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Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Movie Review


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Spider-Man Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot riding on it. Billed as a coming-of-age story constructed in the vein of a 1980s John Hughes movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming is also the first joint venture between Sony and Marvel with Marvel controlling the content of the film. It brings Spider-Man firmly under the control of Marvel Studios and fully into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is intended to re-launch perhaps the most famous Marvel Comics character into a series of successful solo movies.

It is likely to succeed very well in this ambition.

The best – the very best – thing Spider-Man: Homecoming has going for it is star Tom Holland. Marvel movie fans got a taste of the actor in Captain America: Civil War when he joined the super hero clash and the screen lit up whenever Holland was on it. Pitch perfect in that movie, the actor is even more appealing here in his solo venture. Following two very good performances as Spider-Man (in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield), Holland had a bit to live up to as he stepped into the high tech tights. He is more than up to the challenge. In fact, for my money, he is the best of the bunch. That is saying something as the others were very good themselves.

Tom Holland makes the movie work. Though he is surrounded by wonderful actors (all the students in the movie are terrific, especially Zendaya as Michelle and Jacob Batalon as Ned), his energy outshines them all. This is quite a feat when considering Michael Keaton and Robert Downey, jr (not to mention Jon Favreau) are all on hand. Keaton and Downey, jr as as one would expect, both fully committed to their roles as the antagonist The Vulture and the mentor Iron Man respectively. Keaton, in fact, is a far more fully developed villain than we have come to expect from most Marvel movies and Downey, jr is so good as Tony Stark that it is difficult to determine where the character stops and the actor starts.

A common issue with these movies is that they try to do a bit too much, and Spider-Man: Homecoming suffers a bit from this malady. I loved the cameos (especially the one at the end!) but are they critical to the film? There are some nice set pieces, though some of the action sequences are fairly muddy in their execution. The entire side trip to Washington, DC seems excessive and unnecessary. It seems to me that everything that scene accomplishes could be handled in New York which is where the character belongs. But Spider-Man: Homecoming is Holland’s movie and, while it is not a perfect film, Holland makes up for all of these shortcomings and then some.

Beyond casting Holland, the filmmakers make two important decisions for Homecoming. First, they do not re-tell the origin of the character. Been there. Done that, thank you very much. Second, they put Peter Parker in high school. Spider-Man has always worked best as a teenager going through the struggles of coming-of-age. This Spider-Man has girl troubles, homework and a curfew (that he regularly breaks). He is trying to understand who he is and what he can do. He is carving out his place in the world and the movie does a terrific job with that arc.

Here is a Spider-Man that changes over the course of the film. Here is a Spider-Man that is funny and engaging. Here is a Spider-Man that is not driven by angst (the best versions of the character are not). Here is a Spider-Man that simply wants to be heroic.

Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds in evoking a feel of high school movies of the past (think The Breakfast Club but Anthony Michael Hall with superpowers). It succeeds in incorporating the character into the fuller Marvel Universe. It succeeds in launching this version of the character. It succeeds in being a fun, summer entertainment and places itself firmly on the list of very good – not great – Marvel movies.

In many ways, it does feel like Spider-Man has come home.

 

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING receives FOUR AND A HALF (because Holland is just SO good) FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOODS out of a possible FIVE.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review

Age of Ultron PosterHow does Joss Whedon, writer and director of 2012’s Avengers top his own creation? How does he capture the imagination of the world-wide movie going public and reel them back in for two and a half more hours of Avengers action? How does he out-do what seemed incredibly difficult to do in the first place? These are questions Whedon must have asked himself when he sat down to break story ideas for the sequel that would eventually become Avengers: Age of Ultron. It takes something of a mad scientist to accept this kind of challenge. I, for one, am very glad he did.

I won’t be alone in that assessment.

First things first: it’s eventually going to be very difficult for Marvel Studios to receive both solid reviews and big money for their movies. I thought that the bubble was going to burst with last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy (boy, was I wrong!). Some think it pops with July’s Ant-Man. But there are indications sneaking in at the corners of the reactions to Age of Ultron that some opinions are about to turn and that being great (like Age of Ultron is) is not going to be enough.

People don’t like the New England Patriots. They win too much.

People are going to begin decrying Marvel movies for the same reason. It starts here.

The Junior Senator, as we left Age of Ultron (my second viewing, his first), suggested that some comments he’d read about the film indicated that some people had their narratives already set in their minds and that those narratives were very similar: the movie has too much going on, there are too many characters, the action is too crowded.

