Man, Marvel Studios is on a roll!
I'll admit, I'm a sucker for comic book movies. I've enjoyed The Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, hell, even Dolph Lundgren's version of The Punisher (though I drew the line at Thomas Jane's version with Travolta). As long as it's based on a comic book, I have an abnormally high threshold for stupidity. But Marvel seems to have finally gotten it's act together and is putting out hit after hit, surpassing themselves each time.
I once thought that 1998's Blade was a the best comic book movie they could have made. Then they came out with X-Men which re-wrote the book. X2: X-Men United was even better, and then they went and got Sam Raimi to do Spider-Man. How awesome is that?
Not as awesome as their decision to get Jon Favreau do do Iron Man and its sequel Iron Man 2! I was floored by both. Along the way we got some duds like Daredevil, Elektra, X-Men: The Last Stand, et al. but we also got some other small gems like Punisher: War Zone and Ang Lee's Hulk.
Ok, ok. I may be the only guy who likes Ang Lee's version of Hulk, but you get my meaning. Marvel has gotten it's act together and is really pumping out some fun movies!
And so far, 2011 seems to be a banner year for Marvel Studios. Starting it out with Thor, which I still love almost as much as Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, they continued their streak with X-Men: First Class, which while not as awesome as the second one was, had a charm all its own.
Having been underwhelmed by DC's Green Lantern, I wasn't too excited about Marvel's next outing, Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger. Though I loved The Rocketeer ("The Rock-a-who?"), he hasn't had a great track record lately. Jurassic Park III? Hidalgo? The Wolfman? None of them seemed particularly indicative of the magic that filled that 1991 film about Jennifer Connelly in the 1930s.
Ok, so it was about Nazis and Howard Hughes and secret government research into jet packs. Jennifer Connelly is hot, ok?
Anyway, Captain America: The First Avenger has a lot of the same charm that that movie had, being set roughly in the same period (although after the US entered the war) and having a lot of the same themes (regular joe takes on Nazis with new found abilities). I guess it was right up Johnston's alley.
If you're not familiar with Cap's background, you can read up on it HERE. The movie follows pretty closely to the comic character's origin; skinny kid with the guts of 30 men gets his shot and is picked for the "Super Soldier" project which turns him into a hunk to rival Chris Hemsworth. Kid then gets to beat on a bunch of Nazi stand-ins.
It's no Inglourious Basterds, but then it isn't meant to be. It's supposed to be an adventure film, and it succeeds with flying colors.
I love the costume designs on this movie, from the Red Skull's trench coat, to the Captain's USO outfit (a nod to his costume from the WWII era of the comic). So much so that I wish the action figures I bought actually mirrored them more closely. I'd love to see a show accurate Red Skull with the black leather, or the motorcycle Hydra henchmen with their helmets. The Howling Commandos with a Dum Dum Dugan (played by Band of Brother's Neal McDonough!) would have been great!
I also loved the pace of the movie, starting slow and building to the action sequences, rather than muddling the whole thing by forcing some kind of retrograde continuity onto it, as seems to be the fad these days. The actual quality of the fight scenes could be argued, but overall, I didn't feel bored despite the movie's over two hours of running time.
On the other side, the effect sequences could have used some work. I wasn't completely convinced by the shield throwing (it seemed like the angles were off and you really could tell where the CGI began) and the fight choreography felt like a little bit of a let down. After all, this is Captain America, who is supposed to be a master at hand-to-hand. Even if they didn't show him actually learning the stuff, I would have liked a few of those "DAMN, THAT WAS SICK!" scenes we always expect from the summer blockbusters.
It was sad that Chris Evans really had to carry the film. Though he convinced me that he wasn't a total meat head after Sunshine, it was a loss that Hugo Weaving was so under utilized as the Red Skull. A few more scenes of him hamming it up in that wicked looking Skeletor mask would have been very welcome. And again, the final battle between the two really felt lacking.
There's also a romance thread run through the film, but it feels less like an important plot point than something thrown in for the ladies. As if Evans with his shirt off isn't enough of a reason for them to watch it.
Everyone knows that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is something of a commentary on the US Armed Forces, but if you want to really send a signal that it's worth enlisting, this movie would have been a great way to do it. It's like a booster shot of Fourth of July fireworks, or apple pie. With an icon like Captain America leading the charge, and themes like camaraderie, duty, and sacrifice, it rings a lot clearer than wanton carnage along busy freeways, or indiscriminate destruction in major urban centers.
It kind of makes me hope that the second G.I Joe movie won't suck.