy Lee Jones. And Stanley Tucci and Sebastian Stan of KINGS fame, are also highlights of a very strong cast.

All capably directed by Joe Johnston of the much maligned (unfairly maligned) WEREWOLF. Plus, I did like the present day framing sequence. Nicely done.

All that’s to the asset column. The minus is… while THE FIRST AVENGER is a very good movie, it never really feels great.

You don’t leave the theater going, “that was amazing!”. Like you might… having just left the theater from seeing Spiderman II or Empire Strikes Back or Tombstone or SuperMan The Movie.

So THE FIRST AVENGER is a very good movie, but even while watching it, you’re aware, acutely aware, that it is never more than very good.

And that’s fine, it doesn’t have to be great, though, I guess that’s the hope. But it hits all the points it needs to, and does it in a serviceable manner, I mean even with hindsight being 20/20 I myself can’t say how they could have made the movie any better than it was, and accomplish the inherent goals of an origin and lead-in movie.

It suffers from the needs of its duties.

As must we all.

It does have a tendency to feel long and episodic, but it is not a long movie, so there’s something pace-wise there, that is off just enough to be noticeable; But not enough to be disappointing.

And another problem with the film is you are not with any character long enough for them to be more than caricature.

In fact, I’m thinking through the movie that the film would possibly work better, pacing wise, as one of those 6 part BBC or HBO tv seasons rather than a film. Just because every character is touched on in just such a cursory manner.

And if this occurs to you while watching the movie in the theater, then you do have a pacing issue. And the final battle with Red Skull, both battles actually, come off as anti-climatic. Neither one really wows.

This is coming across as if I didn’t like the film, I did. I liked the film, and will add it to my DVD collection, when it comes out. I just think it could have been more.

I think Marvel Studios is to be applauded for in a market where quality is a crapshoot at best, creating consistently well written and over-all satisfying films, that not only stand alone but integrate into a larger cinematic tapestry. You have to go all the way back to the silent films of Fritz Lang, to get anything close to as cohesive and ambitious a cinematic mythology.

That said, the films CAPTAIN AMERICA and to some extent THOR, I do think illustrate the… lack of climax to Marvel’s individual films. They are being thought of in many ways as episodic television, episodes in a larger serial, which is great for the long term plan, but I think leaves you with a safe, but less then sensational individual movie.

It’s a hard tight rope Marvel Studios is walking, and to this point a quite successful walk. The telling moment will come with their AVENGERS movie, that all these half dozen films have been building toward, and to some extent… sacrificed toward.

Will the Avengers be that amazing, climatic movie that stands the test of time and is the worthy culmination of all this buildup?

Because failing that, failing a really great film (not an okay film, not a good film, not a B grade film, but a GREAT film)… failing that, then the studio that trained audiences to sit through credits to see teasers and trailers (a brilliant move by the way, that if you had asked me if it was possible to do in the age of Attention Deficit Disorder… I would have said no, and am glad to be wrong)… this same studio, may end up training audiences to wait for the DVD when it comes to future comic movies.

Marvel Studios needs a HUGE homerun with the AVENGERS film. Especially with chains like AMC pulling stunts to make the crappy and more expensive REALD 3D versions of the film, the only versions available most of the time.

I went to see a matinée showing of CAPTAIN AMERICA. Turns out that one was in REALD 3D (that was not advertised as being in 3D when I checked the times. It’s like theater chains are starting to hide which versions are in 3D so they can surprise you with the higher price when you get there).

So I’m already at the theater, and no other options available, so not only do I end up seeing this flick in REALD 3D, a crappy process that darkens the screen too much, and the stupid “one size fits none” glasses, sits on your nose just at the right spot to give you an annoying headache, but you have to pay MORE for this mediocre viewing experience??!!! Really???!!!

Anyhow, I spent most of the movie holding the glasses away from the bridge of my nose, and completely taking them off in night scenes so I could actually see some brightness in the picture.

AMC is on my frigging list. AMC and the stupid Sony Backed REALD 3D process.

This is why I say Marvel Studios is going to need a homerun with THE AVENGERS, cause people are not going to continue putting up with this price gouging from the theaters, and annoying viewing experiences, for simply okay films.

AVENGERS needs to be outstanding (and not offered in Reald 3D) or from now on Marvel Studios films gets relegated to the wait for DVD list.

Time will tell.

So Final Thoughts: CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER is a solid B movie. But it’s low on re-watchability and the ‘wow/impressive’ factor. If you haven’t seen it in the theater, if you can get a standard 2d Matinée showing cheap, go for it. Otherwise just rent it on DVD. If you, like me, enjoy DVD commentaries, and are looking forward to cast and crew discussing the film then go ahead and purchase. Otherwise… stick to rental.