Don’t you believe it. When you see Age of Ultron and, if you’re reading this review, you’re likely going to see it, pause for one second and see if you can keep all the characters straight. Forget the big ones from the last Avengers, I’m talking about the ones who weren’t in the last movie. Can you keep War Machine straight from Ultron? Do you confuse Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch? Are you not able to discern between… wait, I won’t name any other new characters because this is a spoiler free review. Suffice it to say that, while there are many new characters and there is a lot going on in Age of Ultron, movie goers can keep it all straight. To suggest anything else is lazy thinking.

I admit that Age of Ultron is a very different movie than Avengers and, as Whedon is a child of The Godfather and Star Wars, perhaps that is to be expected. Modern audiences have grown up thinking the second chapter of a movie series has to unspool with more gravitas than the first. The Godfather II is far darker than The Godfather. It has a far more complex narrative structure, too. Some might argue it’s a better film. The Empire Strikes Back turns away from the almost sunny tone of Star Wars. It tells a far more “adult” tale and the characters suffer significant loss before it’s over. The end is something of a cliffhanger, indicating all is not right in the universe. Just as his contemporary Christopher Nolan put together a bleaker and far deeper Batman sequel in The Dark Knight, Joss Whedon understands that Age of Ultron has to take the characters and tone of Avengers and do something different and more complex with them in the sequel. He succeeds in this goal so well that one of my first reactions to Age of Ultron was loss. I wanted it to be more fun. Avengers was fun and, while Age of Ultron has fun moments, the stakes to the main characters (if not to the world overall) are so much higher in this film that I left the theater a bit wistful… much like the reaction I had to Lando and Chewbacca flying off from the Rebel Armada at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Don’t get me wrong: that’s a very, very good thing!

There is so much to like in this movie. The action of Avengers, which was both exciting and verging on overpowering, is superseded by what occurs in Age of Ultron and Whedon has a more sure hand with it. Rather than roll the last act (big good vs. big bad’s minions) as one, long fight sequence, Whedon intersperses the explosions and slow motion battle with honest-to–goodness character moments that work. They work because the audience cares about the characters, some of them introduced earlier in the movie. While there are plenty of incredible set pieces on hand, they are balanced throughout the course of the movie by smaller and more intimate moments.

The cast is wonderful – so comfortable in their roles and so believable in them, too. It’s difficult to single any of them out as either the weak link of the ensemble or the stand out. Robert Downey, jr. once told us onscreen that he is Iron Man, and it’s impossible to argue the point; I don’t know where Downey ends and Tony Stark begins. Chris Evans takes Captain America – a character who could be painfully one note – and makes him somehow nobly tragic. Thor, as played by Chris Hemsworth, is quite amusing. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is the everyperson eye into the team. They are all damn good in the roles and very fun to watch.

Scarlet Johanssen as the Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk deserve special mention, not because they are any better than their co-stars, but because the script does call for a little more from them. The scenes they share are almost poignant and they are every bit the match for them. It might be difficult to find deeper, emotional moments in a green-screen spectacle, but these two manage to do it and make it look easy.

A review of Age of Ultron would not be complete without a mention of James Spader as the artificial intelligence called Ultron, bent of revenging himself against the Avengers and, of course, destroying humanity. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen the film twice and, on the second viewing, I really watched Ultron carefully. It’s an incredible movie creation, to be sure, but I had read that Spader did the motion capture work himself and one can really tell it’s Spader bringing the character to life. It’s not just the actor’s voice (which is perfect by-the-way), it’s the physicality of the role. Spader doesn’t voice the character. He plays the character and he stands toe-to-toe with the likes of Downey, jr., Evans and Hemsworth who’ve played their respective characters time-and-again. Spader makes Ultron a special villain. That’s more than half the battle in a movie like this.

Age of Ultron has a lot going for it before it starts. It has a built-in audience. It has a tremendous cast. It has special effects wizards on hand. It also has a very smart and snappy script. More on the smart in a moment. Whedon’s Avengers are so quippy, they sometimes sound as though they’ve been written by Aaron Sorkin and have stepped directly off the set of The West Wing. This is fine by me and it serves the movie well when Ultron trades barbs with the team. At one point, after a particularly amusing comment by Ultron, Iron Man says “he beat me to that one by one second.” Part of the fun here is the verbal jousting among the characters. It amuses throughout the movie and, if some of the references are a bit off the beaten path (“Banksy” anyone?), that’s okay. It’s a Joss Whedon script. We should know what we’re in for.

