Movies: Captain America, ‘The Star Spangled Man’

When we first meet Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) it’s the early 40s and he’s getting the latest in what we learn is a long string of Class 4F stamps. He’s unfit for military service but this young man just won’t give up. The list of his physical deficiencies, briefly glimpsed in list form on the paperwork, is long but neglects to mention his most noticeable quirk: he’s got a skinny runt body with a movie star head awkwardly topping it, Benjamin Button style. But Steve Rogers does finally maneuver his way into the service of his country, via the help of expat German scientist (Stanley Tucci, having great fun with heavily accented cameo). Steve is selected as potentially heroic guinea pig, not for his movie star face, but for his heart and courage. The sci-fi experiment is a success and America’s first ‘super soldier’ is born.

Captain-runs

The big money shot reveal of Chris Evans superheroic body kicks off a highlight reel of the film’s best scenes, starting with the most exciting action sequence. Before he’s even had a chance to acclimate to his new physicality, Steve is racing through Brooklyn streets barefoot in hot pursuit of a murderous Nazi. (Note to Green Lantern: Real life pecs and guns under a simple t-shirt and khakis is a way better visual effect than CGI musculature) It’s a standout entry in the ever-swelling ranks of “superheroes testing their powers” movie sequences in large part because it lacks the typical “look at me!” self-consciousness of those scenes. Steve Rogers is so self-effacing that he barely notices his own new magnificence in his relentless effort to beat the bad guy. After that novice bit of heroics, the US government launches the “Captain America” campaign in which our new hero’s mythology is created and marketed — we even see it in comic book form. (Cute)– to sell war bonds. The good Captain earns a musical number, a 40s pastiche from the movie’s go to musical man, Alan Menken.

Who’s strong and brave here to save the American way?
Who vows to fight like the man for what’s right, night and day?
Who will campaign door to door for America?
Carry the flag shore to shore for America?

The Star Spangled Man with a plan!

To get to the heart of why Captain America works, you have to concentrate on its midsection, it’s torso if you will. (That shouldn’t be a problem with Chris Evans at the ready.) It’s best to politely ignore its unwieldy contemporary prologue and epilogue sequences (Marvel Studios still hasn’t solved the movie riddle of how to make your movie feel complete while also selling your next movie) and concentrate on the 1940s. It’s possible that the fine period detailing is just great costuming and underneath the razzle dazzle, Captain America is just like every other superhero movie, but if so, it’s convincing camouflage. By dressing the superhero picture up as a World War II picture, and vice versa, Captain America seems to brush off the familiar cobwebs of all both genres: World War II pictures are often weighed down by their noble Oscar Aiming intentions but this one, with sci-fi and comic book do-gooding is lighter on its feet without sacrificing a war movie’s sadness (one major character dies and can we call it a minor miracle that you actually feel it as more than just a plot device?). Comic book movies are often burdened by their straining to be hip and contemporary cash cows but this one is free to embrace overt sentiment and corny humor which doesn’t feel so grating in a 1940s environment.

Captain-at-war

This is not to say that Captain America is a great movie. The prologue and epilogue don’t feel organic, the Cosmic Cube plotline doesn’t even pretend to make sense, and despite Hugo Weaving’s efforts as super intelligent evil nazi #1 (The Red Skull) won’t all movie characters of this ilk feel like pale reflections of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds from now on? In the end, it’s a solid entertainment and pleasant diversion. It’s a “good” movie: watchable, fun, occassionally lively. Captain America, like its altar ego Steve Rogers, is maybe a bit of a square. But Steve Rogers has heart and he grows on you.  Best of all, with its earnest commitment to retro spirit and nostalgic heroices, it gives you hope that maybe Wonder Woman would work as a movie after all.

Comments

  1. Trent says

    I have to say, I used to think Chris Evans was incredibly hot… but over the last year he’s just become way too juiced up. He happens to pop into my gym pretty regularly and, at least in person, the swelling isn’t especially flattering on him. He used to be normal sized, cut, and super sexy… and he’s just massive now (trust me, that’s not CG). I am curious to see how he looks on film… but I’ll wait for the DVD…

  2. says

    Superhero movies are an almost-guilty pleasure for me. But “Captain America” has about the least appeal of any this summer. I don’t really want to see super intelligent faux-Nazis and a hero who wields a garbage can lid for a shield.

