BUSAN, South Korea — There is seemingly no end to the comic book adapted genre of film, with a plethora of characters and an even greater number of story arcs, comic giants such as Marvel and DC are happy to cash one check after another on film adaptations of their much beloved franchises.
Consider that word for a moment, "franchise". Nearly everything being churned out of the "Hollywood-work" is an opportunity for studios to create the next big franchise. 'The Green Lantern' was the latest attempt by DC comics, although based on the manner in which that film was received (Hint: NOT very good!), I'm pretty sure they'll be falling back on surefire successes like Batman and the upcoming Superman reboot for the foreseeable future.
Marvel, however, is pumping them out one after another in a build-up to a massive franchise crossover film called 'The Avengers', due out next summer. This all-star assembly of Marvels hottest superhero franchises will consist of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and now Captain America.
The latter two mentions aside, both Thor and Captain America have only just seen their individual origin films released this year. I was unable to review 'Thor', due to time constraints, but it wasn't really much to write home about anyway (pardon the pun). It felt extremely unlikely that 'Captain America' would be a film to capture my attention in such a manner that would lead me to the theater, seeing as how I never bothered to pluck one of his comics from the rack.
I am pleased to report that, with zero expectations going in, 'Captain America' is easily one of the most entertaining films you will see at the theater this summer. This is a big, brawny blockbuster infused with almost the right amount of characterization and drama to balance out the awesome (yet sometimes ridiculous) spectacle of the action sequences. It has a very clear narrative path, working with formula and cliches but for the most part managing to avoid the pitfalls that come part and parcel with this brand of entertainment. It is a flawed, but sincere, piece of entertainment that works with it's clearly defined and extremely likable protagonist, a sinister villain, and a beginning, middle, and end that doesn't leave the film feeling bloated or tiresome.
Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, who is too scrawny and too sickly to be accepted into enlistment to fight the war effort. Yes, I said "war effort", because this just happens to be a period piece set during WWII, so 'Captain America' at least has the distinction of being a super hero film set against this backdrop. It works, to great effect, because director Joe Johnston employs a visual tone that is true to the era, yet adds a modern panache to the way it is presented. It is a great looking film, save for a few hokey looking visual effects, and I am quite remiss in that I was given no other option but to see it in 3D…which does absolutely nothing for the film, and if anything only serves to darken the picture. Save yourself the coin, see it in 2D!
So getting back to our hero, Steve Rogers is accepted as a test subject for a top secret "super solider experiment", in which his puny frame is given the "All You Can Be" makeover. This, of course, eventually leads Steve Rogers to perform a vast number of heroics under the moniker of Captain America, but not before he is forced into propaganda-focused performances which sees his limitless potential as a soldier squandered. It isn't until Captain America stages a daring rescue of POWs that he is recognized as a potential leader in the efforts to stop Red Skull, played by a deftly sinister Hugo Weaving.
'Captain America' is surprising in that it takes one of Marvel's most overlooked characters and places him in a film that is as accessible as it is entertaining. The first half of the film, building some very involving drama around a very sympathetic and likable character, is almost enough to make it one of the best comic book films around, but unfortunately the second half gives itself over to action sequences that are sometimes random in nature. This isn't to say that the action isn't involving or enjoyable, because it's clear we're being given a recap of the various war efforts being led by the Captain, but the narrative is certainly more involved before stuff starts blowing up. There are also the take-it-or-leave-it moments of campiness sprinkled throughout, but I found myself grinning with geeky satisfaction. All told, 'Captain America' is one of the best Marvel films to come out in quite some time, being much better than 'Thor' and even more consistently entertaining than this years 'X-Men: First Class'.
It also serves as a wonderful precursor to 'The Avengers' film, leaving us with a very intriguing ending and even sporting a hidden "Easter egg" at the end of the credits (so stay for that!). So go throw your mighty dollar at the ticket counter to see Captain America throw his mighty shield…I doubt you'll be disappointed. Oh, and help the war effort, buy only 2D movie theater bonds, er, I mean…tickets.