Monday, August 29, 2011

A Frank Review of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011)

The Short Version? Man vs. Ape in the Bay Area.
What Is It? Science Fiction.
Who Is In It? Gollum, Harry Osborn, Dick Solomon, Hannibal Lecter v1.0
Should I See It? Yes.

For thirty-eight years, there were no good movies released in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Battle was a cheap, pointless cash grab billed as the "final chapter" of the series. It technically ended with the second movie, but for an Ouroboros timeline. The 2001 reboot was a prefabricated blockbuster no one especially liked that was long on spectacular practical effects but short on much else. Rise of the Planet of the Apes marks a long awaited return, if not to greatness, at least to goodness and relevance to modern audiences.

Rise begins a new continuity tasked with explaining in believable terms how apes could gain the intelligence to inherit the earth from an increasingly rare humanity. Now that terms like "mutually assured destruction" have fallen into disuse, the pseudoscientific vehicle has been updated. An Alzheimer's disease researcher breaches ethics in pursuit of a cure for his rapidly deteriorating father. The cure proves worse than the disease, as testing leads to ape subjects attaining full sentience and turning to violence in order to be afforded basic rights as thinking, feeling beings. Eldest among them is Caesar, the lone survivor of the original tests. Raised among humans, Caesar is forced to choose between being an inferior amongst homo sapiens, or helping to raise his fellow apes in the face of human cruelty and subjugation.

James Franco plays a rather disinterested and not especially credible scientist version of James Franco in semi-stoned douche mode. Freida Pinto plays a really hot looking chick whose take on a veterinarian is of only slightly greater believability than Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist. Brian Cox plays the evil dude he plays in every second or third movie. Tom Felton plays a washed up Kentucky Fried Draco Malfoy, still dependent on a wand to represent the sum of his manhood. David Oyelowo's character is only interested in making money, while Jamie Harris is a sensitive but uselessly weak animal handler. David Hewlett is an asshole neighbor who is never not an asshole, while Tyler Labine is adequate in a perfunctory role. Unlike most movies, the cumulative effect of all of these threadbare characters and/or lackluster performances is not a bad movie, but the highly desirable effect of leading audiences to actively root against their own species.

The actual stars of the picture are the fantastic digital effects team of Weta Digital and their motion capture performance artists. It's funny that Freida Pinto is in this movie, because her previous greatest success was Slumdog Millionaire. That was ¾ of a great foreign language film sold to the masses through its corny one quarter English portion featuring Pinto. The same trick is pulled here, except instead of Indian children speaking Hindi with subtitles, it's apes with sign language. Both movies endear audiences through the Dickensian indignities suffered by the downtrodden protagonists as they struggle in an uncaring world.

Andy Serkis' Caesar progresses from wide eyed apelet to angsty adolescent to a confused adult in a world he's never known. It's a magnificent performance made all the more admirable by Serkis' ability to convey layered emotions and complex reasoning entirely through facial expression and body language. Caesar ends up being a more sympathetic, cunning, and inspirational figure than Benicio del Toro over the 4½ hour running time of Che. Then again, so was Roddy McDowall in the '70s, but he lacked the benefit of Weta's gorgeous CGI. Also benefiting are Terry Notary as Caesar's mother Bright Eyes, Richard Ridings as the gorilla strong arm Buck, and Chris Gordon as Caesar's dark reflection, Koba. Deserving special note is Karin Konoval as Maurice, an orangutan who reflects that species' role both in name and action as related to the prior series, and serves as Caesar's worthy lieutenant.

Of the humans on screen, only John Lithgow warrants singling out in his portrayal of an Alzheimer's sufferer who makes a lasting impression on Caesar. Not only is his character the individual most responsible for Caesar's nobility, but his progression through the film parallels and informs Caesar's. The film's script is often emotionally manipulative and grasps at the low hanging fruits, especially in relation to almost vulgarly obvious nods to the franchise's history. However, the relationship between Caesar and his "grandfather," when buoyed by the performances, marks high water marks in both the story and the marriage between life & CGI. Once Lithgow is shuffled off, it's all on the backs of the apes, and the weight of the production is carried admirably.

