All-amer­i­can he-man

An­other week, an­other guy in tights. But is a sur­pris­ingly nifty, witty, ac­tion-packed ad­ven­ture, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

RE­CENT EVENTS sug­gest that the mar­ket for su­per­heroes is bot­tom­ing out. Thor did rea­son­ably well, but Green Lan­tern, The Green Hor­net and X-Men: First Class splut­tered at the box-of­fice. The screens have all gone red on the su­per-trad­ing floor. Sell, sell, sell!

The slump is bound to make the folk at Marvel Comics film divi­sion feel dis­tinctly un­easy. Since the early 19th cen­tury (or so it seems), that com­pany has been us­ing its films as mas­sive trail­ers for the orgy of crime­fight­ing – ev­ery­one in tights is in­vited – that will be next year’s The Avengers. This lat­est bout of Ker­pow! even man­ages to sneak an Avengers ref­er­ence into its ti­tle.

Are we al­ready bored? Will the “rest of the world” over­come prej­u­dice to at­tend a film with Amer­ica in the ti­tle? More wor­ry­ing still, doesn’t Cap (as we vet­eran Marvel fans know him) be­long to the Pleis­tocene era? Cre­ated dur­ing the sec­ond World War – the first golden age of comics – Cap­tain Amer­ica hasn’t been prop­erly fash­ion­able since Richard Nixon was in the White House. Sell, sell, sell!

But hang on a mo­ment. In­so­far as I can tell, Cap­tain Amer­ica turns out to be the most en­joy­able Marvel spinoff since the first Iron Man film. I say “in­so­far as I can tell” be­cause, at the screen­ing this writer at­tended, the dulling ef­fect of 3D ren­dered the screen so murky that it was of­ten dif­fi­cult to dis­cern who was pum­melling whom with what. The reg­u­lar flat ver­sion is the one to catch.

Tak­ing its cue as much from cheapo movie se­ri­als as from the an­cient comic book, the film re­turns Cap to his roots in the war years. Chris Evans (con­fus­ingly, also the Hu­man Torch in the id­i­otic Fan­tas­tic Four) plays Steve Rogers, an asth­matic seven-ounce weak­ling – as brave as he is puny – who longs to join up and de­fend the world from “bul­lies”.

Af­ter sev­eral failed at­tempts to en­list, a kindly gov­ern­ment sci­en­tist (Stan­ley Tucci) takes pity on Steve and ar­ranges for him to par­tic­i­pate in an ex­per­i­men­tal pro­gramme that aims to transform or­di­nary men into in­vin­ci­ble be­he­moths. As­sisted by Howard Stark (Do­minic Cooper), fa­ther to the fu­ture Iron Man, Steve’s new pal places the frail kid in a steam­punk sar­coph­a­gus and twid­dles a few di­als. With a few buzzes and a smat­ter­ing of fiz­zles the op­er­a­tion is ac­com­plished. Tom Thumb has be­come Tom of Fin­land.

Af­ter the vul­gar CGI orgy that was the lat­est Trans­form­ers, it’s a de­light to see those ef­fects used in an orig­i­nal and dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing fash­ion. The tiny ver­sion of Evans is bril­liantly ef­fec­tive and al­lows the ac­tor, who’s al­ways ex­hib­ited re­spectable comic chops, to break free of his cus­tom­ary beef­cake shack­les.

Speak­ing in a clas­sic Hol­ly­wood Ger­man ac­cent – he has vays of mak­ing you tahlk – Hugo Weav­ing is ter­rific as key vil­lain The Red Skull. Tommy Lee Jones is wry as the ex­pected gruff colonel and, though hardly stretched, Hay­ley Atwell hits the right screw­ball rhythms as the English love in­ter­est. If that wasn’t enough, we are treated to a gen­uinely touch­ing pas­tiche of a fa­mous scene from Michael Pow­ell’s A Mat­ter of Life and Death. You didn’t get that in Rise of the Sil­ver Surfer.

If Joe John­ston’s film has an ob­vi­ous pre­cur­sor, it is the same di­rec­tor’s nicely nos­tal­gic The Rock­e­teer from 1991. Cap­tain Amer­ica, shot in (I think) earth tones that hint at sepia, has the same pas­sion for un­in­hib­ited ac­tion and the same en­thu­si­asm for hon­est pulp sen­si­bil­i­ties.

The only real bad news is that – and a fram­ing de­vice spills the beans, so this is no spoiler – the pic­ture leaves us no pos­si­bil­ity of a se­quel set in the same time­frame. Oh, well. A 21st-cen­tury Cap­tain Amer­ica can only add charm to that bleed­ing Avengers pro­ject.

An un­ex­pected de­light.

irish­times.com/cul­ture

Fire power: Chris Evans in Cap­tain Amer­ica: The First Avenger

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.