"How do you feel?"
Fair or not, the United States has a stigma for loving itself. Constant flag-waving, incessant gushing (now, before I anger the droves, I live in the U.S., more specifically NYC, and I love it here. This city and country has things no other can offer, but sometimes you have to take things with a grain of salt. The salt being Yankees fans); this source material looked to be no different. A film that showcases an enhanced war hero that walked around in stars and stripes pajamas? Yikes. Land of the free, and the home of steroid-laden, nationalistic super-humans. Thankfully, I was proven wrong.
Director Joe Johnston first took a shot at capturing Americana with 1991's THE ROCKETEER*; another would-be superhero who wore leather, a helmet, and battled fascism. Johnston spins an equally patriotic and sincere tale here. Earlier efforts behind the camera include JURASSIC PARK III (2001), and most recently THE WOLFMAN (2010)--both largely forgettable. For one reason or another, Johnston seems more comfortable when he delves into areas of this country's past, and the results onscreen are evident.
*A criminally underrated film. A nostalgic what-if, filled with action, great sets, dialogue, and a young Jennifer Connelly. What more could you ask for? It even had John Locke as Howard Hughes!
Steve Rogers is a man determined. Due to his frail physique, he is consistently turned away draft at stations. Rogers as stubborn as he is small, but size be damned, he will enlist if it's the last thing he does. Redemption comes in the form of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a brilliant--and German--scientist that has created a 'super soldier serum:' a substance that increases mass, speed, and most importantly, pectoral muscles in its subjects. The serum provides a a way to point the favour of war in the direction of the allied forces. As Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) tells us, "Wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by men. We are going to win this war, because we have the best men. And they will personally escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of Hell."
Hell it would seem, as already been visited by Johann Schmitt--aka the Red Skull--a ghoulishly sinister agent of Hydra--a German sub-faction that specializes in the scientifically paranormal. At the beginning of the film, Schmitt steals an ancient artifact, the Cosmic Cube; once believed to have been housed in the hallowed halls of Asgard (home to Thor). The cube possesses unspeakable power, although it's mainly used for ahead-of-its-time laser guns.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the screenwriters, smartly steered away from Chris Evans' natural smart-alecky style. Captain America has always been the straightest of arrows; more patriotic than a baseball game that serves apple pie during the seventh-inning stretch. Some comedic relief is sporadically displayed by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), father to the future Iron Man, and through the words and mannerisms of the Hollowin' Commandos (Derek Luke, Neal McDonaugh, among others), Cap's rag-tag hodgepodge of rescued POW's. For the majority of its two-hour running time however, AMERICA focuses on the trials and tribulations of Rogers. Whether or not he can overcome his self-doubt, and on a grander scale, the actions of Hydra.
I'm not as well versed with Captain America's lore, as say the X-Men, so I'm not sure what exactly was canon. Once Rogers bulks up, he is not immediately sent to the front lines. Rather, he is used as a whirlwind marketing tool; a way to boost morale amongst the masses. I enjoyed this "introduction." It seemed a believable manner in which Cap would have been announced. It's only when the life of his friend Bucky Barnes is endangered does he see fit to engage himself in more dire matters.
Captain America and the Red Skull are different souls**, cut from the same cloth. Both are infused with the juiced-up life force, but Rogers is a more than a soldier; he's a good man. Schmitt purely has ugliness in his essence. His end-game is to destroy the world, and reshape it in his twisted, crimson likeness.
**Though, Cap's creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby must have realized the irony in depicting the Nazis greatest foe as a muscle bound, blonde-haired, blue-eyed white man. Hitler's Arian world order wet dream.
To break up the extreme machismo, our female presence is provided by Peggy Carter (a voluptuously beautiful Hayley Atwell), a British operative that provides assistance to Rogers when he needs it most. Carter is alluring yes, but she is also smart and savvy, ready to break a few noses when the situation calls for it. Hers and Rogers' relationship is inevitable, but feels genuine at the same time. She was around before the hoopla that now surrounds the newly crowned savior; she is able to experience what made him Erskine's choice in the first place.
CAPTAIN AMERICA the film is a hugely entertaining ride. While it's a small piece to a larger puzzle which will completed with 2012's release of THE AVENGERS, it still remains a confident standalone work. I've always enjoyed the work of Evans, and once more he returns my faith with a memorable performance that commands the screen. The United States has, and will continue to be a place of excess. Captain America, the man wears a star on his chest and a capital 'A' on his forehead, yet it never (somehow) seems over-the-top. The audacity of his character shines through in a way I didn't expect.