As there's something about the the 1930s-1940s that appeals to me, I tend to prefer movies set in the era and made in its cinematic style. And being fond of the adventure genre, I anticipate movies like the Indiana Jones trilogy, "The Rocketeer", "Sky Captain And the World of Tomorrow", "The Mummy" (1999) and, of course, "Captain America".
When I first heard about this movie, my expectations soared. The director was Joe Johnston, who made my favorite superhero movie, "The Rocketeer". It was set during WWII, made in a 1940s style, and scored by Alan Silvestri. Alas, my heart sank after I found out that they were going to do the whole frozen alive storyline I've always hated. But, I reasoned, the only reason they are making it is because of "The Avengers". Without that storyline, they wouldn't even be making it. Beggars can't be choosers.
Well, after two years of waiting, I got to see the movie. And to my surprise, it surpassed my high expectations. I didn't even hate the ending, although I would have much preferred a happier one more in line with the original 1940s comics (in which Cap stays in his own era, then fights commies in the 1950s). So, here are my thoughts on the movie.
Chris Evans was great as Captain America. He nailed the character. After watching him as Captain America, I can't see anyone else in the role. The special effects performed on him to make him look skinny for the first part of the movie were absolutely seamless. If I hadn't known about them, I wouldn't have been able to tell they were there. But those effects would not have looked nearly so great if it had not been for Evans convincingly "acting skinny". No matter what condition Steve Rogers is in, shrimp or super soldier, Chris Evans portrayed him flawlessly.
It was refreshing to see a non-angsty, pure-hearted hero for the first time in a while. Instead of portraying Cap with irony or satire, they took him seriously, and it really payed off. Cap, despite (or because of) his delightful simplicity and earnestness, comes across as incredibly deep and human, proving once again that the notion of the old-fashioned hero being inferior to his modern antihero counterpart is merely a haughty assumption.
Hugo Weaving's Red Skull was effectively menacing, darkly humorous, and overall deliciously like an old-fashioned serial villain. Haley Atwell was charming, feisty and classically beautiful as Peggy Carter. Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine was played to perfection, Tommy Lee Jones was a scene-stealer of the highest order, Toby Jones was very memorable as a sympathetic, almost lovable Arnim Zola, Richard Armitage was effectively despicable, Dominic Cooper was good as Howard Stark, and Neal McDonough made his presence known despite very little screen time. Sebastion Stan was also quite good as Bucky, although he wasn't quite as memorable as many of the others.
Visuals and Action.
My feelings on the visuals are mixed. I was hoping for a bit more of a photo-realistic feel, but it instead looks a bit too much like "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (a movie whose visuals I like very much, but would prefer to be a novelty, not the norm). That said, the use of wide lenses did help make it look more real than many other movies with such massive amounts of CGI. The color in many scenes is quite good, or at least by today's standards. I did dislike the muted color used in some of the winter scenes, though. I wish they had gone for more of a Technicolor look, but I'm pretty satisfied with the look of the movie, except for the winter scenes.
I didn't like the action montage too much, as it had some slow-motion effects, as well as giving off a feeling that you're being cheated out of some scenes. I also thought that the motorcycle-chase felt somewhat rushed. Other than that, however, I did like most of the action scenes. The Kruger chase, Cap's first mission, and the final fight with Red Skull were standouts.
I would have preferred that the HYDRA soldiers' uniforms look a bit more Nazi-like, but the look they have works well. Red Skull doesn't care about them as individuals. He is the Hydra, and they are merely his many identical heads. Thus, their faceless, almost robotic look works very well.
Silvestri's score is the best superhero score in years. His main theme unfortunately doesn't have the "flow" that some of his better works do, and seems a little clunky at first. But after you hear it a few times, it grows on you. It's now stuck in my head. Overall, Silvestri's score hits all the right notes, and captures menace, adventure, and every other mood required of it, while having actual themes. Media Ventures, eat your collective heart out.
The humor was great throughout. The levels of "heart" were set to maximum. The romance, although sparse, was memorable. Everything was portrayed swiftly, without padding, The plot was very well thought out. Memorable lines and scenes abound. Overall, the writing was excellent. Some things that I particularly liked were Steve's journey from shrimp to super-soldier, the USO scene, Cap's first mission, the role-reversal with Bucky, and the romance. I also liked how Red Skull was his own boss. It gave him more menace. Plus, using HYDRA ironically makes it feel more historically accurate. Having Captain America defeat the Nazis would mess with history too much, and having him lose to them just wouldn't do. All I really disliked were Bucky's death and Captain America getting frozen alive. That could work well in some movies, but a 1940s-style adventure of this sort just cries out for a happy ending. Plus, the modern-day bookends detract from the overall atmosphere. Still, the final scenes were poignant, although out-of-place.