Ultimately, I would place Rise of the Planet of the Apes fourth in terms of overall quality within the franchise. The original remains untouched as a cultural landmark; a perfect storm of acting, directing, music, effects, set design, script, statement and concept. Escape has the most affective acting and sweet charm, while Conquest is the most politically charged and emotionally brutal. Rise's primary claim to the series' sociopolitical commentary is its exploration of the ethical treatment of animals and the absolute self-possession of man even against the good of mankind. Solid enough, and a good deal more meaty than the limp science fantasy of the previous two installments, but lacking the visceral punch of reflecting race relations in the midst of the civil rights movement. As impressive as the apes are, none are as memorable as characters like Cornelius, Zira and Dr. Zaius. With the exception of MacDonald, the human characters in these films have never been of such negligible value. Still, Rise remains impressive, appealing, and sets the stage for exciting sequels to come.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Frank Review of "Fright Night" (2011)

The Short Version? Not Another '80s Movie Remake.
What Is It?Horror-Comedy.
Who Is In It? Chekov 2.0, Bullseye, McLovin, the older sister from 28 Weeks Later and the Mommy State of Tara.
Should I See It? Yes.

An excellent rule of thumb in filmmaking is to never remake a good movie, much less a great one. You're just setting yourself up for unfair comparison, unrealistic expectations, and resistance from the fans. A few directors have managed to buck the trend and improve on the original, but usually a remake stands as a blemish on a resume.

Craig Gillespie hasn't been associated with any stellar pictures, and in the case of Mr. Woodcock, one so wretched co-stars Seann William Scott and Billy Bob Thornton reportedly feared it would end their careers while they were making it. This likely led to the unenviable position of remaking the second highest grossing horror film of 1985, a cult classic that spawned a comic book series, video game, and a sequel. However, not only was Fright Night no great film, but I've been arguing it wasn't even an especially good one since seeing it on VHS in the late '80s. Solid premise, likeable cast, swell poster, decent script, but for me the chemistry was never there.

I feel a lot of the original's appeal was its outreach to the nerd core; the first feature length fan wank love letter to all the losers who grew up on Zacherley, The Munsters, Hammer horror and early Stephen King. Charley Brewster was the hero who could be them, paired off with their favorite Saturday late night horror host against the kinds of vampires they read about in some monster compendium, stalking their own suburban neighborhood. The Lost Boys scored big with the same premise a couple of years later, and now this sort of 4th wall handjob is a cliché unto itself. Fright Night was an okay flick, but it was never a favorite of mine, and its few pioneering aspects were improved upon by those who followed. As a result, Craig Gillespie had an opportunity to make that rare superior remake, and in partnership with screenwriter Marti Noxon, did just that.

In the oldest horror movies, audiences were educated alongside the ignorant peasants onscreen exactly what type of monster wrecked havoc in the dark of the night. Remember, tropes like killing a werewolf with a silver bullet were actually invented for the silver screen. Both parties accepted what they were told about the supernatural. They just needed a gypsy or some such to lay it down for them. As film horror shifted away from isolated European villages centuries gone, the delaying tactic to fill screen time between monster attacks in more modern settings was denial that such foolish, superstitious notions could relate to any calamity faced. However, as audiences became more sophisticated, it was increasingly annoying to know that they were seeing a monster movie, but everyone on screen (but perhaps a true believer or two) dismissed the obvious until the final reel. Fright Night was among the last of those frustrating features where our hero figures out a vampire has moved into the neighborhood in act one, and spends ninety minutes on cat and mouse games of implausible length while trying to convince anyone else of the nature of his problem. However, it was also at the vanguard of a media aware generation of characters who would reference other films explicitly to determine a favorable course of action. This would progress to the Scream franchise, where the accumulated lore of other horror movies and their connoisseur's awareness of same would make the viewer a party to their thought process. These characters would speak out of both sides of their mouth, mocking the established conventions in anticipation of their viewer's criticism, yet still making bonehead mistakes so that they could die by the rules they espoused.

