Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan!

Well, I feel like an asshole. After a solid week of nothing but fervent, foaming-at-the-mouth positive reviews of Captain America all over the internet and other, harder-to-acquire media, I saw it this Saturday night.

Yeah, it was pretty good. Wait wait wait don't hit me!

Maybe I'm misinterpreting the vibe. Maybe I should read more than a couple sites for my reviews, especially when one of them is Ain't It Cool News. I might as well check Fox News to see if they think Republicans are still pretty neat. But I had expected this glorious, perfect WWII epic, and it was... for the first three-quarters. Eh, maybe two-thirds. Three-fifths? Nah, three-quarters. 75% was every bit as great as Iron Man, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk. The rest of it wasn't bad, but it was closer to Ang Lee's Hulk or maybe Green Lantern. Must... not... derail... review... with Green Lantern... review...!!! Whew. Okay. I'm over it.

Anyway, I loved most of it. I didn't quite tear up, but when li'l Steve jumps on the grenade, I got that pre-tearing-up thing going where your facial muscles start quivering and I got a little choked up. When Steve's a weakling, his determination is clear (even though Chris Evans's head floating on some skinny dude's body was kind of disconcerting). When he emerges from the experiment and has to chase that Hydra spy down, I believe him. Even when he's doing his goofy USO show, I feel like Steve really wants to contribute more to the war effort. But after he frees the Howling Commandos and blows up the first Hydra base... it's like when a show gets cancelled and they have to wrap stuff up fast. The whole montage of them striking base after base of the Red Skull's agents was over way too fast for me. I thought that was going to be, like, the bulk of the movie. Instead they cram it into what would, admittedly, make an awesome music video. Are you kidding? Slap a Kid Rock single onto that three minutes of action sequences and that's the only recruiting video the army needs for the next twenty years.

After the big rescue-mission scene, which I will reiterate was itself fun as fucking hell, everything just feels too easy. Predestined. The other fans will hopefully take my meaning here: you know Bucky's going to die. You know there's some kind of bomb aimed at the USA. You know Cap's headed for a long nap in an iceberg. So when it happens, and it happens, well, not only differently from the comic book, but also in a less logical way, you're just left scratching your head.

Let me see if I can reconstruct this from memory: in the comics, Cap, Bucky and the Commandos storm the Nazis'/Hydra's/whoever's(hereafter referred to as "the bad guys") base. The bad guys basically have the first-ever ICBM and have it trained on the US. Either Washington or New York, I dunno. The Commandos kick the bad guys' asses but then the Skull (or Baron Zemo or whoever, I forget who it was in the comics) hits the big "launch" button and it goes off while Cap and Bucky are trying to disarm it. So they get rocketed into the sky over the Arctic Circle, where they realize they can't disarm the bomb, so Bucky knocks Cap into the ocean before he manages to blow the thing up in midair, saving millions of lives. Cap freezes, wakes up decades later in our present. Done.

So why did they engineer a way more complicated scenario that manages to punk the hero, his sidekick, and the villain? Bucky plummets to his "death" (it's comics, y'know) from the side of a mountain. No heroic sacrifice, he's just hanging from the side of a train and loses his grip. The Red Skull touches the Cosmic Cube with his bare hands, which apparently is a no-no, and gets Raptured up to Space-Heaven. (I mean okay we know it's Asgard, but if you haven't seen Thor I can't see how the scene would make any sense.) So Cap doesn't get to knock his adversary out of a plane or anything cool. He doesn't get to prove he's stronger than the Skull. The Skull just fucks up so bad he gets Mega Man-teleported out of the super-bomber-plane-thing. Oh yeah, there's a super-bomber-plane-thing.

The last bit with Cap on the plane feels like they just watched the beginning of the new Star Trek and decided to steal it. It's almost the exact same scene. So I understand Cap probably couldn't possibly be trained to fly a Nazi super-bomber-plane-thing, maybe he never got the chance to fly any plane at all, but... couldn't he have jumped out once the thing was on-course to just hit an ice floe? Would the Red Skull not have put at least one parachute on the plane, for himself? PS, WHY WAS THERE A PLANE? Have we learned nothing from Dr. Strangelove? Since when is failing to land a plane cooler than RIDING A BOMB? I mean, it'd be a little undignified for him to whoop and holler and wave his helmet in the air while he did it, but just sitting there and waiting to die isn't exactly Cap's style, either. Now, it felt a little shoehorned-in seeing the Skull teleported to Asgard, and having Howard Stark pop up every 15 minutes to go "hey, I'm Iron Man's dad!" again, but I didn't really mind. Most of the name-checks to other comics icons were cool. It felt a little lame that they took the oldest property of the four (Cap, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor) and bent it around to make it fit all the other films, but even if it was intrusive, it didn't piss me off. But this part... I know they had to freeze Cap so that he could wake up in the present, but why did they take a perfectly good plot and replace it with one in which everyone involved looks worse?

Okay. Over it. The rest of the movie? Loved it. Tommy Lee Jones steals the goddamn show with every line he has. Hayley Atwell does well with what she's given, and she gets a little more to work with than your average "I'm the love interest who's almost-but-not-quite as good as the hero!" female lead. Side note: Praying earnestly that they make Gwyneth Paltrow be Rescue for Iron Man 3. Anyway. Like I said, Howard Stark feels kind of forced, but it's a fun kind of forced. Like if Stan Lee could actually act, this is the kind of role they'd give him: another comic book character to remind the audience that there are other comic book characters besides the title character. Stanley Tucci's my favorite supporting character, though. The idea that Dr. Erskine really loves and respects Steve, that he's not just a guinea pig, is communicated clearly. When Steve's in the Rebirth chamber and starts screaming, Erskine's reaction is immediately to stop, to get him out of there. It's really touching. Bucky and the rest of the Howling Commandos are fine, they just don't get enough time to really, really matter to me. Too bad, because I liked what I saw.

After Cap heroically fails to land and/or jump out of a plane, the end of the 1940s sequence is pretty abrupt, and is followed five minutes later by a no-less-abrupt ending in 2011. I'm fine with it, I guess, but I felt bad for the little kids who're left thinking, "wait, did he win or what?" especially the ones whose parents took them home before the credits were over. The Avengers teaser was very cool, but it made the last five minutes of Cap look like a pre-deleted scene from the Avengers.

To reiterate, I didn't hate the whole thing. I didn't hate any of it, actually. I loved the rescue mission, the USO show, Steve's transformation and the accompanying chase scene, the training sequences... now I'm just going in backwards order through all the scenes I liked. Sorry. It was good. Maybe even great. The ride just got a little bumpy towards the end. I'll live. Seriously, though, I can't get that USO Captain America theme song out of my head. I love it. The movie's worth seeing for that alone.

All right, that's it. Forgive a cranky old habitual fault-finder. Maybe soon I can finally watch The Rocketeer and shit all over that, too.



the Editor said...

I loved loved loved Chris Evans as Cap. And I did my "see a puppy" noise when he jumped on the grenade. I was also surprised that the CGI-ed scrawny body looked much more put together and realistic in the movie than it did in the trailers. Color me pleased!

However, you're right about the ending. They hardly got to knock each other around before Red Skull done got raptured fer his sins, and it felt like there was little to no climax.

And you know how I hate missing the climax.

the Editor said...

Also, it is about goddamned time you got back into this. Keep it up, you brilliant bastard, you!