Michael Moran writes for Bleeding Cool:
Most people who read comics know at least the basics of the story. A puny 90lb weakling is transformed by a unique scientific process into a near-perfect human being.
With a unique combination of casting, pacing and effects Joe Johnston has transformed a solid if fairly unremarkable comic book adaptation into the near-perfect superhero movie.
If you are the kind of person who likes to avoid spoilers, you should probably tune out fairly soon but I’ll leave you with this thought; this movie is so good it retroactively adds an extra star to my original opinion of Iron Man 2.
Now, this decade has been pretty good for those of us who like superhero movies. The real climax is expected next Summer when The Avengers, Batman, Spider-Man and even (shudder) Ghost Rider are due to hit the screen with hotly anticipated offerings.
But 2011, too, has been a vintage year for the funnybooks in film.
Despite the massive competition, I always expected that Cap would hold his own in this Summer’s big blockbuster brawl.
Turns out I was right for once.
Modern special effects can make the most incredible powers look plausible. But the more grounded the hero’s abilities, the more easy it will be for film audiences to relate to the protagonist.
That’s why, in my view, there are a lot more Batman films than Superman ones. Or at least, a lot more good ones.
If we’re being honest with ourselves most of us comic book guys are far closer to young Steve Rogers, the skinny human punchbag, than we are to a marooned demigod from Asgard.
For a considerable chunk of the movie, Rogers is transformed with CGI trickery into a bony weakling. That’s good, because we learn to like the person before we see the powers.
Even after he’s been transformed by the mysterious process concocted by Professor Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and Iron Man’s dad Howard Stark (a scene-stealing Dominic Cooper) it’s not all action for Steve Rogers. He’s crammed into a goofy outfit that demonstrates just how silly the suits from the comics would look in real life and sent off on a War Bond drive.
If you’ve seen Clint Eastwood’s sublime Flags Of Our Fathers you’ll see some situations you’ll recognise here.
It’s only by chance, and with the assistance of Agent Carter, that Cap gets to go into action. Agent Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) is the only female character of note in the film, but she holds her own with the boys. She doesn’t scream or fall over, she fires guns and throws punches with the best of them, and I’d be a liar if I didn’t point out that it helps that she’s a healthy dressful.
Even when Cap and Peggy Carter aren’t onscreen, there’s some great stuff going on.
There’s Howard Stark’s Back To The Future flying car, for a start.
The film opens in the present day, with the discovery of a frozen ‘something’. If you liked John Carpenter’s The Thing or Ridley Scott’s original Alien there are a couple of shots here that give you an idea of how those movies may have looked in 3D.
Flash back to the 1940s and we get to see Hugo Weaving in fine form as The Red Skull. He’s a failed Nazi super-soldier experiment that’s – get this – too crazy for Hitler.
He is on a search for The Cosmic Cube , an Asgardian MacGuffin that links us smoothly to both Thor and The Avengers.
It’s a power source for HYDRA’s super weapons. I don’t know if you ever as a kid browsed through a catalogue of loopy Nazi weapons projects and thought ‘Wow, what if these fever-dreams actually got made’ but if you did, then you’re in for a treat. There are VTOL propeller planes, hybrid jet/piston flying wings and a whole Castle Wolfenstein full of plasma guns.
If the Nazis’ search for an ancient power source makes you think of raiders Of The Lost Ark, don’t worry. It occurred to Joe Johnston too. At one point the Red Skull says “…and meanwhile The Führer digs for trinkets in the desert”.
This film is rammed with homages, tributes and nods to (as well as cribs from) other classic movies.
I spotted Thunderball, Return Of The Jedi, A Matter Of Life And Death, The Thing, Alien, The Square Peg, Flags Of Our Fathers and Iron Man 2. You may see more, or you may think I’m nuts. Either way it’s too late to delete this paragraph now.
The evolution of the Captain America costume, from authentic 1940s style to something more like the Ultimates look, is beautifully done. Ditto the shield.
It’s a bit of a stretch that the Nazis have awesome Asgardian-powered super weapons and CCTV, but I am so smitten with this film I’m willing to let it go.
Stan Lee’s cameo is less gratuitous than usual. Tommy Lee Jones makes a splendid replacement for Samuel L Jackson and that guy from Spooks turns up in a small but pivotal role as a Nazi saboteur.
Cap’s relationship with Bucky (Sebastian Stan) works beautifully. I read in a recent interview that Sebastian thinks Bucky will be back in a future Marvel movie. Hard to see how that’ll happen but it’s always possible.
Certainly it would be great to see more of the Howlin’ Commandos – changed here from Nick Fury’s platoon to Captain America’s backup team. If this film has a fault it’s that there’s not enough of them. They’re around for a montage sequence that hints that maybe there’s scope for another WW2 flick for Cap one day.
I don’t at this point care if Captain America will return in The Avengers, or Captain America 2, or a steampunk take on Cockleshell Heroes. All I know is that I thought this film was flat-out brilliant, and I want more of it.