Movie Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA, 2011

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Director: Joe Johnston

Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Dormer, Richard Armitage, Dominic Cooper

Review by Mark Engberg


After being deemed unfit for military service during WWII, Steve Rogers (Evans) volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, the Sentinel of Liberty — a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals. His first mission: to combat the Nazi propaganda effort headed by Johann Schmidt (Weaving), also known as the Red Skull.


Check your thesaurus for the word “patriotic” and you will find that every synonym perfectly typifies the character of Captain America.

“Patriotic: Chauvinistic, devoted, dedicated, dutiful, jingoistic, nationalistic, statesmanlike, zealous.”

Yup, that’s him, all right. But chauvinistic? No, Chris Evans’ rendition of the 1941 comic book icon is too much of a sensitive and caring male superhero to be considered a chauvinist.

In an age when political pressures stalled the direct involvement of women in the military, new recruit Steve Rogers maintains persistent and loyal eye contact with his female superior, SSR officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). And he is even more faithful to his fellow Brooklyn buddy, Sgt. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).

As far as personality goes, he’s a kinder, gentler Captain America.But those familiar with the history of this superhero know that this is only the tip of the iceberg (get it, fans?). This is a humble beginning of the character, who was created by legendary Marvel Comic gods Joe Simon and Jack Kirby seventy years ago in order to stir up some fervid patriotism among the nation’s children during World War II.

Through seven hard decades, Captain America has suffered imprisonment, torture, suspended animation, degradation, and even death. In terms of pop media, he actually suffered a fate worse than that when WWII ended: People began to forget about his character and he seemingly vanished in the 1950’s. It wasn’t until March of 1964, when his frozen carcass was found in a floating iceberg, that he resurfaced as the leader of The Avengers.
At first, I rejected the studios’ choice to cast 30-year-old Chris Evans as the celebrated hero. For one thing, he already played Johnny Storm, a.k.a. The Human Torch in “The Fantastic Four.” Any Marvel fanboy who says that’s insignificant is lying. Secondly, I always envisioned the time-honored Captain as an older and wiser soldier; someone who could embody the leadership of John Wayne, the campy loyalty of the G.I. Joe team, and the athletic prowess of Batman.

In all honesty, I was thinking Brad Pitt would be perfect for the part. His memorable portrayal of Lieutenant Aldo Raine in Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” was already an R-rated, masochist Captain America who carved swastikas in the bad guys’ foreheads. George Clooney could have been another viable candidate if he had not humiliated himself in 1997 with “Batman and Robin”.

The logic behind these casting choices relates to the fact that the Captain America of today has been through hell. Like his country’s perpetually diminishing respect around the globe, this hero has survived insult and onslaught. Therefore, it should be a tough and seasoned veteran handling the performance of this great American warrior.

But that’s not what “The First Avenger” is about. These are his formative adventures from long ago, when military colonels were funny like Tommy Lee Jones and American ideology was at its zenith before we went crazy with power in Southeast Asia. Johnston’s introduction to this saga seems to catch the Captain in his most vulnerable and obedient years. Maybe we’ll get to see him become more of the dynamic leader he was always destined to be in “The Avengers”, which will place the period piece character into a modern time frame.

Tommy Lee Jones is in his comfort zone as the intimidating Colonel Chester Phillips. Like Agent K in “Men in Black” or Sam Gerard in “The Fugitive”, Phillips has a way of barking orders in a condescending yet subtle manner that depicts humor as well as bravado. His alliance with Dr. Abraham Erskine (the seemingly omnipresent Stanley Tucci) creates the country first-and-only “super-soldier” when the 90-pound Rogers is injected with super-serum and lit up with vita-rays.

The all-time accountable villain actor Hugo Weaving wears his best nasty face (literally) to play Nazi officer Johann Schmidt, who eventually will become the Red Skull. He and his men steal a mysterious cubic prism from a Norwegian castle early in the story.

Naturally, this “jewel of Odin’s treasure room” is merely a MacGuffin used to motivate the mad scientist villain towards his destructive goal. Since Weaving is so well versed as a diabolical supervillain, it’s only naturally to cast Toby Jones as his sniveling sidekick. Jones, who marvels in these kinds of roles (he played Karl Rove and Swifty Lazar in the same year), brings a simpering Renfield quality to Weaving’s Nazi Dracula.

Like Johnston’s underappreciated previous action flick, “The Rocketeer” (1991), the film has a ton of tight action sequences that are presented in a much more discernible and entertaining way, rather than the contemporary blockbusters (cough, cough, Transformers). In other words, you can actually follow the action and catch your breath between the explosions because there is an unfolding storyline.