It must be challenging to surprise us with these movies at this point. It must be difficult to develop a story that keeps our attention. No longer can these movies rely solely on their amazing special effects (which Age of Ultron has in spades). They have to do something more, they have to tell these heroic tales with a different spin, they have to – dare I write it – inspire their audiences to think.

There is a lot to think about in Age of Ultron. There are questions raised of trust and of heroism, of parenting and of friendship, of science and of faith. Blithely dismissing the possibility that such issues could be raised in superhero fare is a mistake. Between the robots and the superheroes and the explosions and the quips, there are some pretty serious questions being posed. Good on Joss Whedon for doing so.

Age of Ultron has an almost two and a half hour running time, but it feels light on its feet and, when it’s over, it promises us that “The Avengers Will Return.” I will be there when they do.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON receives FOUR AND A HALF “I Bet You Didn’t See That Comings” out of a possible FIVE.

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Iron Man 2 – A Movie Review

image from IMDB.com.

image from IMDB.com.

Though I am writing this review in 2015, less than a week before the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I am attempting to place myself back in the mindset of 2010 when Iron Man 2 was released and it became clear that Robert Downey, jr, could carry even a not-so-great Marvel movie.

Let’s get this out of the way: Iron Man 2 is simply not as good as Iron Man. It’s not even a close race.

Let’s get this out of the way, part two: Don Cheadle is better than Terrence Howard as Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes.

Let’s get this out of the way, part three: Iron Man 2 has an awful lot in common with Spider-Man 3, the movie that all but killed the Spider-Man movie franchise: too many villains, a highly convoluted plot, special effects that almost overwhelm the narrative and a protagonist that behaves wildly out of character for a few scenes.

And yet, Iron Man 2 emerges from all of this as a pretty enjoyable movie that continues Marvel Films’ process of creating a remarkable shared universe. Most of the credit for that has to go to Robert Downey, jr.

There is way too much going on in Iron Man 2 and that may not be director/writer Jon Favreau’s fault. This movie begins to really define the so-called “Marvel House Style” and this means that Easter Eggs and set up for future movies must be a part of the business at hand. It also mandates cameo appearances, continuation of storylines from prior films and set up for future ones. That’s a bunch to juggle. While I love the Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Black Widow stuff, I just named 3 characters that have very little to do with Iron Man himself and that would be second bananas in other films, barely having any screen time. In this one, they are more than supporting characters, they each advance pieces of the plot (in this movie and for other films) and, therefore, take away from the main characters’ story.

There is a story for the main characters and, I would guess, that’s the story that Favreau was really intending to make. Tony Stark is about to go off the rails as the movie begins. He’s being poisoned by the very invention that keeps him alive and he is confronting his own mortality. Further, it’s become clear to the world that Iron Man is a political force and one that is outside of any government and, therefore, uncontrolled by any government. Called to appear before Congress, Stark is taken to task for his proprietary control of the Iron Man technology and refuses to acknowledge that the United States (or any other government for that matter) should be at all concerned about what he chooses to do in his armor. Here, Stark confronts his own morality.

In the background is a developing romance with Pepper Potts, played to great effect by Gwenyth Paltrow. Pepper is more than window dressing in the movie, and that’s refreshing for a superhero romp. Paltrow and Downey, jr. have real chemistry and their scenes together crackle. They are an onscreen couple that works and Paltrow’s Pepper is a force to be reckoned with throughout the movie.

Stark is also supported by Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Don Cheadle takes over the role in this movie and he is terrific. He’s one part best dude and one part Jiminy Cricket to Tony Stark and things really get happening when Rhodes dons the so called “War Machine” armor. Yes, we get the obligatory superhero v. superhero fight, but we get something even more interesting later in the film when Rhodes, a solider, is forced to choose between friendship and country. A different actor than Cheadle might phone this thing in. He simply doesn’t.

There are 2 villains on hand in Iron Man 2 and it’s like an NFL team having two quarterbacks – if you have 2, you don’t have 1. I think that Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is completely awesome. Rockwell himself is a fun actor and he plays his role here as something of an anti-Tony Stark. He’s rich. He’s smart. He has power, but he comes off like the kid always picked last in elementary school a, trauma he’s never gotten over. He’s a step back, a few stones less, a quip behind Downey, jr.’s Tony Stark throughout the movie, and it’s great to watch. He doesn’t come off as a Jeff Bridges retread because Rockwell is so fun. In fact, Justin Hammer would have been villain enough for the movie and, in fact, he could have carried almost all of the action that is given to villain number 2: Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko.