Fright Night 2011 is part of a new breed of horror written by learned fans whose characters unapologetically accept the supernatural when presented with convincing evidence, and seek remedy with the conviction of 1930s Universal villagers. They don't crack jokes about how if they were in a horror movie, they'd be killed for going into the basement, before getting killed like the smug assholes they are in the basement. Instead, when their acquaintances start turning up missing and their neighbor casts no reflection in a mirror, they sharpen stakes and prepare to do battle with the forces of Satan. Who wants to waste their time watching Charlie Brewster whine that nobody will believe him about the scary monsters? The viewers want characters who will react as they would in the same circumstances, so that they can see how that would play out while potentially being surprised by the outcomes. Charlie Brewster, despite being "one of us," is smart and heroic enough to hold a vampire at bay. Said vampire still plays some games, but is legitimately stymied by the hero's actions, so that he doesn't look like an overconfident tool in the final act. It's a lot more satisfying than shouting options at the screen to deaf, dumb characters.

A lot of current movies remain slaves to outdated storytelling techniques. For instance, if I'm in a car with a couple of friends, all of us will be carrying a cell phone, which offers three methods of contacting any one of us at any given time. You must therefore either incorporate this accessibility into a script, or come up with a convincing excuse for why none of the three cell phones work. Marti Noxon's clever script is practically built on this rule. Rather than a hindrance, Fright Night uses an iPhone as a tool to advance the story, correcting past errors. Instead of explaining contrivances, her characters can leap frog past obvious obstacles into ones that would try any of us. When the characters act as we would, with all of our expected resources, failure and tragedy impact on us because we would be just as flummoxed as the protagonists. In the new telling, we're not wishing Charlie Brewster well, but trailing behind him in trying to figure out a way out of this mess.

I'm fond of William Ragsdale, and Charley Brewster was one of his signature roles, but Anton Yelchin is more believable, entertaining and compelling. Colin Farrell's take on the vampire is one of his best performances to date; sexy, slithery and decidedly menacing. Twenty-seven year old Amanda Bearse was never remotely believable as a teenager, and her character was pretty much strictly an inexplicable object of desire. Imogen Poots is vastly more appealing in every way, including as a stronger heroine, even if she ultimately remains a distressed damsel. Toni Collette has quality good scenes as Brewster's mom, and unlike Dorothy Fielding's role in the original, she's more than just a minor plot device.

On the negative side, while it was obviously necessary to update the Peter Vincent character, David Tennant's take hasn't a fraction of the charm or weight of Roddy McDowall in the part. Stephen Geoffreys' "Evil Ed" was one of the '80s most memorable horror characters, and while Christopher Mintz-Plasse gives it his best, he's still McLovin the vampire arriving late to the game. Aside from the amusingly foul-mouthed Sandra Vergara as Ginger and a surprisingly strong turn by Emily Montague as Doris, most of the other new characters are unnecessary in the extreme.

Fright Night isn't just a remake, but a reinvigoration. It's clearly written by a fan who is as faithful to the original as is reasonable, but recognizes quarter century old tropes won't work any more. The director then follows through with superior casting, editing and effects, so that audiences new and familiar can be equally excited by the finished product. Fright Night is great fun, doing justice to the original while improving upon it, and comes wholeheartedly recommended.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Frank Review of "Doctor Strange" (2007)

The Short Version? A Doctor Strange cartoon wanting desperately to be anything but a Dr. Strange cartoon
What Is It? Cartoon Comic Adaptation
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No.

When I saw Captain America: The First Avenger the first time, I went with three friends. One was a former customer I was touching base with after many years, so our post-film bullshit session veered into a broader discussion of comic adaptations in the 21st century. We agreed that Marvel had really raised the standard in live action, but DC was still easily the tops in animation. Features like the direct-to-DVD Dr. Strange cartoon bear that out. I've watched the show several times... not repetitively, but rather through becoming so bored and irritated that I would dismiss it before continuing where I left off days and even weeks later. It took me a month or so just to finish the goddamned thing. It's a major step backward to the days when Hollywood lacked any faith in the material that it was licensing, taking only surface elements and taking them onto a standard Tinseltown formula. As was the the case for much of the 20th century, the end result is to produce a movie that fails to meet fan expectations and serves the uninitiated the same old shit with unnecessary comic book associations.

