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Thursday, July 21, 2011

My No-Spoiler Review of Captain America

Pure. Win.

Well, maybe one spoiler. There is a movie, and it is called Captain America: The First Avenger.

As I start to type this, I walked out of the theater less than 45 minutes ago, so I'm going to jump in while it's still fresh. Let's tackle it by pinning down some typical criticisms of this sort of movie, and maybe draw parallels to some others, and see how this stacks up.

In short
It's great. Go see it. Twice. This is on par with Iron Man or Batman Begins. They totally nailed it. Do you remember that feeling you had after walking out of Spider-Man, where you felt like you felt like you had just seen the first real translation of a comic book to the big screen in a serious, legit, big-budget way (all due respect to X-Men, which as the true pioneer had to hold that little bit back)? That's how this feels to me.

This movie has too much setup for the sequel!
I'd say that this was probably true for many of Marvel's takes, such as Thor and Iron Man 2, and I've heard it stated against Captain America. That's bulsh. There aren't any weird caveats or side trips that don't belong in the context of the film. Yes, we see the end of Cap's WWII story and aren't left thinking that he died in his last act of heroism (SPOILER ALERT: Cap lives to see the modern world!!!!), so maybe you could say that the end explicitly "sets up" Avengers, but it really doesn't.

Too many extraneous characters were thrown in!
Green Lantern and, arguably, Thor, both suffered from including characters from their respective mythologies that, while fans expected to see them, didn't really do anything to advance the story, and the time spent on them left those outside the nerdstream wondering, "What was the point of that?" I think that First Class certainly had a touch of that, as did other X-films (in this case I call the phenomenon "too many mutants syndrome"). Cap doesn't suffer from that. Characters from his WWII days are around, but no time is spent on them beyond what is important to Cap, his mission, and the story. Bucky is important. Red Skull is important. Peggy Carter is important. Thus, they are given screen time both with and without Cap, something that the likes of Dum Dum Dugan and the rest of the Howling Commandoes don't get, because they aren't as important.

The origin took up the whole dang movie!
The origin of Cap is obviously a major part of the movie. In retrospect, I always think that Spider-Man (love it as I do) suffers from a dragging origin story. Sometimes you can't avoid it, but Cap's origin never drags and flows seamlessly into the meat of the picture. I'm sure we can discuss this later, but in short, this is because Cap doesn't go through the growing pains that most heroes do. In this film, he's pretty much always the same guy, both before and after Project Rebirth. He doesn't have to overcome personal demons to become a true hero, which is basically the whole point.

Too much fanservice!
There is no "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch" line in this movie. There are plenty of little nods here and there, but they're all either cleverly woven into the fabric of the story (Cap punching Hitler) or are so subtle and actually fit into the action that you wouldn't even know it if you weren't looking for it.

And my favorite thing about this movie is...
Honestly, it's the way the action was done. Superhero flicks put directors in a tough spot a lot of times. How do you demonstrate the effect of a super-strong person punching a normal person? How should it look when a character jumps 10x the distance a normal person should be able to jump? The wire stunts always distract and annoy me, but this film was pretty much free of all that. Part of the advantage is that Cap is really just that one notch better than the best normal human. He's fast, but he's not The Flash. He's strong, but he's not The Hulk. He can jump and climb and perform athletic feats, but he's not Spider-Man. That makes it easier on the director, I'm sure. When the big punch had to be delivered, or the long jump made, Johnston never forced the audience to watch an extended cut of the leap across the gorge, but cut it such that it conveyed the miraculous nature of the feat without having to show the whole thing.

I'm tired, so that's it for tonight. Just go see it. I promise you'll enjoy yourself.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What I expect from Captain America

AMERICA! #%*& YEAH!

So, tomorrow I have managed to weasel my way into a free advance screening of Captain America: The First Avenger. It's not THAT advance, obviously, as the world will be tuning in at midnight and I'll be there at 7:00 pm, but it's free and includes concessions. Blammo! That's a serious win in my book.

