Fighting For, and In, Red, White and Blue

Another superhero made his big screen debut this weekend in a summer of comic book adaptations and sequels. Xmen: First Class, Thor and Green Lantern have all pulled large audiences to the theaters in 3D and this weekend Captain America joined the ranks. In fact, during the trailers previews for next year’s Batman sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spiderman heralded more to come. While I have bemoaned Hollywood’s lack of true originality, these comic adaptations have, for the most part, produced some of the better movies of the season and Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the best of the bunch.

Captain America

Captain America was created in 1940 as propaganda material for the pro-war effort and enjoyed great success during the war. After the war, the comic’s popularity fell and it was cancelled only to be revived in the 60’s. The character bears a costume with a conspicuously patriotic theme but little practical functionality. As such, it doesn’t typically translate from the comic page well. Two failed TV series in the 80’s and 90’s attest to the difficulty in bringing Captain America to life. The costume just looked to cheesy, to comic-bookish for movie audiences to buy into. Other hero films manage to explain or redesign the superhero costume to make it acceptable for the audience such as the battle uniforms for the X-Men, the flight suits for the Fantastic Four or Batman’s armored bodysuit. For Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel Studios revisions the costume as an adapted Battle Dress Uniform, similar to the fatigues soldiers wear but with the patriotic flair.

The film stars Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers, AKA Captain America, a frustrated, patriotic wanna-be soldier who gets denied from World War II military service because of health reasons. He instead becomes a test subject for a super soldier serum designed to create the perfect human being. After creating the first successful test subject, the scientist (Stanley Tucci) who developed the serum is killed by a German agent of Hydra, a scientific terrorist arm of the Nazi party. Hydra is headed by The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who was the first (albeit not entirely successful) test subject of the serum. Rodgers joins the war effort to thwart Hydra’s nefarious plans. The hero’s origin story is only slightly different from the comic book and holds true to the character development set forth in the comic series with some updating. The writers combined several of Captain America’s adventures in this film, including how he came to the modern age from 1943.

The Captain is not Chris Evans’ first spin in superhero tights. He was also cast as Johnny Storm, AKA The Human Torch, in the Fantastic Four movies. In this latest film, Evans’ face is CGI’d onto a skinny little body for the scenes before the procedure. His portrayal of Steve Rodgers is quite different from his Johnny Storm. While Storm was a wise-cracking party animal, Rodgers is a thoughtful, compassionate patriot who cannot abide a bully. This is a critical component of the film’s success; the audience cannot help but emote with Rodgers and root for the allied fight. Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Haley Atwell round out an outstanding cast, all of whom turn in convincing performances. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is sufficiently sinister and makes a convincing villain. In fact, of all the adaptations in film and TV over the years, Weaving’s Red Skull is by far the best.

Captain America is arguably the best super hero movie of the year and stands with Iron Man as one of the best ever. It also serves as an introduction to next summer’s The Avengers which will team up Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Nick Fury and some other super heroes to save the world. This movie is a must see.

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