Mickey Rourke seems to be one weird dude and he brings all the oddness to his work in Iron Man 2. When creating villains, writers often attempt to recast the hero’s story in darker shades and that’s exactly what we get in Rourke’s Vanko. He’s the son of a brilliant scientist. Check. He’s incredibly smart. Check. He can create technology no one else can. Check. He’s like Iron Man but from Russia! Check. And he’s pretty one note. There’s no arc for Vanko. He’s given some fun speeches – his “There’s blood in the water and the sharks will come” sounds so good it seems ad libbed – and an okay gig in his laser whips, but all of that doesn’t amount to a very compelling villain. He’s pretty forgettable.

So, Iron Man 2 is pretty packed already and we’ve not hit Scarlet Johanssen’s Black Widow, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Stark Expo and Tony’s discovering of a new element yet… and we won’t. Johanssen’s good. The Grand Prix scene is fun. The Stark Expo is cool. Tony’s discovery of a new element is deus ex machina of the highest order.

But, here’s the thing: it’s all too much. This movie is so over stuffed it falters under its own weight. It’s so full, characters simply leave the movie having really played no role in it at all (hello Agent Coulson, goodbye Agent Coulson). it’s so strange that it even contains a Gallagher reference. Is it bad? No – Downey, jr. and Paltrow and Cheadle and Rockwell are so fun that they make it worth the price of admission. Is it good? No – but it’s a Marvel Movie, so it gets more benefit of the doubt than it should.

Iron Man 2 is one of the lowest points of the Marvel Films, which is a shame.

Iron Man 2 receives TWO AND A HALF exploding watermelons out of a possible FIVE.

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Iron Man – A Movie Review

image from IMDB.com.

image from IMDB.com.

Though I am writing this review in 2015, two weeks prior to the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I am attempting to place myself back in the mindset of 2008 when Iron Man was released, when Marvel Films was not cranking out hit-after-hit, and when few were certain that Robert Downey, jr could carry a movie as a lead anymore.

From its first moment, Iron Man knows what it is and what it’s doing. What Iron Man is is a high-octane, laugh-out-loud, grab ’em and don’t let go action movie that is fun from start to finish. What it’s doing is apply a pitch-perfect tone adapting an American literary genre that has – too often in the past – been taken too lightly or too seriously. When you take comic books too lightly, camp becomes the order of the day. When you take comic books too seriously, the result is painful and overwrought.

When you hit the sweet spot (say with Superman the Movie or Spider-Man 2) the audience is treated to wonderful spectacle, heroic adventure and an iconic rendition of a character. All actors who have or will play Superman will be judged by the standard Christopher Reeve set. All who put on Spider-Man’s tights will be following Tobey Maguire’s terrific performance. We can add Robert Downey, jr’s Iron Man to this list.

From his first moment on-screen, riding in a Humvee on his way back from a successful demonstration of military hardware, Downey, jr. commands the entire movie as Tony Stark, brilliant inventor and scientist with an outsized ego and an oversized wit. Smooth, engaging and impossibly charming, Downey, jr. delivers each of his lines in the film – in the Iron Man armor and out of it – as though he’s making them up as he goes along. At each step of his development as an unlikely hero, Downey jr. seems as surprised by how events are unfolding around him as the audience is. If there is a recent better fit for an actor to a role than this, I am hard pressed to recall it. Downey, jr. is simply perfect. Primarily because of his performance, we care more about Tony Stark out of the armor than we do about him in it, and for a movie about a superhero, that’s a pretty rare feat.

Downey, jr. is well supported by a great cast. Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard are very good in second banana roles, Paltrow as Stark’s executive assistant Pepper Potts who may or may not develop into his love interest and Howard as Stark’s best friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes whose job in the movie is to play conscience to Stark’s man-child proclivities. Neither actor is stretched much beyond the comfort zone, but they fit the flavor of the movie very nicely.

Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, seems to be having just as much fun as Downey, jr. His Obadiah Stane is one part corporate titan, one part father-figure and one part ruthless business man. Of all the actors, Bridges is the only one who truly matches Downey jr. in terms of wild energy and emotion and his off-kilter line delivery is a pleasure. His plaintive “Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave… out of a box of scraps!” is likely not destined to be the most quoted line of his movie career, but perhaps it should be. I can’t say I’ve seen all of Bridges’ movies, but I think I can say without fear of being contradicted that he’s never played a role like this one and, just when he could chew scenery and take Stane completely over-the-top, he doesn’t. He’s a great foil for Stark.