After the film I'll run to my computer to give my quick, spoiler-free thoughts, but let me first set up my expectations here, on the record.

Directing
I don't claim to be any sort of expert on the directing of Joe Johnston, but his credits are good. For their time, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Jumanji were great movies with elements of the fantastic in an otherwise-normal world. It sounds weird to use kid movies as a background, but I think that some good parallels can be drawn. And, don't forget that the great Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame directed Elf and Zathura (basically Jumanji 2), so it's not a crazy place for a comic book movie director to come from. By all accounts Johnston's The Wolfman was simply terrible, but all of that is just background noise, because I'm drawn to a single point on his resume:

Joe Johnston directed The Rocketeer.

Is there a more apt cinematic comparison between Cap and The Rocketeer? Pulpy, vaguely sci-fi heroes punching Nazis! Win! The Rocketeer was great, and I think still holds up today, so I think Johnston was the man for the job.

Atmosphere
I'm expecting big things here, and it is, in fact, the main thing I'm looking for in the film. Speaking of The Rocketeer, I fully expect Captain America to feel like a cross between that pulp classic and Saving Private Ryan. I expect there to be some gritty, authentic-feeling WWII scenes between those of superheroics, and I expect the sort of ensemble support cast backing up Chris Evans that was backing up Tom Hanks, and I expect that like in SPR, they won't all make it.

Acting
I think that Evans will pull off a good performance, and the surrounding cast will do their thing as well, but I don't expect any Oscar-worthy performances. If Cap comes off as Johnny Hero, Bucky serves as the down-and-dirty sidekick, and the Red Skull and his minions can be menacing without being overly hokey, it's a win all around. If someone is going to steal the show, mark me down for Sebastian Stan as Bucky; he was very good in the short-lived series, Kings.

Story
Can this movie keep it on track? We've got vita-rays and Nazis and the sorta-Nazi Hydra and (presumably) things like cosmic cubes and Skrulls and mad scientists with heads in their torsos. Thor threw a lot at us as well, and handled it okay, so I think you have to trust in Marvel. I'm sure that reviews of this film in the post-Dark Knight world of "comic book movies" will criticize what I'm sure will be a highly cinematic and over-the-top storyline, but screw those guys, this will be fun!

To Be Continued
Can't wait for everything after the credits. Oooooooh, can't wait.

Check back tomorrow night for the review!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stayin' Alive



People, fear not. Call off the search. I'm still here. I know, you're relieved.

Life is weird, isn't it? While it seems that I may have abandoned you, I've really done the opposite. I've been SO busy that the blog has just sort of fallen off. Not all of this activity will thrill you, but it's all for your own good. I'll try not to leave you alone for so long in the future.

What have I been up to? Well, since you ask:

  • Web design. As my own little tiny publishing house, I've grabbed some work doing web design. There's nothing that drives me crazier, but it's a good gig. Sadly, it doesn't generate a lot of blog content.
  • Marketing document design. Related to the above, I've been updating technical and marketing materials for a company in the oil and gas industry. Look for the details in my next gaming supplement: Attack of the Catalytic Heaters. I know you don't really care about this, or the web design, but those are necessary evils to support the next few items, like...
  • Video games? Yep. Two of them. One is browser-based, and the other an iPhone game. You'll love 'em. This is a new experience for me, but I've got talented people on the team and we're having fun figuring it out together. What are they about? None of your gorram business... yet!
  • My post-apocalyptic RPG. I have most of the setting details worked out as I scratch on this project in my spare time. It's gonna use the Mini-Six system, and it's going to be very, very fun.
  • Complete Characters. These are still coming, even if there's been a stall. I have a couple nearly ready to go, as soon as I can knock out the other design projects, these will get back on track.
So, with Gen Con looming (without my attendance, I fear) and lots of noise around the RPG world, I'll be back more regularly, I promise.

Got questions or comments about what I've been up to, or what's next? Hit me in the comments.