A while back I was probably needlessly harsh in my review of "Green Lantern," but there was a reason to it. I wanted to show just how the screen play and simple editing can make all the difference between good and klunky. Well, "Captain America," proves my point very well and is the good twin to Green Lantern's not so good twin. Both are about a superhero that are fairly difficult to realistically present in cinema. Both have dense details and back stories. But one works and the other... well not so much.
Captain America begins not with a crawl of words or some voice over from a Morgan Freeman wanna be. Instead it's a nice cold teaser. Literally. Somewhere, north of the artic circle a very odd craft is discovered and as it is explored we get a brief glimpse of a certain hero's trademarked shield. The end. Short, simple, and leaves us wanting more. THIS is how you begin a film.
Now we shoot back to the past, 1942 to be exact. For the moment we are following two stories. In New York a scrawny Steve Rogers tries again and again to join up only to fail because he's a scrawny runt. In Europe, on the other hand, we have Johann Schmidt (played by MVP Hugo Weaving) who leads the Nazi created Hydra organization. He's super strong, and incredibly intelligent and he's gathering the materials to...wait for it...take over the world. He's aided by scientist Arnim Zola who at this point still has his head (ask fan boys about it, or look at the Monster of the Day). The point being Schmidt and Rogers couldn't be more different. A few brief strokes has created a perfect hero/villain dynamic that will help drive the film.
Back in New York Roger's friend Bucky takes him to World's Fair. Bucky is should be pointed out is a superior physical specimen to Roger's and they are of equal age. This is different from the canonical Bucky who was one of the first teen age side kicks. This change works very well for the movie and will make for a nice reversal when Rogers becomes Captain America. At the World's Fair we get a little fan service first in a brief glimpse of the first Human Torch, and then at Iron Man's dad Howard Stark who thinks the future will be in flying cars. Mostly this section though is for the introduction of Steve Rogers to Dr. Abraham Erskine who might have a way to help Steve with his problems. Dr. Abraham is played by Stanley Tucci who I tend to find plays his roles too broad but here dials it back just enough. He's got vulnerablity and humanity but doesn't hit you over the head with sainthood. A very good performance.
So now Rogers is in the army and of course he's failing all the physical courses. Still, this section shows that Steve is a thinker when he manages to get a flag no one else could, and that he has heart when he jumps on what he thought was a live grenade. We are introduced to cooly British Peggy Carter and the brusk Colonel Philips (played by Tommy Lee Jones). Again a great section, the film never feels like its hitting you over the head with how much heart Steve Rogers has.
Once its official we get Steve turned into Captain America. It really is a show stopper of a scene. I LOVE that at one point Steve is screaming but then says when they start to stop, "No I CAN TAKE IT." It's a perfect note of heroism that almost makes the unveiling of Captain America's body unneeded. At this point, I should say the best special effect of this movie is the one you didn't see. How they managed to keep one actor with two such different bodies is just amazing. I wish all special effects were so seamless. At this point, we lose the doctor to assassins which of course now makes Captain America unique. This then leads to an incredible scene that shows just what a super soldier is capable of and that dear friends is just jaw dropping. Just imagine someone who could win a gold medal at any olympic event but is also about 20% better than that.
After that incredible section we have a bit that should have been just a drag on the whole movie but amazingly wasn't. Instead of making Captain America a real military asset the powers that be use him to sell bonds and make movies and such. Cap hates this of course, but this sectioni is important. Cap was already a hero first in his heart than his body to match it, but he didn't know how have that heroic presence. Here he learns that without even realizing it. He's so nervous at first that he has to read cue cards attached to his shield, but by the end of the sequence he's cheerfully lifting blondes on motorcycles over his head as an elaborate dance number occurs around him. You can see his self confidence has grown. It takes a hit though when he tries his routine on real troops who have no respect for a false "Captain."
Things go worse when word is that Bucky has been killed or captured by the Red Skull, aka Schmidt. Finally, Captain America truly goes into action in a mission to free the prisoners. It's amazing that more than half the film passes before we finally get to Captain America, but I think it really works out. I like that they took real time to let the characters grow naturally in a very unnatural environment. Of course the first meeting of the Skull versus Captain America sets them up for nemesis for life. From this point on the true legend of Captain America begins. Again, the film takes real time to show this. I remember the 1990 version of Captain America, there was ONE mission in WWII before Captain America was frozen til the modern day. It felt so callow and wrong that it really set the tone for one of the worst superhero ever.
Luckily, we are in far more capable hands here. This film speeds along at this point and is just wonderful. I enjoyed it totally and I think this is the capstone (heh, CAPstone) for their whole multi picture wonderland. It really marries all the other films together and sets up the Avenger's film perfectly. It certainly makes me want to see what happens next.