  3. Brian says

    It’s been the only superhero movie I’ve really wanted to see this year and this review just solidifies that (though I’m kind of sad they shaved Chris’ chest).

  4. k says

    I know Green Lantern got bad reviews, but Ryan looked amazing in that movie….. so if I absolutely HAD to choose between Ryan and Chris, Ryan would come out on top. (now there’s a thought…).

  5. Steerpike says

    ‘Real life pecs and guns under a simple t-shirt and khakis is a way better visual effect than CGI musculature’

    Yep indeed, remember THOR? How awesome he looked in a T-shirt and jeans, how BIG and leonine and elegant compared to how dumb he looked in that silly plasticky overdesigned hero costume with the dumb cape leaping off his shoulders.

  6. Scot says

    I heard Chris Evans had some sort of nervous (existential) breakdown while filming this movie. He’s now questioning his desire to be an actor. Has anybody else heard anything about it?

  7. Brian in Texas says

    You guys seriously just go see a movie because the lead is “hot”? Wow.

  8. Rad says

    Ah, Brian in Texas… yeah. Shallow, yes. And I love every moment of it up on the big screen!

    Unless, of course, the movie got panned by Nathan. I trust his taste in film.

    Thor was INCREDIBLE. Passed on X-Men and Green Lantern. Got this flick on the weekend docket.

  9. Steerpike says

    I don’t ONLY go to the movies if the hero is hot but it is a nice extra thing. And I will on occasion watch rubbish because there’s a hot guy in it (*cough* New Moon *cough*)

  10. Steerpike says

    Oh and if the beef is juiced, it has left his face looking amazingly well. Steroids do not normally treat a person that kindly: they often look either bloated with water or haggard with cutting. He looks great. maybe it’s HGH?

  11. NotFunny says

    D’uh, he’s not going to use steroids. The studio provides a trainer and a nutritionist. Why would Evans risk cancer for a movie role?

    Unfortunately, the film hasn’t had good marketing and won’t do that well at the box office. It will also face problems selling overseas because of anti-Americanism.

  12. Michael W. says

    Rad, you should see X-Men. It was awesome. You’ll fall in love with Michael Fassbender as Magneto!

  13. Drew says

    @Steerpike: Right? Chris Hemsworth BEFORE the Thor costume change looked incredible. But of course, they don’t want to offer too much beefcake in a tight shirt and jeans (oh my, just the thought…), so that awful costume was a requirement.

  14. dempewolf says

    Chris Evans is super supportive of his gay brother who is also an actor. I think that turns a man into a REAL MAN. They are two of the best looking guys in show business.

  15. chuck says

    Just saw the movie…the best shot IMO is a far shot where Capt A has rescued hundreds of GIs and they surround him to thank him. If you look carefully Chris Evans has the most wonderful smirk on his face. Not taking himself too seriously as a movie star.

  16. jaragon says

    Chris Evans was the main reason I sat through “The Fantastic Four” movies so I’m glad he is finally getting to carry his own super hero movie. I’m sure it will be better than the “Transformers:The Dark Side of the Moon” an endless confusing loud mess that is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with modern movie making.

  17. PAV3 says

    Just saw the Capt last evening, and Thor and X-Men and Transformers and Lantern…Transformers should not be put into the same class of movies as the other three…sure they’re action flicks, with (mostly) Americans fighting evil in whatever form, and sure they evolved from comics. But Shia’s flick centered on the robots, and the remainder focused on the MEN in action. (BTW, comics were all too fake for my taste as a youngster.)
    IMHO, I would take the Capt over the Lantern and Thor in that order if only because of the exposed skin factor. I do look forward to next summer’s Avenger flick with more characters to drool over. It may be confusing for me with soooo many “superheros” in one flick, but I’m game…

  18. Ckyddl says

    If you don’t think the studio invested money into Chris Evan’s physique, including chemicals to ensure he was true to Captain America size, you’re unrealistic.

  19. Silly says

    Rented movie cause Captain América was supposed be gay with Bucky in the comics before they killed Cap according to a nerd I know. Diss appointed they killed off this possibility in 1st movie!