What happens when they make a movie featuring your favorite comic book hero? Why you pick it apart on the Internet, of course.
Being a lifelong Captain America fan, this movie had a lot of expectations to live up to, and it did it in spades. I have spent a goodly portion of my adolescent life in heated “Cap vs. Batman” debates with my beset friend, Spencer (obviously, Cap would win … hands down). I have always gravitated towards heroes who, for all intents and purposes, are ordinary people who stand toe to toe with monsters, gods, mystical beings and mechanical juggernauts. I have always enjoyed the likes of Captain America, Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Punisher, Batman, Green Arrow, etc. Those individuals who have honed their bodies and minds, who have developed extraordinary skills and can stand at the vanguard of heroic endeavors.
Captain America in particular strikes a chord with me as a character who is a man who wants to do good in the world. A man who is as strong of heart as he is frail of body. I think that I saw a lot of myself in Cap, from the frail body (I was a skinny bugger) to the patriotism (I consider earning my Eagle Scout badge a defining moment in my life). That being said, in the original comic book, Cap’s back-story is relegated to a mere handful of panels. Only later was his back-story expounded upon and did he tell of his life growing up in Brooklyn. I felt Chris Evans did a great job of bringing Steve Rogers to life, even with my misgivings about his casting since he also appears as the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies. But he really brought heart and vulnerability to the character that offsets the near indestructibility of the future super soldier. I enjoyed how they incorporated the traditional Captain America uniform (red pirate boots anyone?) into the frustrating sideshow aspect of his career. With this solid foundation I felt the movie did exceptionally well was build up the story of Steve Rogers the man with an extensive back-story before he became a Nazi punching (and shooting) machine.
Now, shooting Nazis brings up another aspect of the Captain America movie that the filmmakers handled deftly. We are given a movie that seamlessly blends together Captain Americas from different eras, writers, universes and even other movie franchises. The origin story and overall plot of the movie is from the original run of comics from the 1941 to 1953. Cap’s more utilitarian WW2 uniform is straight out of the Ultimates universe. Speaking of which, who is the updated combat suit’s designer? Why Ironman’s dad himself, Howard Stark. For those Cap fans who have followed Ed Brubaker’s amazing run as writer on the series, we are treated to a glimpse of the Winter Soldier to be in the character of Bucky. And while we also get the Howling Commandos from the 616 (original universe), we get the Ultimates universe Nick Fury.
Just the appearance of the Howling Commandos in a few production stills released months before the movie sent my heart soaring. My love of Nick Fury as a character began long before he was the Earth’s number one super spy and S.H.I.E.L.D. director. Nick Fury and His Howling Commandos were some of the very first comic books I read and collected. I remember pedaling my bike four miles to ‘The Paperback Trader’ bookstore to buy 25 cent back issues. Sure, there were other war books like Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank and the suspiciously similar sounding Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders (another favorite of mine), but Nick and his gang always held the top spot in my weekly haul. I understand with the inclusion of the Ultimates universe Nick Fury (who was always Samuel L. Jackson, even in the books) it would take some extensive revisionist history to have a man of color leading a combat unit in WW2. Regardless, we have a great Nick Fury for the movies AND I got to watch Dum Dum, Gabe, Izzy and the gang in the flesh, kicking Nazi ass and taking names. Wa-hooo!
It has always been my opinion that a good guy can only be as good as the bad guy is bad, and the Red Skull is one of the baddest of them all. Nazi? Check. Mad Scientist? Check. Genocidal maniac? Check. Face that looks like Steve Buscemi turned inside out? Check. Cosmic Cube, the ever powerful deus ex machina that stands at the linchpin of so many of the Cap vs. Skull battles? Check. Hugo Weaving is a stand out Red Skull, but in this movie the handling of the Cosmic Cube is where my only misgivings with the movie lie. It is powerful. Weapons powered by it can vaporise a soldier … but that else can it do? At the end of the movie the Red Skull has set his sights on dropping Cube powered bombs on the U.S. But what will that do? Destroy a building, a few blocks, the entire city? Earlier in the film, when the Red Skull orders the destruction of a town to really cement what a sociopath the man really is, perhaps that act would have been a better time to show the viewer the destructive capability of the cube. Either raw Cube power during that scene or held for a later scene with the dropping of a test bomb. As it stands, we have the final battle taking place between the hero and villain with the real threat of failure being a vague notion at best. Cap and Skull battle it out, but to what end? To save a building, a few blocks, an entire city?
Ultimately though the plot stays true to Caps later “origin” story in which he is re-introduced to comic book audiences in 1964 with the “frozen in ice and thawed out later” story. Cap is destined to be a man out of time, but the movie makers have imbued the character with such heart and a sense of honor and duty that future movies should be interesting to watch as this man of duty and honor finds himself in a modern world sorely lacking in those attributes. Captain America: The Last Avenger is one of my favorite movies and I look forward to seeing Cap in action along side the Avengers as well as in his own franchise.