Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

   I've been waiting for this exact movie since the last failed attempt around the nineties. Johnston knocks it out of the park with style, and lots of it.  I loved Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, and I love the direction the movie took with him. Instead of an attempt to infuse Steve with flaws and ethical/moral issues in order to make him an interesting and or compelling character and avoid a bland patriotic mannequin, they instead raise the odds against him consistently, making his patriotism and perseverance endearing and admirable. This was a smart move, but not necessarily an easy one. For this I commend Johnston and crew for making Steve Rogers a noble, selfless character with a big heart and an endearing sense of humor and STILL making his journey interesting and entertaining.

  As an action movie, Captain America offers little you haven't seen before, but you'd be hard pressed to find another movie that delivers it with as much style and flair. Its all the charm, wit, and action of a movie like The Mask of Zorro, Star Trek or GoldenEye, but with a comic book flavor and a large scoop of unbridled red blooded patriotism.  Its a good thing that Captain America makes the hero sympathetic and very human, because if had been played up as a literal superhero, he would have been aloof from his fellow soldiers like a Superman or something, it would have disconnected us from him, leaving us with what would seem like a lot of goofy patriotic shlock.
  Another thing that's pretty important to fanboys like me, is the costume.  Its entirely implausible, but here, in 'The First Avenger' its factored into the story, making it acceptable. Getting back to how its worked into the movie in a minute, I want to address the actual uniform.  I'm glad that they didn't do a spandex-y feel like Spider-Man, and I'm also glad they avoided body-armor like Batman. They made it look very functional, although its probably merely an abstract, I can't (aside from pockets and such) discern any actual distinct functionality here. Alas I shrug. It looks cool and given the context here, it looks acceptable.

  Next, still, about the costume; its implausibility cannot be completely erased by looking militant and functional, so they balance its overt patriotism with the equally flamboyant "Red Skull", who's scary, perfectly villainous look with a quite literal 'red skull' can be taken completely serious when you take his character's obsession with power and the paranormal into account. 
    So, now that you can firmly take the Red Skull seriously, its no big effort to accept the Captain's very 'comic-book' look.

  However if you're actually interested in a movie named "Captain America", odds are you aren't going to quibble over his unbridled patriotic appearance.
   Furthermore, we have Johann Schmidt, ominously dubbed "the Red Skull", a power hungry scientist with a flare for the supernatural.  He's played by Hugo Weaving who delivers a great performance full of great classic villainy. It reminds us why Nazis will always make the best bad guys that you love to hate.  Its a brooding character thats even scarier when we realize he's brash enough to (mild spoilers) break off from Hitler's rule, and branch out Hydra (Hitler's R&D division) into its own powerful faction bent on world domination.  This could be played with a smidge of self-aware grandiose, but it isn't. The Red Skull isn't campy, corny, over-the-top or anything... he's a pitch perfect, evil to the core baddie who's an excellent villain for Captain America.

  Lastly is Stanley Tucci and Hayley Atwell as Dr. Abraham Erskine and Peggy Carter, respectively.  Erskine is as endearing as Rogers as he's the first person to believe in Steve and give him a chance.  His role, although is measurable small, has a massive effect on Steve's character and is truly touching when seen through to its conclusion.  Then there's Peggy Carter, the Captain's love interest. She's a strong character who comes to respect Steve, but whats really cool is the dynamic between them.  It provides some of the movie's best scenes and most honest moments. Very skillfully handled.

 In conclusion, Captain America is a big blockbuster movie with great engaging characters, a lot of heart, a handful of cool thrilling action scenes, and an undeniably endearing hero.
It has the perfect combination of adventure, humor, and romance to put magic back into Saturday matinees. Definitely recommended for a thoroughly fun time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

   Many, many people have bashed this movie like no other, putting it down for everything from lack of direction to being downright childish, however, I have a different take on it. Everything about this movie, the simply adequate acting, the dialog (which ranges from simply passable to downright awful), the special effects, the setting, the story... all of it; It made me want to go out and buy G.I.Joe toys.  The movie even reminded me of actually playing with toys, using your imagination to blow up the Eiffel tower and epic car chases with hot wheels and action figures, and the bad guys always had rockets, misses, spaceships and secret bases.

   The movie is by no means 'good'. It takes the book of "Movie Cliche's" and then shoehorns in all the worst ones. The forced romantic triangle, the "surprise" twist ending and many more.  But it does all this without any creativity. No B-movie flair, no big budget flair, just... dull obligatory scenes that seem to plod on and on and on. The movie also lacks physical depth and presence in a way that makes even Michael Bay's Transformers look like real world Oscar winning material. Anyone over 12 will have a hard time swallowing most of the gunk here.  However, I do have a soft spot for this movie. It reminds me of simpler times.

I don't remember ever focusing on coming up with coherent plots, and good dialog when I used to play with my toys. It was always just shooting, kissing, driving, crashing and everything in sight would explode.  Good times right?  As an actual movie, its frequently dumb, sometimes spectacularly retarded, and offers little more than subjective nostalgia and cool special effects, but AS a nostalgia trip with cool special effects, it works wonderfully in a campy/corny kind of way. The design and look of this movie is pretty cool, the 'Joes are like awesome shiny action figures loaded with extra guns, gadgets, and little blinking lights. Again, I really wanna go out and buy some of these dudes.

   Snake Eyes (seen above) is pretty awesome here as well, as enigmatic and deadly as ever he steals the show on more than one occasion, his sword fights and super-stunts are impressive and sheer awesome eye-candy. Just like the rest of the movie: awesome eye-candy.  The movie makes a few good decisions, it doesn't bog everything down too much trying to be all intellectual with long talky scenes, (mainly cause the few short ones they have feel painfully long anyway) its pretty obvious that it wouldn't be smart to do that in a movie like this.  The second good decision is the non-stop action. Say what you will about the ludicrous plot, the butt-ton of errors, the wooden acting or the horrendous dialog... the action scenes, which comprise 89% of the movie, are indeed really freaking cool.

     Ray guns, hover crafts, stuff blowing up, buildings falling down, underwater action scenes, maniacal bad guys, "accelerator suits", secret lairs and stuff, man...  they took this stuff straight from my childhood backyard. And trust me, my childhood backyard was a fun place to be.  So in short, 'Rise of Cobra' is a missed opportunity. They could've had a decent blockbuster on their hands.
Instead we have what feels like 'Power Rangers' fueled by a gargantuan budget. Does that make the acting any less bad, or the plot make any more sense? No. But the special effects and the action scenes sure are slick, polished, fast, and adequately exciting. So its your call.  I still happen to get nostalgic over Power Rangers. How 'bout you?