Mini-Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Ever since I saw Captain America make an appearance in the Spider-Man animated series from the mid-1990s, I’ve been a fan of Cap. There’s something about this red-white-and-blue soldier out of time that gives him a compelling story whether you learn about him in World War II in his battles against the Red Skull, or when he’s a part of the modern Marvel Avengers squad fighting alongside Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and the rest.

When I heard that they were working on a live-action movie for Cap, I was excited but not sure that actor Chris Evans could pull off the role. Evans, who played Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in a couple of Fantastic Four movies always seemed to be more of a smartass than a true soldier. After seeing him in The Losers, I gained a little hope for Evans in the role of Steve Rogers, the man who would become the super soldier Captain America during World War II.

I can say the cast and crew actually did pull it off in Captain America: The First Avenger, though I think I enjoyed Thor from earlier in the summer more. But the use of the extended flashback to show Cap’s origins worked great and we were able to see Cap fight the good fight in WWII against the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving from The Matrix and Lord of the Rings).

They did an amazing job of making Evans look puny for the scenes prior to his character getting the super soldier serum and I think Evans remained in character and serious all the from beginning to the end. If I have a couple of complaints, it’s that the film was a little long (at 124 minutes) and the sequence where Cap was used to sell war bonds in America through stage shows and film clips dragged things out more than a little.

I’ll give the film a definite B+ and be picking it up on Blu-ray when it’s released in a few months.

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Movie Review: Thor (2011)

Thor. God of Thunder from Norse and Germanic myths. Member of the Avengers (Marvel Comics). Portrayed as well meaning but clueless to those who deceive him for their own aims, he’s fierce in battle with his hammer Mjöllnir, a weapon capable of summoning lightning and destroying mountains…

And now Thor is also a major motion picture from Marvel Studios, the same folks who produced Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, and this summer’s X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger films. Also in the pipeline are movies based on Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, The Avengers, a rebooted Spiderman, and more… It’s a good time to be a superhero!

At first I was a bit concerned about Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth (Captain Kirk’s father George Kirk in Star Trek (2009)). How would this work? Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Dead Again), would it become more Shakespearean in tone or would it keep the light touch favored by director Jon Favreau in Iron Man? Could Hemsworth anchor a film? Early shots from the production were interesting, but didn’t really start gaining my confidence until seeing recent trailers.

I really shouldn’t have been worried. Branagh gave it just enough weight to make it have some heart behind it and the movie works beautifully.

Thor has an all-star cast… Hemsworth as Thor. Natalie Portman (Black Swan) as Jane Foster (now an astrophysicist and not a nurse as in the comics, though they kept the name Dr. Donald Blake as a temporary name for Thor on Earth during one scene). Sir Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal, The Rite) as Odin, the ruler of the Gods of Asgard. Stellan Skarsgård (Pirates of the Caribbean series, Mamma Mia!) as Dr. Erik Selvig, Foster’s mentor and fellow scientist. Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) as Darcy Lewis, who seems to be Foster’s assistant and confidante. Idris Elba (The Losers, TV’s The Office) as Heimdall, the guardian of Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge between worlds. Rene Russo (Outbreak, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)) as Frigga, queen to Odin’s king and mother of Thor. Add to that a few relative newcomers like Jamie Alexander (TV’s Kyle XY) who plays Sif, warrior maiden and friend (love interest perhaps?) to Thor and Loki, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who did an amazing job making Loki a believable villain trying to prove himself to his father. And then there were the “Warriors Three” are Thor’s companions of old, with Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, Josh Dallas as Fandral, and Ray Stevenson as Volstagg… You’d think the movie would be bogged down by all the talent and yet it stays on track and quite entertaining throughout.

The film begins with Thor arriving on Earth and being hit by the car of Jane Foster and her companions who were searching for a strange astronomical phenomenon in New Mexico. We later learn how Thor came to be on Earth through his actions in Asgard and Jotunheim, the realm of the Frost Giants. Asgard is the home of Thor and the rest of the gods. And Midgard is the realm of Earth. Between these three realms, Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, acts as a doorway. The whole film amounts to a “Hero Journey” for Thor who has to learn there is a time and a place for fighting, but restraint is a necessary element to being a better ruler.

I really don’t want to spoil the film. But I have to say I was surprised at how well it worked. The story was entertaining and bridged the worlds effortlessly and Hemsworth did an amazing job in the title role. His easy smile and demeanor combined with the size and muscle mass he picked up for the film made him utterly believable. Hopkins as Odin was understated until he needed to be bigger than life – and I think the role of a tired king and father worked beautifully. And it’s always tough to see Portman in anything.

Special effects-wise, Asgard was gorgeous and all of the effects in the three realms were very elemental in nature and never overdone. The giants, the metal guardian of the vault in Asgard, and Bifrost make up the biggest part of the effects work. Add to that the various fight choreography, and I never felt the movie got out of hand or ungrounded as things did a bit with Iron Man 2.

One spoiler – I was disappointed by the little scene at the end of the credits. I’m sure it’s meant to set up next year’s The Avengers, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the sneak peek in Iron Man.

Though I believe I gave the first Iron Man five out of four (5/4) stars – I have to give Thor a solid four out of four (4/4). It didn’t blow me away, but it was entertaining, solid, and I really enjoyed myself. I want to see it again if that helps at all!

If you’ve been holding off because Thor‘s not your thing – wait six months for the DVD or Blu-ray. But I think this film kicked off the 2011 summer movie season with a bang!

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Extended Thor Trailer…

I’m not sure how long this link will last, but dang – it’s an impressive trailer. Maybe Thor won’t suck after all?

What do you think? Curious readers want to know.

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