Even more appealing is the fact that these action/chase sequences are evenly timed out to honor the tradition of 1930’s film serials. Spielberg himself paid respect to the cliffhanger style of fragmented short movies when he made “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1982.

Chris Evans is no Indiana Jones, but the dramatic timing of action is not far away from those golden fight scenes. Modern action filmmakers could learn a thing or two from the pace of action in “Captain America”, instead of burying their audiences with overlong apocalyptic destruction of cities in 3-D.

Speaking of which, I saw this movie in 3-D and I would politely advise against it. The movie is great fun and about as cheesy as a Hasbro cartoon. But like every other action film I’ve seen since “Avatar”, the 3-D effects just aren’t worth the headache and diluted color palette that suffers in the transformation. Ever feel like you’ve been under a fluorescent light for two hours when you’re handing back your glasses? I do.

I didn’t see “X-Men: First Class” or “Green Lantern” so I can’t say “Captain America” is the best superhero movie of the summer. I can say that is an improvement for Marvel Studios after “Thor”, which was fine, if not a bit too cosmic and surreal. Fans won’t have to wait too long to catch either of these heroes again Joss Whedon unites them for “The Avengers” next year.

Now that we’ve all been briefed about Captain America’s past missions with “First Avenger”, we can determine what he can do for contemporary America today. Let’s have him start by saving the economy.

This late note is for those who have already seen the picture: SPOILER ALERT.

Is there anything funnier than the kid who gets thrown into the water by the fleeing bad guy? In all my life of watching action hero movies, I have never before seen an innocent bystander get thrown into the lake . . . WHO CAN ACTUALLY SWIM! This quick joke made me laugh out louder and harder than anything else I’ve seen this summer. I wonder if anyone else got the joke.

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Movie Review: BATMAN FOREVER (1995)

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Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring: Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones
Review by Andrew Kosarko


The third installment in the “Batman” series. Here the Caped Crusader must once again contend with two strange-looking, personality-impaired villains. First, there’s maniacal ex-DA Harvey Two-Face, so named because half his countenance has been horribly disfigured by acid. Then there’s the wise-cracking, hyperactive Riddler, whose alter-ego Edward Nygma is a nerdy, highly disgruntled ex-employee of Bruce Wayne. Together, these two masterminds plan to conquer the world with a device that not only mesmerizes users with 3-D television images, but also transports the viewer’s thoughts into the Riddler’s mind. Batman also has to contend with two other new people in his life. One is lovely psychiatrist Chase Meridian, who has fallen in love with Batman AND Bruce Wayne. Then there’s Dick Grayson, a young, orphaned acrobat who desperately wants to become Batman’s crime-fighting sidekick in order to get revenge on the man responsible for his parents’ death: Harvey Two-Face.


“Maybe, maybe not. You could say we’re of two minds of the subject. One man is born a hero, his brother a coward. Babies starve, politicians grow fat. Holy men are martyred, and junkies grow legion. Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Luck! Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck!” That’s Two Face’s opening speech. That’s the high mark of this film pretty much. The only time someone really *nails* their character’s portrayl. From that point on, it’s pretty much down hill, with one exception that I’ll get to later.

The Story: Batman and Two Face are going at it. That’s right, no real origin for Two-Face. Just him and Batman battling it out over little clever crimes built around the number 2. Meanwhile, all this Batman-ism is causing Bruce Wayne to have a lack of a love life and piss off his employees at Wayne Enterprises. One of which is Edward Nigma, the Riddler, who decides to go into business for himself and suck the minds of Gotham with a 3-D TV Projector do-wap thingy. And on top of all this, drop Robin in there too. The main problem with this plot is basically the same problem as every other Batman film (Sans Batman 1989 but including even Nolan’s newer films), Batman wants to stop being Batman to live as Bruce Wayne. Normally I wouldn’t harp on it, but it’s the primary focus of this film. Batman is original because he’s one of the few superheroes who embraces his calling. Once he becomes Batman, he IS Batman. There is no looking to get out of it. If anything, Bruce Wayne is the one who falls by the wayside. Which they dipped their toe in that pool in Batman Begins but decided otherwise in The Dark Knight. It’s really boring seeing every superhero “giving up the costume” for a normal life. Save that for Superman and Spider-man, aka heroes who have their calling forced upon them. Furthermore, the villains of Two-face and the Riddler are basically just watered down Joker rip off’s after Batman Returns’ dark evil baby killing penguin made parents cause an uproar.

