Have you heard about this movie?
Starting with the end credits of the first Iron Man and cartwheeling through to next spring’s Avengers, Marvel Studios has spent considerable money and effort attempting something that’s never been done before: adapting not just a comic book character, but a comic book universe to the screen. So far that’s met with mixed results. Iron Man 2, you’ll remember, blew — and precisely because of Marvel’s attempts to shoehorn in Avengers subplots that weren’t totally organic to the story. Thor wasn’t much better, introducing a character most audiences were probably unfamiliar with (Hawkeye) in a way that did little to change that knowledge. Also energy cubes or whatever. Point is, in focusing their laser eye so much on this massive 2012 team-up movie, the filmmakers behind recent Marvel “standalones” have sort of lost the forest for the trees.
Less so Captain America!
The movie is, in essence, a period piece. World War II has broken out, and scrappy Brooklynite Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is desperate to serve his country but stymied by the fact that he looks like this…
…and talks like this. HE’S GOT SO MUCH LOVE TO GIVE BUT NOWHERE TO PUT IT! Enter German scientist/defector Stanley Tucci, of the Magdeburg Tuccis, who injects the kid with an experimental cocktail of HGH and Ed Hardy’s “Hearts & Daggers” cologne that makes him the strongest man alive. Slapped with the name “Captain America” and the world’s most colourful Under Armour suit, he becomes a symbol of American resistance and a staunch-believer in shield-based warfare. Will he bring down supernaturally-powered Nazi Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)? Grow the balls to kiss his inexplicably British female commander? Yeah, buddy!
Captain America succeeds where other Marvel Studios projects have failed in the way it sets out to tell ONE character’s story and rarely deviates from that course. And that’s doubly tough with someone like Cap, who’s always occupied (alongside Superman) something of a “boy scout” position in the superhero pantheon. He loves his country. Has nothing resembling a brooding thought or sadistic impulse. He’s boring, but the writing team here manages to wring real emotion from his near-pathological earnestness.
But this isn’t some foreign coming-of-age drama; this is a SUMMER SUPERHERO MOVIE, and what makes Captain America so fun is its strict adherence to ridiculousness. With at least three “Heil Hitler!” jokes and a red-latex-faced Nazi separatist named Red Skull, I’d say the movie embraces that tack with GUSTO. Consider:
- Cap’s military supervisor and love interest, Peggy Carter, who is 1) a woman and 2) British. A little revisionist history never killed anyone, but the British thing…I mean, the movie is called Captain AMERICA. Then again, Batman is played by a Welshie.
- Cap’s “superpowers,” which appear to be super-running (the guy runs ACROSS GERMANY, basically) and super-punching. Jury’s still out on whether his motorcycle abilities had anything to do with Tucci’s super-serum or Rogers learned to ride on the mean streets of BK, but he is very, very skilled.
- Cap’s makeshift strike force, the “Howling Commandos,” whose college brochure-levels of multicultural dynamism haven’t been seen since Rachel Getting Married. There is a Japanese weapons expert fighting Nazis, not to mention a Brit who one assumes is at least a black-belt haberdasher. These guys f*cking hate injustice!
The movie’s not without its problems. There’s great comedy to be mined from Steve Rogers’ transformation from timid virgin to ARYAN GOD, but Chris Evans (surprisingly winning as a CGIed weakling) can’t quite pull it off. The character, too, becomes less interesting as soon as he’s gifted his new pecs — he’s not really learning anything, and there’s no threat he’ll fail to accomplish any of his goals. There’s no MacGruber theme music when you imagine there should be.
But that’s all nit-picky criticism. What makes Captain America the best Marvel movie since Iron Man is the fact that it seems to know exactly what it is: an enjoyably silly blockbuster that ignores words like “EPIC” (when it could easily fall prey) and “EDGY” (this movie could be sponsored by Wonderbread) in favor of “FUN.” It’s a shame that with his Avengers commitments Cap’s WWII adventures must come to an end, but they were fun while they lasted.
– Who would win in a motorcycle race: Cap, Iron Man’s dad, or Hitler?
– SPOILER ALERT: Was the Red Skull defeated in the end, or beamed to Asgard where he’ll team up with Thor’s brother, Loki? (Serious responses only!)
– Hipsters, did you clap when Cap says he’s “just a guy from Brooklyn”? Ironically? Un-ironically, as a form of ironic protest? Should he have said he’s “just a guy from Bushwick” instead?
– America is VERY CLEARLY not the shining beacon of a country it was in 1945, but with Breaking Bad and Louie can we at least say we do dark television pretty well?