Captain America: The First Avenger

July 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving
Directed by: Joe Johnston (“The Wolfman”)
Written by: Christopher Markus (“The Chronicles of Narnia” series) and Stephen McFeely (“The Chronicles of Narnia” series)

In preparation for the larger than life “Avengers” film set for 2012, Marvel Studios has been fast tracking films loaded with back story on several characters that have yet to see a major film incarnation. In the final tune up for “The Avengers,” one of the most iconic comic book heroes, Captain America, is brought to the big screen. While far from perfection, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is a largely successful adaptation of a comic-book franchise looking to fit into a grander scheme of things.

Set in the early 1940s, the story begins with a scrawny and often sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) trying and failing to enlist in the Army. On his sixth attempt, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) finally accepts Rogers into the Strategic Scientific Reserve, run by Colonel Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). From there, Rogers is a guinea pig for the super soldier serum, made to genetically alter soldiers into “super-soldiers.” The experiment is successful, and Rogers, soon to take over the alter ego of Captain America, begins his mission to prevent the evil HYDRA leader Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) from taking over the world.

Chris Evans is a fine choice for Captain America, making sure to establish charm as the frail Steve Rogers and having it carry over to the suddenly bulky and heroic Captain America. However, while Evans is good in his role, it is the strength of the supporting cast that elevates the film. Tommy Lee Jones makes it look easy in his role as the hardnosed Colonel Philips, displaying among other things, perfect comedic timing. Stanley Tucci also turns in a charismatic performance, making every second of his screen time count. While Red Skull is not the most well-rounded villain, Hugo Weaving does his best to intimidate and exude evil.

Although this is one of the better all around superhero movie casts in recent memory, director Joe Johnston (“The Rocketeer”) deserves a lot of praise. Johnston nails the setting of the 1940s perfectly, with elaborate sets (especially at the Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibition) and costumes giving legitimacy to the film as a period piece. The action scenes are expertly shot and choreographed, using modern special effects and weaponry and applying it to the 1940s backdrop. Stylistically speaking, Johnston’s best choice was de-saturating the colors, providing a unique, muted presentation to an explosion-packed film and giving the worn down suit and shield of Captain America an even more rustic look.

Unlike fellow pre-“Avengers” film “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” strives to be its own stand-alone film. Absent from “Captain America” are the constant winks and nudges to the “Avengers” series as well as the general campiness and silliness that audiences saw in “Thor.” Instead we get a relatively well-rounded period film in which “The Avengers” isn’t even in the audience’s consciousness until the very end.

While the final act of the film is clumsy and feels quickly thrown together, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is an overall success, and proves itself to be at the top of the pack of comic book movies this summer.

The Wolfman

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
Directed by: Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo”)
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker (“Sleepy Hollow”) and David Self (“The Haunting”)

Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”) phones in his performance as an iconic monster in “The Wolfman,” a re-imaging of the 1941 classic starring Lon Chaney Jr. It’s not only Del Toro, however, who should take the blame for how terribly things go for the creature feature, which was delayed an entire year because of production problems.

Despite starting off on the wrong paw, one can’t ignore the talented cast pinned down for “Wolfman,” including Del Toro. From Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”) to the young and blossoming starlet Emily Blunt (“The Young Victoria”) to the reliable Hugo Weaving (“V for Vendetta”), some of the pieces are definitely here. It’s unfortunate that director Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo”) and screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker (“Sleepy Hollow”) and David Self (“The Haunting”) fail to create any type of suspense or frightening scenes to match these actors’ supporting roles or the eerie gothic cinematography by Shelly Johnson.

Ultimately, “The Wolfman” becomes a film that can’t decide whether it wants to be a throwback to the monster movies of the past mid-century or take the easy way out and go full-gore for mainstream audiences. It chooses both and succeeds at neither.

In the film, Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a thespian who is summoned home to England after many years away to search for his missing brother Ben. Contacted by Ben’s fiancée Gwen (Blunt), Lawrence returns home to find he is too late. His brother’s body was found mutilated in the woods. Theories begin to flood in as to what could have killed Ben in such a manner. Gypsies? A Bengal tiger? A raving lunatic?

When the townspeople find out Lawrence had been sent to an asylum by his father (Hopkins) years before, suspicions start turning to him. Lawrence becomes a prime suspect when he is bitten in the neck by a mysterious beast. Soon, other folks turn up slaughtered and word spreads that the Talbot household is cursed. Weaving plays Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline, who steps in to hunt down whatever is shredding up residents.

As the carnage continues by way of campy decapitations and close-ups of intestines spread across the ground, Johnston provides no real tone or direction and lets “The Wolfman” ride the wave of blood. Is this a story about a man fighting his inner demons and trying to understand the nightmares he continues to have about the death of his mother or is this a straight-forward monster movie in the same mold as “Underworld” and “Van Helsing?”

No matter what it wants to be, there’s not enough of a story to support “The Wolfman” and Lawrence’s transformation, whether it’s physical or emotional. Relying mostly on computer-generated effect also doesn’t help its cause as it attempts to claw its way back to the roots of the genre. While six-time Oscar-winning make-up artist Rick Baker (“An American Werewolf in London”) had his hand in this one, it’s evident he didn’t have free reign to do what he does best. For that, “The Wolfman” suffers greatly. This setback, however, is only skin deep. There’s a more elusive identity crisis the film runs into that can’t be cured with a few extra prosthetics or layers of facial hair or even a Del Toro performance where the actor actually decides to show up.