The plot itself adheres very closely to the Iron Man origin story in the comics, but not so slavishly that the magic of the creation is lost in translation. At its heart, Iron Man is a redemption story and there is no better actor working today to place in the center of such a story than Downey, jr. That the audience has as much fun getting to the redemption as the actors seem to be having is a great testament to the direction of Jon Favreau. Every choice he makes, from set piece to soundtrack, seems inspired and all of them lead to a terrific finished product.

And when we get to the “secret” ending, we know there is a wider plan at work for Marvel’s movies, and we’re thrilled by its potential.

IRON MAN receives FIVE FUNVEES out of a possible FIVE.

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What Do YOU Need To Know Before Age Of Ultron?

UltronAvengers: Age of Ultron opens in just over two weeks. People like me have been ready for this since the last frame of Avengers un-spooled three summers ago. People like… most everyone else in the movie going public … are looking forward to the movie, too, I am sure, but they may not have hung on all the details and minutiae between the two movies. So, as a public service, here’s all you need to know!

IRON MAN WAS WORSE, IS BETTER

After saving New York from an alien invasion in Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, jr) further committed to a romantic relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow )went through a rough stretch of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, saved the life of the President of the United States, fought alongside Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), and hired former SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to work for Stark Industries. He also destroyed all his Iron Man armors. All this happened in Iron Man 3 (reviewed HERE). He seems to have fully recovered from PTSD and has built new armors judging from The Age of Ultron previews. We may or may not see Pepper in the movie but we know we will see Iron Patriot.

CAPTAIN AMERICA HAS A HARD LIFE

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed HERE)Cap found out that S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated for years by Hydra, a Nazi off-shoot, and had to destroy the organization. He also discovered his best friend, Bucky Barnes, who was thought to be killed during World War II was actually still alive. Good news? No, because Bucky had become Soviet super assassin The Winter Soldier who beat Cap in battle at the end of Winter Soldier. Rough life, Cap. I bet you liked the mid-20th century better.

S.H.I.E.L.D. IS NO MORE

Following the events of Captain America: The Winter Solider, the covert spy organization no longer exists in the form it had in previous Marvel movies. Though some agents are trying to hold it together, S.H.I.E.L.D (and erstwhile director Nick Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] who has let the world think him dead since the end of The Winter Soldier), is not the force it once was. “So what’s with that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D show? It shows the activities of former S.H.I.E.L.D agents, led by fan-favorite and new S.H.I.E.L.D Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) trying to keep the group running. No word on whether Coulson (who died in Avengers, remember?) or any of his team will make an appearance.

THOR SAVED THE WORLD. 

In Thor: The Dark World (reviewed HERE), everyone’s favorite, hunky Asgardian Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saved the world but lost his mother. Oh and he fought Loki, his brother, again. And Loki kind of won. But Thor doesn’t really know it. Don’t expect to see Loki in Age of Ultron. We’ll see him again in Thor: Ragnarok in a few years.

THERE ARE MIRACLES IN THE WORLD

The “stinger” scene after The Winter Soldier introduced us to “the twins” who were called “miracles” by a character named Baron Von Strucker (I suspect his movie backstory will come in Age of Ultron). These two are the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). There is a massively complicated comic book history here, but all you need to know is this: they are powerful “miracles” who will play a big role in the movie. They are not “mutants.” That term, along with those characters most associated with it – The X-Men – is owned by Fox.

TONY STARK MADE A BIG MISTAKE

In the comics, Ultron is created by an Avenger: Hank Pym also known as Ant-Man. Now, Ant-Man isn’t in Age of Ultron. He’s got his own movie coming out in July and Hank Pym in that film is not a contemporary of the Avengers as he’s played by Michael Douglas. Ignore all that. This movie features Tony Stark creating something that lead to Ultron. Nice work, Tony.

J.A.R.V.I.S. MIGHT HAVE  A BIG MOMENT

J.A.R.V.I.S. (Just Another Really Very Intelligent System) is the computer system that is the I.T. behind Iron Man. Edwin Jarvis, as established in Agent Carter, was Howard Stark’s butler whom, presumably, Tony Stark knew as a child. J.A.R.V.I.S. is voiced by actor Paul Bettany. Paul Bettany is playing android superhero The Vision in Age of Ultron. Is it possible that J.A.R.V.I.S. becomes The Vision?

ultron

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Captain America: The First Avenger – A Movie Review

Captain-america-first-avenger-movie-posterIt’s hard to remember now but when Captain America: The First Avenger premiered in 2011, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t nearly as established as it is now. Much of the movie-going public is eagerly awaiting the opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron in a scant four weeks but, 4 years ago, the so-called “stinger” after the credits of Captain America: The First Avenger was a scene from and preview for The Avengers. The monster didn’t yet have its feet entirely under it.

