Super hero movies have really come into their own in the last decade. It was long believed, along with fantasy, that it was a genre that would never be tapped. Marvel struggled for more than two decades to get Spider-Man off the ground. Even the super hero movies that had been made (the Reeve Superman and Burton's Batman, neither of which I liked) were only brief flashes that quickly descended into all sorts of foolishness. None of which can be forgiven. I think the nipples on the Batman and Robin costumes in Batman & Robin scarred me. However, all of that changed with X-Men, the movie that proved a real super hero movie could be made. And it opened the door to everything that has come since in terms of super hero movies.
Marvel has shown again and again that they know how to capture the essence of their characters even while changing some of the details to be more contemporary. Spider-Man and Iron Man are as near to perfect adaptations as you can get. I would like to say that DC got it right with Batman Begins, but, even though it's a great movie, it failed to really give us a distilled Batman. Rather it just gave us Nolan's version of Batman, a man really motivated by revenge, rather than the protector, the knight, that he's supposed to be. With the fiasco that was Green Lantern (along with Superman Returns), I'm beginning to think that Warner Brothers doesn't understand comic books or super heroes. Marvel, though, has given us another movie to add into the near perfect adaptation category: Captain America: The First Avenger.
Of all the new movies I saw this summer, Captain America was the one I enjoyed the most. I think it also has to rate as the best. I could break that down movie by movie, but I don't really want to spend the time to do it. Set against the other super hero offerings, though, I think it's the winner, although Thor may make it a close call. At any rate, I've added it to my top three of near perfect super hero adaptations (alongside the aforementioned Spider-Man and Iron Man).
Before the release of the movie, I was worried about how they would deal with the whole being frozen in an ice cube thing that allows Cap to be revived in our time. After all, Captain America wasn't actually a part of the original Avengers team; he wasn't re-introduced until Avengers #4. I was pleased with how they chose to handle that, though, and telling the story as a flashback worked really well. I'm also not troubled by Cap starting out in the Avengers from the beginning in the movies. Captain America has become the symbol of the Avengers, inextricably entwined with them, and it's part of delivering the essence of Cap and the Avengers that has him there from the beginning.
The casting was spot on. Chris Evans was excellent. Beyond excellent. I think he was perfect in all actuality, and I can't imagine a better choice for the part. Like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Or Patrick Stewart as Professor X. Tommy Lee Jones was completely enjoyable and perfect for that role even if it wasn't a stretch for him as an actor. Hugo Weaving was impressive as the Red Skull; likewise, I can't think of a better choice in actors for that part, although I'm not as committed to my position on that as I am on Evans. Stanley Tucci is one of my favorites, so I was glad to see him included. Joining the Howling Commandos to Cap made perfect sense, and the casting there also worked.
The weaving of the plot into what is going on in the rest of the Marvel Universe was superb. The cosmic cube ties in the Asgardian elements. Tony Stark's father is there. And we've already seen pieces of the Captain America legacy in some of the other films, so they've done a great job setting up for The Avengers. And the story as a self-contained entity was also excellent. We see the kind of person Steve Rogers is. Someone who believes in doing what's right no matter the personal cost. Someone who won't back down even against impossible odds. And, most importantly, we get a glimpse of him as a man out of time and dealing with having to adjust to a brand-new world.
The only negative thing I can say about the movie has to do with something my son pointed out. My younger son. He didn't like that they had "lasers" during World War II. He thought that was too sci-fi. Otherwise he loved the movie. Of course, they didn't have lasers in World War II or in the movie. After he said that, though, I realized that they didn't make it entirely explicit in the movie that the Hydra weapons were being powered by the cube. They do show what they're doing, but they never actually explain what's going on, so, to him, it was blue lasers. Of course, he does live in a Star Wars house, so, perhaps, that mistake is to be expected. After I explained to him what was going on with the cube, he was okay with the "lasers," but I probably shouldn't have needed to explain it to him. I mean, he's a smart kid (in fact, we just found out that he's going to be skipping 5th grade (school starts next Wednesday, and they're just letting us know this) and going right into middle school a year early), and, if I had to explain it to him, I'm sure there are other people out there that missed what was going on there, too. Other than that one snag, though, it's a pretty near perfect adaptation.
For this year, at any rate, if you line up the Marvel offerings of movies against the DC offering, Marvel is clearly dominant. Marvel delivered two excellent movies while Warner Brothers dropped a turd. Warner Brothers' desire to challenge The Avengers with their own Justice League is beginning to look absurd. They failed to pull together a Wonder Woman movie and decided to make a television series instead. The reviews for the Wonder Woman pilot were so abysmal that they're not even getting that. The re-boot of Superman is being re-booted. And, to top it off, they're losing Nolan (and, probably, Bale) after The Dark Knight Rises. Things for DC don't look good. However, Marvel's prospects keep looking better and better.