I know I owe you guys another Read Along with Rhube, but I can’t keep it inside any longer: this film was so good. All the squee I had for X-Men: First Class, plus some more, with none of the race and gender issues. If you haven’t already seen this film in the cinema, do it now.
Somewhere in the present day Arctic circle a mysterious and oddly shaped plane is uncovered.
Somewhere in Norway, in 1942, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) and his team of Nazis invade what looks like a monastery to steal a mysterious artifact.
In lots of places around New York at the same time Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a short, skinny man with asthma, is getting rejected from the military again and again. Steve is a nice guy who never backs away from a fight, wants to do his duty, and is mysteriously unable to get women. He’s ‘Hollywood Homely’, in other words – i.e. he’s actually not a dickhead and he’s still really good-looking, but because he’s going to become an enormous stud-muffin we have to pretend for a bit that he can’t get women.
Anyway. On a double-date with his successful military friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve is effectively ignored by the friend of Bucky’s date he’s supposed to be with. So he goes off to try and enlist again, as you do. Bucky realises he’s missing and catches up to go ‘WTF, man, we’re on a date!’ and whilst Steve is going on about how much he wants to help the war effort, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) overhears, and decides to help Rogers enlist by getting him into his special program.
Rogers doesn’t know what Erskine has planned, but when in training test after test reveals that Steve is both smart and a nice guy, Erskine decides that this is his man. During the testing period, Steve also meets Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and the awesome Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Despite his supposed dweebiness, Peggy seems to quite like Steve – probably because she’s neither blind nor an idiot, and he’s blatantly a really nice guy.
So, Steve is chosen for Erskine’s experiment and gets turned into the massive stud-muffin we all expected from the trailers. Unfortunately, a spy for Schmidt somehow got into the room, kills Erskine, and manages to destroy all the serum in the process. It seems that Schmidt was an early experiment of Erskine’s, but because Schmidt was a Bad Man, the serum only made him worse (apparently working on the same theory as ‘only bad witches are ugly’). Rather than an army of supermen, the US now has only Steve, and the program is cancelled. Steve becomes little more than a mascot, ‘Captain America’, shipped around the country with dancing-girls to promote the war effort.
Unsurprisingly, when he’s sent abroad to entertain the troops he’s rather less well received by men who have been fighting and dying in the field whilst he’s been prancing around on stage. As this was never what Steve wanted to do when he was trying to join the army, he’s pretty depressed by this. When he learns that a large number of men, including his friend Bucky, have been captured by Schmidt, Steve decides he can’t sit back and do nothing anymore. With Peggy’s help, he sets off on a one man mission to save the day… and succeeds.
After this success the army sits up and takes notice of him again, and agrees that he can head a team to launch an attack on Schmidt and his organisaton, Hydra, which has broken off from the main Nazi party. Because everyone now agrees that Captain America is properly awesome, Steve is allowed to choose his own men. Of course, he chooses Bucky, as well as a pleasingly mixed race crew of men he freed from Schmidt’s base.
The rest, I’ll leave to your imagination.
How good was it?
This film was so good it was practically erotic. I never really fancied Chris Evans before, but, umm, yeah. Forget whatever rom-com you were thinking of – if you want a date night movie, take your lady/man to see this. Adrenaline + hardbodies = win.
And let’s just give a shout-out to the special effects crew. Watching the trailers I was genuinely curious about whether they used one man or two for their weedy-dude to stud-muffin transformation. It was Chris Evans throughout. The only draw-back was that the voice was slightly off throughout the weedy-Steve scenes. I wouldn’t have thought it mattered, but you could tell it was the voice of a man with a much bigger chest, and it was distracting – not least because I was trying to figure out whether this was a dubbing or effects issue, because I didn’t know if it was the same actor or not. Hopefully I have freed some of you from this by letting you know what I did not.
Apart from the effects and the phaw, though, this was a thoroughly excellent movie throughout. If you’d told me two years ago that Captain America would be up there with my favourite superhero movies of all time I would have been extremely sceptical. This was probably the movie I was looking forward to least of all the Avengers movies. I always thought Captain America was the most ridiculous and least appealing of all superheroes. Sounds like a big, butch, ‘isn’t America wonderful and patriarchal’ vehicle. He also had the dorkiest of all superhero costumes – running around with a freakin’ flag on his chest. Of course, Captain America was originally designed as a propaganda device, so it’s really unsurprising that that’s how he was, but updating him into something plausible and entertaining for the twenty-first century was going to be a real challenge.
And they achieved it. They really did. I gather from my more comics-informed cinema-going companion, Lee Harris, that the weedy-dude underdog aspect wasn’t a part of the original story, which makes it a really smart trick for the movie. This is what saves the picture and transforms it. Instead of taking a jock and just making him more jock-like and launching him on the world to enforce American values, they gave us an everyman figure who’s just a fundamentally nice guy who wants to do his bit in any way he can. He can still go forth as an ideological symbol, but it’s a subtle shift that makes him much more palatable. I also liked the fact that he’s chosen because Erskine, who is not American, identifies with the values that Steve holds dear – not as American values, but as a universal marker of decency. He likes Steve not because he’s ‘All American’ but because he doesn’t like bullies, and because he’s prepared to fight bullies even if he knows he doesn’t have a hope in Hell. It opens the figure out for the rest of the world to make him their own, which is a really difficult thing to do for a character called Captain America.
I also adore Peggy Carter. There’s not a lot of room, in the setting, for believable strong female characters, but they pull it off in a way that X-men: First Class, which had much more room for maneuver, did not entirely succeed. Peggy doesn’t need to be super-powered to kick-ass. She just shows herself to be calm, determined, and a phenomenal shot. When Steve knocks her out of the way of the car Schmidt’s spy is driving at her it’s pretty clear that she actually would have had the bugger if Steve hadn’t got in her way. No martial arts or super-strength required for this lady to kick-ass. What’s more, there were female agents working in the war. There weren’t as many as the men, not by a long shot, but it’s entirely plausible that a character such as Peggy would exist.
I also liked the racial diversity of Captain America’s team. Up until that point in the film my one big reservation was how white it was. I still think the general crowd scenes and the recruitment offices could have been a bit more mixed, but it was awesome to see that Steve selected an African-American and an Asian-American amongst those for his elite team. I gather that this actually reflects the comics, too, which is rockin’, but I also enjoy the treatment of them in the film. Granted, it probably glosses over the racial tensions such a decision probably would have aroused, but this is a long film with a lot going on – it wouldn’t have been possible to cover this in any depth anyway. Plus, there’s an extent to which it’s nice to have non-white people join a group of heroes and have it not be made a fuss of. They’re just the dudes Steve recognised as being awesome. They’re not exceptional for being black or asian, they’re exceptional as people. After what happened to the black and latina characters in X-men: First Class, it was something of a relief.
Overall, this is a truly well-constructed, fast-paced, and engaging action movie that not only treats its source material with respect, but updates it for the tastes of the modern audience. The love story is nice, but under-stated. Steve Rogers is a thoroughly likeable character. I like what it does for race and gender. I’m slightly annoyed with the ‘being bad makes you ugly’ angle (and the implication that only beautiful people are good), but I’m not sure there was a great deal they could do about that without ditching the Red Skull/Schmidt character completely. This film has an absolutely fantastic cast, and they are all bringing it to the table with both wit and poignancy. The special effects are great, and so is the cinematography.
I can’t wait for the Avengers movie – I want more Captain America now.
(P.S. you definitely need to stay after the credits. It’s AWESOME.)