- By John Madden
1. What’s It All About?
It’s 1942, and sickly weakling but determined all-around good guy Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is determined to sign up for the army so he can go to Europe and fight for his country. Rejected by the military at every turn, he’s finally given a chance by mysterious scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, doing his best Heinz Wolff impression) who puts him into a super-soldier program where he becomes the titular hero. Meanwhile Nazi scientist and über-baddie Johan Schmidt, aka Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, doing his best ‘every bad guy ever’ impression), is building the ultimate weapon to take over and/or destroy the world.
2. Will my kids like it?
If they’ve been following the Avengers movies so far, then yes, definitely. Even if they haven’t, you’d have no problem starting them on this one –- the only real tie-in to the previous movies is the presence of Howard Stark (Tony’s dad), but he’s a great character in his own right. The action is much more cartoony than in either of the Iron Man outings or Thor. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for younger kids, but that’s a judgment call based on any particular kid’s maturity.
3. Will I like it?
In a word: yes. I’m making the assumption that you’ve been following the Avengers movies so far — or are at least interested in following them — and this is a very, very strong addition to the franchise. Chris Evans plays Cap well, Hugo Weaving is suitably villainous (although a little underused, I thought) and the supporting cast are all excellent. Joe Johnston does a fine job on this flick, too –- I know folks weren’t exactly thrilled with ‘The Wolfman’ but I think he sort of redeems himself here. (Disclaimer: I loved The Rocketeer back when that came out.) It’s an all-around excellent comic book movie. To answer the most commonly asked question (by my friends, at least): It’s as good as the first Iron Man.
The story revolves mainly around what it means to be a hero, and it lays that on a little thick at times (the line “Whatever happens, stay who you are” is repeated in much the same way as “With great power comes great responsibility” is in Spider-Man). It’s clever, it’s well-written and well-acted, and there are some beautiful action set pieces. There’s even a sly dig at Raiders of The Lost Ark.
With all that said, it’s not a standalone movie. If it’s your first Avengers movie, that’s fine — you won’t be completely lost, but you definitely should at least be aware that this is leading up to next summer’s ensemble movie, otherwise it’s very oddly paced and the ending makes no sense whatsoever. But who doesn’t know that The Avengers is coming next summer? I mean other than the two dudes sitting next to us who stood up as soon as the credits started and loudly announced “That ending made no [bleep]ing sense!” Speaking of which…
4. Is it worth sticking around until after the end credits?
First, a rant: The screen we were in (Screen 1 in Liffey Valley, still one of the nicest in Ireland) seats about 450 and was about three quarters full –- not bad for a Wednesday night. Given that the post-credits sequence for the Avengers movies are well publicized, you’d think that most people would know it’s worth sticking around for a couple of minutes. Only nine of us did. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but I still feel like standing up and shouting “Wait! You’re going to miss a good bit!” Yes, I’m that guy.
Anyway: As usual, it’s worth sticking around –- probably more so this time, as after the obligatory Nick Fury chat we get our first look at The Avengers. I won’t give details, but I will say it looks awesome and is worth hanging around for, and you can watch an abridged version of it on its own here.
5. Fine, I’ll stay for the end. But should I get there early for the trailers?
As always, your mileage may vary. We got The Three Musketeers in 3D (yes, “in 3D” actually seems to be part of the title), which looks pretty awful; the latest instalment of Spy Kids –- advertised as being in 4D (which I suppose actually makes more sense than 3D, when you think about it) and Johnny English Reborn, which looks like it has a few funny moments, but I don’t think I’ll be wasting a relatively rare cinema trip on it.
6. What about the effects and 3D and stuff?
I’m sick of 3D and I actually drove a good bit out of my way to avoid it this time, and I don’t feel like I missed anything. I can’t think of any scenes that would have been much better had it seemed vaguely like something was flying at me. Overall, the special effects were brilliantly done. I’m a sucker for a bit of WWII-era retro-futurism (once again, see ‘Rocketeer, The’) and the sets, vehicles, gadgets and costumes are all great examples of this — and only a couple of them feel like they’re just there to sell toys and/or provide a boss battle in the video game.
7. When’s the best time for a bathroom break?
Once the USO tour starts, you have a couple of minutes where all you’ll miss is a musical number, Cap in his cheesy costume, and a silly nod to the first Captain America cover.
8. How faithful is it to the comics?
I’m not the best person to ask about this. As I understand it, they’ve tried to stay reasonably faithful, and I’m generally in favor of any changes that make for a better movie. The most notable change (that I’m aware of) is that Bucky Barnes is now an adult, which makes a lot more sense than having a 13-year-old following Cap around the battlefields. Also –- and I’m open to correction — but I think Howard Stark is a new addition to Cap’s continuity. I don’t think anything is changed gratuitously, and it all pretty much works.
9. Is it full of in-jokes and references I won’t get if I’m not an ‘Avengers’ geek?
Not really, at least not that I noticed. As I’ve said, if this is the first dip of your toe into ‘Avengers’ waters, you’ll be fine, but as I said, it doesn’t really stand on it’s own — you’ll probably then want to go back and see the rest, and it does seem unfinished without next summer’s movie. There’s the Raiders reference I mentioned, and a couple of passing nods to the rest of the saga, but nothing that’ll confuse anyone.
10. Will I want to see it again?
Probably. I mean, I want to. At this point I think I’m going to hold off until (I’d guess) Christmas 2012 and get the inevitable Avengers Blu-ray box set, but it’s definitely rewatchable. Just maybe not ‘pay the babysitter all over again’ rewatchable.