Thursday, August 04, 2011

Revenge of the Nerd

How do you make a patriotic, pro-America action-adventure in an era of perceived American imperialism? Take the action back to World War Two, of course. Captain America: The First Avenger - named in anticipation of Marvel Studios' upcoming Avengers movie, in which El Capo teams up with Thor, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk - is styled after the man-on-a-mission matinees of the 1940s, which once inspired George Lucas to create an archealogical adventurer called Indiana Smith (true story). The film succssfully evokes the spirit of a bygone era - a time when men were real men, women were real women, and superheroes were genetically enhanced one-time super weaklings.

That particular reversal is an invention of the filmmakers, and it is to their credit. In the comic book, even before he became Captain America, Steve Rogers was a six foot five inch, 220 pound Olympian athlete. By recasting Rogers as a plucky 90 pound asmatic with deluions of adequacy as a soldier, Joe Johnston (the director) and his cohots have wrestled the superhero movie out of the arms of the bullies. More precisely, the filmmakers have created a character, in the form of Chris Evans' shy but determined Cap, to which all nerdy boys with a penchant for power fantasies can relate. His bashful romance with British Secret Service Agent Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) is endearingly sweet and his motives for going to war shamelessly well intentioned.

Adding to the fun-factor are a brace of talented character actors who revel in the chance to play broad. Stanley Tucci as the German scientist who developed the Super Soldier serum before fleeing to the United States to escape the Nazis; Tommy Lee Jones as the disapproving but ultimately noble General; and Toby Jones as the oddly-accented accomplace of Hugo Weaving's Red Skull - a man who is too evil even for the Nazis.

The story itself is rather thin on the ground - the Red Skull is harnessing the Power of the Gods to hold the rest of the world to ransom - and the action is a bit too predictable, but in an era of cynical cash-ins with no artistic value what so ever, it is hard to argue with the promise of two hours of jolly escapism in the company of a likeable lead.


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