And, while the Marvel Movie Monster certainly walks now, it’s worth considering that it wouldn’t be on such steady legs if not for Chris Evans and his spot on performance as Steve Rogers – Captain America.

Sure, one can convincingly argue that Robert Downey jr’s Tony Stark is the real energy of the Marvel movies but Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers is absolutely its soul.

Evans is terrific in Captain America: The First Avenger. The film is a standard origin story (though it’s worth pointing out that the entire movie actually plays out in flashback) featuring the ever terrific Hugo Weaving as the villainous Red Skull, an adversary who is perfectly matched against Captain America. The Red Skull and Captain America are opposite sides of the same coin: super soldiers battling for a supremacy of ideals. Captain America represents the “little guy.” He doesn’t like bullies and doesn’t give up. The Red Skull represents the triumph of power. He is a bully – outsized and over-weaponized – and he is maniacal in pursuit of his desires.There are no major surprises between the two foes in Captain America: The First Avenger. The audience knows which side will win out in the end, watching Rogers come into his own during the course of the film is where the enjoyment lies.

The computer generated effects that slim Evans down as the 90-pound-weakling Steve Rogers in the first act of the movie are so incredible it’s possible to believe that, Tom Hanks like, Evans somehow lost weight and height to play the part. But what makes the early scenes of the weakling Rogers work is Evans’ performance. He’s strong and earnest, even as he gets the tar repeatedly knocked out of him (“I can do this all day”) and he is clearly heroic before he dons the stars and stripes and becomes a hero. One can make the case that the character is more interesting before his epic transformation and that’s a credit to the actor and to the script. The most intriguing part of Steve Rogers is what drives him prior to becoming Captain America and Evans plays that very well. It’s not that he isn’t equally convincing in his beefed up, hero role – he is – it’s simply a testament to his work that he’s equally interesting before putting on his mask. This tension between super hero and secret identity is a challenge to pull off well. Evans and the film handle it beautifully and success here sets up the rest of the movie to work as well as it does.

Having a great cast doesn’t hurt, either.Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci are always great to watch and both are in top form here. Neither suggests he is “above” the material and both pull attention each time they are on camera. Tucci, in particular, makes a great impression in limited screen time and his relationship with Evans gives the film its foundation. Toby Jones is creepy and crawly as Armin Zola, the Red Skull’s lackey, and Sebastian Stan does fine work as Rogers’ best friend Bucky Barnes. We know to keep an eye on him, don’t we? Haley Atwell is on board as Agent Peggy Carter and also does a nice job here. In her case, when the film veers too closely to putting her in standard “superhero girlfriend territory,” Atwell seems to sense it and breaks the mold. She is never relegated to that position because her performance is strong enough to compete with the likes of Jones and Evans. Her great work in the movie is why the character has become a fan favorite and was even awarded her own tv series (Agent Carter) this year.

Veteran director Joe Johnston knows his way around action scenes and the movie looks great. One of the best gags you’ll find in any superhero movie is in this one when Captain America is first put in costume. His early togs are a direct translation of his traditional comic book costume and he looks completely ridiculous. It’s a great moment that Johnston plays for good comedic effect and comedy is actually in no short supply in the film. This is a good thing. While it doesn’t trivialize the subject matter and doesn’t play as smarter than the material, Captain America: The First Avenger understands that all of this can be fun, too. Johnston brings a nice comedic eye to the work.

He also brings a truckload of homages. There are so many winks to the original Star Wars trilogy – all three films – and the Indiana Jones movies that there are actually a little distracting. I lost track at 7 different scenes or lines intentionally (I hope!) cribbed from these classics. That’s a few too many for my tastes.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun movie. It’s a solid origin story that sets up many narrative plot points that later Marvel Movies have picked up. It also introduces audiences to the heart and soul of the Avengers and manages to have both drama and laughs on the way. Chronologically, it also comes first in the Marvel Movie timeline. There could be worse starts.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER receives FOUR SHOTS OF SCHNAPPS out of a possible FIVE. 

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The Avengers Sing Christmas Carols!

This one sings… er… speaks for itself.

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Filed under Christmas, Comic Books, Holidays, Movies, Superheroes