Acting: As stated above, Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are enjoyable…..if they were playing the Joker. Both are upbeat and sinister. Which is alright for little kids. But for the more adult crew, it’s a little too over the top. At least for me it is. As far as Val Kilmer goes, I am one of the few people who hate him in the role. Now he’s passable as Batman. I can manage…..some of the time. But as Bruce Wayne he commands no attention from me. He just bores the hell out of me. I don’t know why, because he’s amazing in Heat. But this go around he just annoys me because he’s so boring. Nicole Kidman is the love interest and I really can’t find myself interested in her either. I honestly don’t find her attractive and it’s just a generic role. They don’t even take enough liberties with her shrink role to make her and Batman’s relationship interesting. The single greatest acting in the film, in my humble opinion, is out of Chris O’Donnell. Aside from “Holy rusted metal Batman!” He nails down Robin and Dick Grayson just the way I think he should be. You can’t tell me watching him beat the living hell out of Two Face on the rocks (That was for my mother! My father! My brother! And this is for me!) is not badass. I’m sorry. It is one of the few times Robin and badass are in the same sentence. I really wish the next installment had taken it more seriously because I think he’s the perfect Robin. He was able to bring a tragic past to the role and I’ve never really heard anyone mention the common homosexual nature that normies mock when it comes to his portrayal of the character. Sure there’s some moments where it gets implied, namely the bondage comparison of him being equal to Batman as the love interest, but that’s the script and Joel Schumacher’s fault.

Directing: Speaking of Captain Schumacher, let’s get into that shall we. Dude….you made A time to Kill. The Lost Boys. You can’t make a dark, yet not too dark for the kids Batman movie? Now I don’t blame you entirely, as the studio pressure is to blame as well. But I mean, come on. You could have tried a little. The second the electrified thug in the first scene started making the sound my little brother makes by smooching his lips together, humming and moving his finger up and down, I knew this movie would disappoint. I would like to see a “directors” cut which limited down the stupid dialogue quips and more of the “red book” subplot about Thomas Wayne’s diary and why Bruce became Batman to begin with. You had a real good chance of showing Bruce wandering off the path he chose for himself and then exploring the origin you wanted. That, and an opening of Arkham Asylum with a murdered guard by Two Face, who then wrote on the wall in the guard’s blood; “The Bat must DIE.” I mean…..come on, that’s awesome.

Cinematography: Please excuse my French, “shitty”. There’s neon lighting littered throughout this movie and it’s really annoying. It’s unnatural and not even used in a stylistic way. I can see the actual lights in more than several shots. I mean, like not accidentally in there, not part of the set, but used for lighting the scene. Come on man. This isn’t an Andy Warhol movie for Christ sake.

Production Design: See the French word above. There’s giant naked men statues littered throughout. The costumes well……we all know about the nipples. I got the idea behind it. Greek Gods. Michelangelo’s sculptures. I get it. But, you have pick or a side here. You’re either making an art movie, a good movie, or a campy mocking movie. Stick to what works.

Editing: It’s fine. Like I said, I just wish that the Red Book storyline or Two Face’s escape from Arkham had not been cut. Otherwise there’s nothing really out of place to me.Score: I’m sorry, after Danny Elfman’s iconic score, either keep it or as the Rock would say, “Bring it.” This score sucks. And I say that as someone who listens to film scores every day. Usually I can listen to most of them no problem. Sure some are better than others, but this is one that annoys the hell out of me. The use of trumpet is…well it’s just too much. You can’t do “heroic” or “dark” with a trumpet. You need a French horn for that kind of tone. This….yeah, sorry. No thanks.

Special Effects: Pretty good seeing as most stuff was done for real and CGI was only used when needed. The plane crash through the sign was good special effects and the CGI for the Nigma Box was good. It matched the tone of the film and was not something that reminded me “I’m watching a movie.”

In closing: This movie is ok for kids to watch. Which is kool. Because kids should get a chance to see a live action Batman that isn’t dark and complex as Nolan’s new film series. But you could it and still have it be good. Batman 1989 is a perfect example of this. But truth be told, this movie is aimed for kids. Kids want the happy meals, the toys, the tee shirts. That’s how you make money. Then again, if you make a quality film, you could make, oh I don’t know, say a billion dollars and then money on the merchandise as well? Oh what do I know? I’m only a person with a vested interest in these films.

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