A Hollywood pitch version for Dr. Strange movie would be "Gregory House training under Dumbledore to battle Cthulu as directed by Darren Aronofsky." This flick, likely taking cues from a widely and justifiably ignored J. Michael Straczynski mini-series, was more like "The Matrix in the House of Flying Daggers." Stephen Strange is supposed to be a windbag asshole, but he's also possessed of a quiet cool and an acceptable degree of pollution. He may stand upright and even seem a bit uptight, but he's less Mr. Anderson than Don Draper. The man has imbibed, he's fucked around with girls half his age, he's done hash in the Village. If Robert Downey Junior hadn't already stuck the landing on Tony Stark, he could have downshifted a bit for Stephen Strange. A stick up the ass penitent with a seriously generic hero voice trying to snatch the pebble from sensei's palm ain't gonna fuckin' cut it.

Less than two minutes into the movie, it's already fucked. Mordo leads a team of kung-fu warriors with glowing energy tattoos who use magic to produce swords for chopping on giant cat monsters. Despite enlisting actual Asian actors, the flick still earns major demerits for the thick stereotypical "flied lice" accents. Strange encounters the group by chance, and his ability to see through their mystical camouflage pegs him as a person of interest by his eventual mentor, Wong, who has a full head of graying hairs. Aside from the names, none of this bears the slightest resemblance to the source material

In the comics, Strange was a prick disinterested in the thanks of a grateful patient, preferring money, booze and fast cars. In the movie, he turns away the needy and comatose children because he's soul dead after failing to save his diseased kid sister when he began practicing medicine. Again, the similarity between the two stories is slight, and the difference between entertaining cockiness and a desire to pummel the protagonist is immense. The parallels are much closer after Strange's crippling accident and vain attempts at full recovery, but in the books, you miss the shitheel, where the movie Strange is so dull and rotten, you root for his degradation. It's worth noting that one of the filmmakers comments on how the original comic origin spanned only a handful of panel, and that there was an entire movie to be made between them. My thinking is that the creators recognized that such details were better left to the imagination, rather than spelled out over fifty fucking drag-assed minutes of screen time so wretchedly derivative as to reference It's A Wonderful Life with Charlie Chan in the Clarence role. Further, a far superior extended origin was available to adapt, but as there is no indication the filmmakers actually read a single solitary Dr. Strange comic, it's no wonder they missed that fact.

Besides the hoary Asian (India inclusive) stereotypes, tired character designs, and liberal borrowing from cheesy Saturday morning martial arts films, the clearest indication that the filmmakers have no idea of what they're doing is when Dr. Strange and company travel to another dimension. In the sixties, Steve Ditko created surreal Daliesque worldscapes where the laws of physics could not apply. They were so bizarre, readers assumed he dropped acid, and comics have continued to copy them for fifty years. With all the potential of animation, the movie renders these dimensions as caverns. Gray, rocky caverns. Period. Dormammu? Just animated fire with a horned skull silhouette in the center, voiced by some douchebag talking into a fan. It's as big a disappointment as the Galactus and Parallax of the movies.

In the comics, Dr. Strange's spells were a visual tour de force, but he was not above engaging in physical combat with a metaphysical twist. In the movie, Strange stands around with his dandy New Romantic looks catching other guys swords (*ahem*) and casting energy blasts. The coolest creatures he combats are green CGI piranha bats, which admittedly is kind of cool, but the exception proves the rule. Their impact is muted by virtually all the threats in the movie being legions of animalistic creatures. These include wolves made of shadows and more rampaging giant cat things, which could have easily been improved upon with Mindless Ones, but the film's infidelity is only outmatched by its lack of imagination. The final insult is comic images playing during the credits that strain to find the least visually interesting images from the sixties, and still manage to outshine the flick. In one and one quarter hour, anything cool about Dr. Strange is rendered banal.


  • Marvel Video Game Cinematics What it says. Thirteen cut scenes without context from two games and a music video "best of" compilation. Still better than the actual movie.

