It’s hard not to love a guy who dresses up as a flag and is just so damn nice while doing it. I think, even as a non-American, the character and the ethical code he has can still appeal and just as Superman should not be thought of exclusively as a champion of ‘the American way’, so too can Captain America be thought of as a champion for not just America, but liberty, the human spirit, and standing up to bullies. I grew to love the character after the excellent comic run by Ed Brubaker, but I hope even a comic noob can find something in the character to like.
Captain America is played pretty well by Chris Evans but it is not an especially demanding role, except for the physicality of it. After the Super Soldier serum Cap is transformed from a tiny fellow into a pretty big guy – and like how Spider-Man has the proportional strength of a spider, Captain America has the proportional strength of a tiny person. I was not so keen on the special effects used to make tiny wee Chris Evans – essentially copy/pasting his head onto a little body which was a little too uncanny for my liking – I think they should have used the same tricks as in Lord of The Rings. For distance shots you use a real midget, but for close ups you use cunning camera angles so Chris Evans is always looking up at people. Also his voice was wrong, I don’t think he would have such a deep voice if he was that small, they should have given him some helium to inhale. This would have saved them a few quid on their CGI budget and been a more convincing effect.
The Red Skull is generally a pretty cool villain – a Nazi terror weapon/super soldier with a red skull for a head, what’s not to love? He combines the scariest elements of Hitler and Skeletor. But Hugo Weaving should really have hammed it up a bit more I think as it was not an especially memorable or threatening appearance, not even a smidge as frightening as Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, for example. I did like his car – a black convertible version of Lady Penelope’s car from Thunderbirds. His plan involves the magical MacGuffin we know to be the Cosmic Cube, a perspex cube that can reshape reality, he wants to use it to power bombs that will destroy the world or something similar, basically speaking he is evil and he wants absolute power. But it is adorable that he writes the names of the cities that the bombs are intended for on the bombs themselves in giant letters – he must really think his henchmen are stupid. Oh and if you have to wear a rubber face, WHY would you pick the face of Agent Smith? I mean maybe that was his original face but you’ve just been handed the perfect opportunity to upgrade. Why not wear a different face every day? A scary face for when you have to bomb the whole world and a happy face for when you are playing with kittens. Why not have a face with a beard for when you are cold? It seems so obvious.
The film is not really about Nazis alas, but instead it is about Hydra, a nefarious Nazi-substitute, apparently spawned from the Nazi paranormal R&D department, their motto is: “cut off one head and two more will take it’s place! Unless you cauterize the wound… so we know we are tempting fate with these flamethrowers!” and they wear very snazzy and slightly too modern looking black uniforms. Oh and they all have slightly snazzy but very anachronistic laser guns, of which I was not a huge fan. I’ve nothing against lasers per se, but it did mean it was very easy to forget it was all meant to be taking place in WWII. The setting never felt very convincing, the combination of the laser tanks and high-tech Hydra agents with the not-very-gritty war scenes was just a bit too clean and kid-friendly. Not bad, but no ‘Band of Brothers’ authenticity.
Bucky Barnes has a fairly large role which was good as he went through a lot to become a really great character in the comics (and then recently got unceremoniously killed, sigh). He is Steve’s pal who gets rescued and then just does whatever insane plan he gets told to do, despite the fact that Steve has had NO military training and Bucky has had just enough combat experience to get captured. The two of them, plus the rag-tag band of hard drinking stereotypes known as the Howling Commandos (featuring Band of Brother’s Buck Compton in disguise as Dum Dum Dugan) team up for a series of commando raids with Cap as their figurehead – he is apparently a veteran by this point. Another deviation from the comics is that this group was led by Nick Fury traditionally and might also have featured some cameos from Wolverine. The Marvel universe is full of people who don’t get older, I think it was a smart move not to show this in the film as it would undermine Captain America’s whole ‘man lost in time’ gimmick.
At some point the man in charge, Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), apparently gets far too caught up in everything like he is having some sort of mid-life crisis, and leads the charge personally – even chasing down an aeroplane in a rocket car. Good for him I say, but he ought to be a bit less excitable if he is in charge of the army – he got caught up in the whole excitement of having a superhero with no military training doing crazy things and wanted to join in. This is the power of an icon like Captain America, he inspires even the grumpiest old men to insane heroic feats. He reminded me of someone’s dad that gradually gets drunk at a wedding or something and won’t accept that the party has died down even though it’s just him left on the dance floor.
The final showdown is a bit of a disappointment I felt – and without wishing to spoil anything – when you are able to pilot an aeroplane and it is heading towards somewhere you don’t want it to go, it seems to me there are other options than just crashing straight down. Like, turning a bit to the left or right and then taking your time and going to find a parachute. ‘There’s no time!’ – um, yes there is. Anyway, it sets things up rather nicely for the Avengers film, and don’t forget to stay after the credits for an exclusive trailer.
Overall, Captain America is an enjoyable action film. It combines some slightly lazy WWII elements with a light hearted superhero story. It doesn’t get too bogged down in origins and it doesn’t get too ridiculous. There are no tedious scenes where you just want him to stop whining and get on with it – that’s not Cap’s style. There are some nice nods to the comic fans, like the USO costume and punching Hitler and there are no disappointing scenes at all really – it is a very consistent film and is entertaining throughout, if never exactly ground breaking. I watched it in 2D and whenever people turned sideways they totally disappeared, but apart from that I really can’t see the point of 3D here. The film was vivid and sharp and I didn’t miss the cheap thrill of the shield apparently whizzing out of the screen at my face. I’d recommend it completely, but it won’t change the minds of any superhero haters, or appeal on the strength of it’s WWII setting alone.