26 July 2011

The Sentinel of Liberty

My wife and I were also Captain and Mrs. Captain
America before such things were cool. (Halloween 2009)

Remember when I said that Thor was a great movie and that Chris Evans would have a tough time edging out the performance Chris Hemsworth delivers? Well, Captain America: The First Avenger is the BEST movie and Chris Evans does it.

When you look at the character of Steve Rogers, there are a number of things to admire. The one that always stood out to me is that he makes me forget about the petty nonsense that bogs down this country time and again. He isn't dictated by party lines and doesn't attempt to support one side over the other. Instead, Captain America attempts to showcase what makes the United States great. Where Superman represents the human ideal, Cap always represents the American ideal. 

Steve Rogers is a good man who strives to be better despite the fact that he's physically incapable. To any kid that was scrawny or weak (Me, I'm looking at you.), that is relatable. Chris Evans, who doesn't quite fit that bill of scrawny or weak if someone has ever happened to catch him in anything he's ever done, masterfully pulls off the pipsqueak part thanks to healthy dose of CGI. But there's a vulnerability and strength that's a difficult part to pull off, both in the before of being a strong-willed weakling and the after of confident and idealistic hero, especially considering Evans has to become someone that is inspiring, authoritative and carries a wealth of experience by the end of the film before he goes off to lead the Avengers. He hits every note perfectly, though, and it filled me with joy. I haven't smiled this much during a movie since The Incredibles.

There are three things that I really feel it's important to note, and the third might be a slight spoiler for the end of the film if you're at all unfamiliar with the Captain America mythos.

First, the unsung hero of the film is Stanley Tucci and his performance as Dr. Erskine. He's fatherly without being preachy and recognizes the true hero that Steve already is prior to getting the Super Soldier Serum. The way Tucci shows Erskine figure this out and relates the importance of remaining a good man to Steve shapes so much of what Captain America is about that his importance can't be undersold. His point alone really had me close to welling up.

Second, it's important to understand that Steve Rogers' preexisting virtue is what sets Captain America aside from every other Marvel Movie Universe character: Rogers doesn't need to gain super powers to become a hero because he already is one. He literally jumps on a live grenade to save the folks around him. There's a character in the army training scenes before he gets picked where the jerk keeps pushing Rogers around because, as many of the characters note, he's a bully. Hodgson is Tommy Lee Jones' pick for the project, but Erskine instead picks our boy without any kind of comeuppance coming his way. He shows up briefly later on in the film in Europe, and, for a moment, I thought how sweet it would be to see that guy get punched or even made to flinch by the newly awesome Captain America. It doesn't happen, and I'm really glad it didn't because that's another reason why Cap is a great man. He doesn't need to lower himself to that guy's level because he knows he could take that guy in a heartbeat, and, more importantly, he's better than that.

Finally, the ending is suitably tragic. There's always a hint of sadness surrounding any character study of Captain America because he's a man that lost everything and everyone he ever knew, a man out of time, and yet he continues to fight the good fight. Joe Johnson really hammers that home in Cap's final address and in the coda, which I expect will stick around through The Avengers.

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