  • The Origin of Doctor Strange Often the best part of comic adaptation DVDs are the behind the scenes interviews with the creators of the books over the years. While this is no exception, thirteen minutes is an exceptionally short running time, especially when half of it is shared with filmmakers trying to validate their going far astray from the seminal works being discussed. Stan Lee, Steve Englehart and J.M. DeMatteis are charming, animated, and informative. Combined with the art on display, they do an excellent job of informing the viewer of how ineptly their stories were translated to animation. To accentuate that point, the filmmakers are all stiff, semi-monotonal fucktards who name drop creators without a exhibiting a hint of their influence in the finished product. Hopefully, the first six minutes will get reused in a more worthwhile venue if the proposed Dr. Strange live action movie arrives in 2013.

  • A First Look At: Avengers Reborn Kid progeny of the Avengers in a dystopic future. I've seen worse designs, but this is all talking head interviews.

  • Doctor Strange Concept Art Not really. Just animatics.

  • Trailer Gallery Nothing signals a quality production like opening with the trailer to Delta Farce starring Larry the Cable Guy. Also, The Dresden Files, Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, Ultimate Avengers 2, & The Invincible Iron Man.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Comic Reader Résumé: January, 1982

I don't believe I'll ever know for sure exactly when I became a comic book fan, most likely because I had a comic collecting uncle in the house in the early years of my life. I had plenty of stuff that stayed in print throughout the '70s, like Power Records and several Whitman coloring books (Captain America, Superman: "World without Water!" I saw Superman: The Motion Picture in the theater, and I can't recall there ever being a time when comic books weren't around. They were certainly always on my short list for purchases at garage sales and flea markets, as well. However, while working on a project, I visited the justifiably named Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics to take advantage of his "Time Machine." Mike took it upon himself to begin offering a chronological listing of every DC book by actual and cover dated availability. What's more, he's recently expanded his Amazing Worlds to include Marvel, Gold Key, and Charlton comics, with all of their assorted monthly titles available on a virtual "newsstand." This has allowed me to determine ground zero for the beginning of my collecting new comics by schlepping down to the 7-11 with my own pocket change: January, 1982.

I can't say for certain that I bought the given issues upon their release, and I'm not sure Mike's dates are ironclad, either. That said, there's a very good chance my first brand new purchase was The Amazing Spider-Man #227 by Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr. and Jim Mooney. It was a fun Black Cat story, and while Mooney's inks weren't choice, it was still a good looking book. I still have my original copy stewing in a polybag, the brown pages surely acidic as all hell and unrestrained by a cover or the first/last pages.

According to Mike, my second comic would be The Flash #308. It was kind of a neat story by the usually swell and highly underrated Cary Bates where the Scarlet Speedster's battle with a mummy was paralleled by some children at play. It may be heretical, but if there's one classic artist I never developed an appreciation for, it's Carmine Infantino. I hate his stuff to this day, as well as many of the people he influenced. However, the reason I bought the book was the embellishment of Dennis Jensen, who did a magnificent job of making Infantino look pretty. Yet, I suspect that despite the solid plot and inks, this would also be the beginning of a lifelong dislike of super speed characters. I could never get into Runs-Fast-Man, in any costume or at any company. The Dr. Fate back-up strip by Martin Pasko, Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt makes a liar out of me, because I could have sworn my introduction to the character was through the Super Powers Collection. I have no recollection of this story, except perhaps the vaguest impression of a half splash to start it off.

Since the Flash was undated, I can't be positive The Brave and the Bold #185 was my third comic. I parted company with the first book quickly, but that Batman, Robin and Green Arrow team-up was in my comic pile next to my grandmother's couch for years. I'd already been turned on to the O'Neill/Adams stuff, and after that Rich Buckler cover, I found the interiors by Adrian Gonzales and Mike DeCarlo quite disappointing. Gonzales mostly stuck to Arak and war comics, which helps explain why your first question was probably "who the hell is Adrian Gonzales?" Writer Don Karr had an even less impressive record, and his story probably helped drive me toward Marvel Comics for most of the '80s. It was just one of the overwhelming majority of Penguin stories that are underwhelming, involving giant bird cages and Ollie not getting his eyes clawed out, damn it.

I suspect that I had a copy of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #2, but my memory is too hazy to comment, if that was in fact the case. Not too bad of a month for my first as a certified collector, but not enough to make my bona fides, since I didn't stick with any of them going into February. That's a tale for another time, though.

How about yourself, dear reader? Any memories from your first month of collecting comics, or January, 1982 specifically?

