July 22, 2011


"Captain America": A patriotic surprise from the comic-book past: Alive with WWII period details and Hugo Weaving's villainy, "Captain America" is a delicious adventure yarn (Andrew O'Hehir, 7/22/11, Salon)

Johnston presumably got this assignment because of his success doing vintage Americana in "The Rocketeer" and "October Sky," the two best films of his 22-year career as a Hollywood journeyman. He has a meticulous eye for period detail, and while the 1940s New York backdrops in early sequences of "Captain America" are obviously fake -- a combination of old-fashioned Hollywood sets and CGI -- that's entirely consistent with the movie's ethos. Just as important, Markus and McFeely's screenplay views the World War II era from a wry but affectionate distance. After the experimental serum developed by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), the future father of Iron Man, turns Steve into Captain America, he is first employed as a propaganda weapon, not a military one. Clad in an embarrassing woolen costume, he goes on tour with a troupe of leggy chorus girls to sell war bonds, stars in short-subject adventure movies and becomes (yes!) a hero in comic books sent to actual soldiers on the front lines.

But fiery English secret-agent bombshell Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell, a British TV star and Hollywood newcomer) believes in him, and so, more grudgingly, does Col. Phillips, the latest in a long line of Tommy Lee Jones irritable-grumpus authority figures. Once Captain America decides to shed the dancing girls and take the fight to Red Skull's Hydra organization -- who evidently find the Nazis insufficiently wicked, in all senses of the word -- this movie turns into the kind of action-adventure you've seen dozens of times, in which a small, plucky and implausibly diverse band of brothers takes on a vastly superior force apparently hand-picked from Darth Vader's Galactic Academy of Sinister Ineptitude.

That's more than a gag, actually. For better and worse (but mostly better), Johnston draws on all kinds of pulpy adventure movies here, most obviously "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "Captain America" has the brisk, chaste manner of a preteen-oriented action flick of yesteryear -- Steve Rogers and Agent Carter barely even smooch -- combined with all the cutting-edge digital effects contemporary audiences expect, and the result is oddly satisfying. Special credit goes to cinematographer Shelly Johnson and production designer Rick Heinrichs for creating the film's witty and internally consistent visual mood. You can tell Red Skull's ├╝ber-Nazi machinery from Howard Stark's American-century gizmos just in terms of design aesthetic: On the one hand, brooding, neo-Gothic contraptions that would look at home in Dr. Frankenstein's lab; on the other, sleek, modernist lines and cool colors that look forward to Cadillacs and Hoover vacuum cleaners yet to come.

...is that the Left can pretend it doesn't still feel exactly the same way about America, as their patriotic wallow after 9-11 demonstrated.

Posted by at July 22, 2011 7:17 AM

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