Saturday, July 23, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA - Old-Fashioned WW2 Fun

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (fantasy adventure in 3D)
Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones
Director: Joe Johnston
Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely from the Marvel Comics character
Time: 125 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Chris Evans (centre) as Capt America

PREAMBLE: This weekend will see a head-on clash between Harry Potter and Captain America at the US box-office. Although I do not expect Captain America to do as well as Deathly Hallows Part 2, which collected a record US$169 million at its opening weekend, it will be interesting to see how Americans react to their red-white-and-blue home-grown comic book hero in this precursor to The Avengers, slated for May 2012 release.

Coming after The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Thor, Captain America is a lot more entertaining than Green Lantern - and even the critically-acclaimed Thor! Chalk this off to the wonderful performances by the leads, as well as Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci; to a gradually built up romance between Chris Evans' Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell's agent Peggy Carter; and to the old-style Saturday matinee look and feeling that director Joe Johnston provides.

Hayley Atwell (centre) as Agent Peggy Carter

SYNOPSIS: The movie starts off in the present day, when a shield frozen in ice is found in the Arctic region. This opening sequence will help to clarify a nagging question at the end of the movie's third act. The story proper unfolds in 1942, when both the Americans and the Nazis are experimenting with a special serum to create super soldiers for the war effort. In New York, German emigrant Dr Abraham Erskine (Tucci) is fascinated by the tenacity of Rogers in his quest to enlist in the US army and he picks him to test his formula.

On Germany's side, ex-general Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is building his own Hydra army of super warriors, aided by Dr Armin Zola (Toby Jones). From the looks of it, Schmidt, who turns into the evil Red Skull (below), is a lot more sinister and dangerous than Hitler. Rogers' involvement in the war starts when he volunteers to air drop into enemy territory to save a bunch of soldiers captured by Schmidt. And from that mission, he becomes Captain America, complete with a signature shield specially made for him by industrialist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper).

HITS & MISSES: This effort is a far cry from the 1990 cheapskate film directed by Albert Pyun. The sets and the Forties setting look pretty authentic and appealing, especially those sequences involving the Cap in the sale of US war bonds. We easily warm up to Evans' Steve Rogers as the earnest, 90-pound weakling who aims to follow his father's footsteps and be a soldier. This is an origin story - and it is plausibly told and solidly supported by Atwell as the feisty Agent Carter, and Jones as the gruff Col Chester Phillips. Evans, who played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, makes us root for him by being spiritually strong despite being physically weak. His Steve Rogers is also disarmingly candid, admitting to the pretty Peggy Carter that he doesn't have the courage to ask a girl to dance.

And yes, Atwell's role as Carter wins male hearts, just as most of Jones' one-liners make us laugh. Tucci also has a memorable role as the specky Dr Erskine while Sebastian Stan is fun and spritely as Roger's buddy 'Bucky' Barnes. Also, keep an eye out for Cooper's eccentric inventor Mr Stark, the father of Iron Man Tony Stark. Director Johnston, who gave us Jumanji and Jurassic Park III, may be a veteran at blockbuster projects but is no Michael Bay where CGI mayhem is concerned. The action sequences are passable and thrilling enough, bearing in mind that this is a comic book adventure that we are talking about. And yes, you may want to sit through the long credits for a glimpse of what The Avengers brings.

THE LOWDOWN: Absorbing, old-fashioned fun about Marvel Comics' First Avenger. Yes, there is more!


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