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Frank Review of "Cruel Intentions 3" (2004)

The Short Version? Teens fucking over one another over fucking one another.
What Is It? Soap Opera.
Who Is In It? Some guy from Dawson's Creek and tight chicks you won't see naked.
Should I See It? No.

Cruel Intentions isn't even a reputable franchise, much less an esteemed one, but the third edition somehow manages to be a pale shadow of even the barely adequate prequel. Fairly reeking of direct-to-DVD, it features Kristina Anapau as the cousin of original series bad girl Kathryn Merteuil, who idolizes her kin's wickedness but clearly lacks her cunning. Kerr Smith plays the guy who wants to fuck her, but is not her stepbrother, and Nathan Wetherington plays a guy who does fuck her, and is certainly good looking enough to do so, but we're all supposed to pretend he's an ugly dork. Dude, at least put on some glasses and get a more repressed hairstyle, like the "nerd girls" in teen movies.

What made the first movie better than Dangerous Liaisons for the CW set was that it was witty and naughty in how it went about its business, while this trash operates strictly on porno logic. Every action ends in sex, and it's such a direct through line that every bit of dialogue is just a clumsy means to an end. It's all about as subtle as ordering pizza in a neglige. Unlike an actual porno though, the sex scenes are bereft of any fluids, especially blood. They're short, dull, light on skin and feel as forced as inserts.

On the plus side, there is a decent soundtrack of songs from artists no one has ever heard of, so at least this one sort of sounds like the first. Also, the film stock and cinematography are much closer to the original, so it doesn't look cheap. Unfortunately, this one takes a mean-spirited turn that's much too far beyond propriety to go down. The fun is in the seduction, whether of the innocent or their adulteration of the diabolic. This is simply too tasteless to know how to get to either place effectively, and crass enough to make sure to stay open-ended for a fourth run.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


The United States Postal Service is one of many essential American institutions targeted for downsizing thanks to ongoing porkbarrel politics, and some even look forward to its demise. There are plenty of great reasons to defend USPS, but I'll make my argument in the simplest, briefest, and most self-centered terms.

I get my new comics by mail order in one monthly shipment. The USPS recently decided that because of advertisements, comics do not qualify for media mail rates. That jumped my shipping costs from less than five dollars to less than nine dollars, comparable with the rates UPS has been charging for a decade. Besides the $60 a year I saved over UPS when USPS had the lower price, the latter also delivers on Saturdays. I could have had my books this weekend through USPS, or Monday at the latest. Since I accidentally shipped through UPS this month, my books will arrive Tuesday at the earliest.

Support the USPS. Brown is #2, and vice versa.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Frank Review of "Captain America: The First Avenger 3D" (2011)

The Short Version? When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due, then the red and white and the blue’ll come through.
What Is It? Period Super Hero Origin Story
Who Is In It? Lucas Lee, Aliena, Agent K, Agent Smith,
Should I See It? Yes.

I love Captain America. I had the "1966" coloring book with Batroc that probably came out in 1975. Cap was to the best of my knowledge my first favorite super-hero, and is disputably still my favorite, although there were many others between now and then. His was one of the first series I collected by trucking down to the 7-11 with my own coin, and you know I had the Secret Wars action figure with the lame lenticular animation shield. Heck, it's one of the few toys from my childhood I've since reacquired as an adult. I watched the cartoons and the lousy TV movies as a kid, and subjected myself to the 1990 "theatrical" film that wasn't good enough to be released in the United States, home of American Ninja and the career of Frank Stallone.

I tell you all of this because despite my usual hypercritical tone in these reviews, it is impossible for me to be unbiased in discussing a Captain America motion picture.That's why I was so filled with hate at the disappointing teaser trailer and then posted an apology with the much improved international trailer. I've only ever reviewed trailers a few times here, much less two for the same movie. That is my love for Captain America.

This should explain why I sat through most of The First Avenger's running time with a big stupid grin on my face. Despite early indications and a lifetime of disappointments, someone finally got a Captain America movie right. It's earnest, patriotic, cornball, unsophisticated, goofy, innocent, and in summary, delightful. No one tried to "fix" Cap by making him sarcastic or blowing G.I.s to gory bits or having him show up to liberate Buchenwald. He's a simple, inspiring comic book icon in a movie to match. They did tone down a costume that was never going to translate to film and offer up some logical tweaks to satisfy modern audiences, but for the most part, there is a clear adoration and knowledge of the source material that is manifested as a love letter to fans. I would imagine any kid who bought Captain America Comics #1 in 1940 who survived to this point will be happy with this film, and as a fairly polluted cat from better than half a century after that, I dug it too. Captain America is not and never should be The Dark Knight, and for my money, is the more entertaining movie for it.

For reasons I don't fully understand, the movie begins in 1943, three years after his comic book career began as a guy punching Hitler before the U.S. were even involved in World War II. For reasons I totally get, Cap never actually fights the ancestors of the current Japanese or German ticket buying audience, preferring the faceless leatherboy terrorist gimps of Hydra. If the movie has any fault, it's that divorced from Nazi atrocities, the Red Skull is just kind of an asshole who wants to blow shit up with cosmic lasers for no discernible purpose. It kind of balances out though, since Captain America is motivated by innate goodness and a desire to contribute to society as a man. File under "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Chris Evans is pretty nearly the Christopher Reeve of Captain Americas. I watched Frank Miller's Gucci cologne ad with Evans, and it struck me how badly Cap needed to shave and treat Evan Rachael Wood a little more delicately. Evans fits Cap so well, there's a real danger of his getting typecast again, because his previous screen persona as the cocky smart ass now seems like a total put-on. As another voice in the chorus, the Steve Rogers special effects are flawless, but it's worth noting that Evans' mannerisms helped sell himself as a runty kid from Brooklyn. His stiffness in trailers as Captain America can be chalked up to bad editing, since he's typically quite fluid in the uniform.

Hayley Atwell sets Peggy Carter at "austere" and rarely varies, but after the almost too game Natalie Portman in Thor, it's nice to see a female lead with reserve and concerns outside of "will they or won't they." Tommy Lee Jones gets to play all the salty attitude of Sgt. Nick Fury without any of the physical effort, but they named him Colonel Phillips to avoid confusion with Sam Jackson's role. Stanley Tucci humanizes Dr. Erskine while still using him as a means of selling Steve Rogers to the audience. Dominic Cooper is fun as a less sexy Stark, and Sebastian Stan does what needs doing as a doomed sidekick. No one is bad in the movie, but almost everyone's role is stock, so they play their hand as dealt. This includes Hugo Weaving's Red Skull, Toby Jones as Toht Arnim Zola, and all of the unnamed Howling Commandos. They know their role, and this is Captain America's movie, so that is that. It's hard not to miss the eccentricity of a Micky Rourke performance in the mix, though, and there's something missing when you hate Obadiah Stane far more than the Red Skull.

There are a few twists along the way, and I'm sure a greater degree of unfamiliarity with the character could lead to more. I don't believe this movie was shot in 3D, but for a post-conversion, I think it plays well. Unlike most 3D films, I didn't forget about the process while watching, or take notice when the studios does so. There are scenes that are relatively flat, but when there's a call for 3D, particularly in a mildly claustrophobic train sequence, the depth is there. The action is a bit overblown at times, but I dearly love seeing bad guys get whacked with that shield.

Objectively, this is a better film than Thor and many other Marvel movies, but unlike the Iron Man and X-Men franchises, I don't know that it's built to reach out beyond the fans of this type of character. The movie certainly handles the continuity machine building up to The Avengers next summer better than most, even if the post-credits teaser isn't worth the wait. Probably because of its setting, it incorporates a lot of Marvel mythology without sagging from the baggage, at least until the abrupt ending. In fact, The First Avengers is three-quarters of a rock solid bit of self-contained entertainment, and only goes off track because of its obligation to other movies. After the first Captain America mission, there's a montage covering the rest of the war, and then Cap and Skull have to hit all their marks for a lackluster final showdown. I'd have much preferred leaving it to the Avengers movie to explain Cap's connection to modernity, and leave the door open for more 1940s fun. That said, the movie had built up plenty enough good will up to the last reel to see me through to the denouement. I finally got a Captain America movie to thoroughly enjoy, with a lead actor I expect will be able to stand up to major thespian competition next year.


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