Super Movies – Captain America: The First Avenger, Part 3

So we finally come to the conclusion of last year’s Marvel epic, Captain America: The First Avenger. When we left off, Steve had finally been accepted into the fight with Hydra and given a new uniform (based on his USO costume) with a special indestructible shield.

And because the movie’s already 2/3 gone, it starts abbreviating to hit all its marks and get to the end. We see a montage of Cap and his Howlin’ Commandos (plus Bucky, who’s a badass sniper) taking down Hydra soldiers and bases. And we see that Steve keeps a picture of Agent Carter (who was last seen trying to shoot him after he kissed another woman) in his compass as a keepsake.

Even Colonel Phillips seem to get a warm fuzzy from that. Cap’s successes piss off the Red Skull, though, who (having thrown his Schmidt face into the fire last week) is now living out and proud as a bald red man. He screams at Zola, “You are FAILING!” Zola is given an ultimatum to do something about Captain America before Hydra’s final blow to conquer the world.

Next thing you know, Cap, Bucky and Gabe Jones are hitching a ride on a special express  train in an attempt to capture Zola.  Problem is, it’s actually a trap set by Zola to kill Captain America. Steve is trapped with a Hydra stormtrooper with an energy cannon strapped to his chest, while Bucky fights a rear guard action against a few more guys. In the battle, Cap is knocked down by an energy blast, so Bucky grabs the shield to protect him.

Bucky is killed. But Gabe Jones captures Zola, who ends up spilling his guts to Colonel Phillips after the colonel makes Zola watch him eat a steak. The S.S.R. learns that the Red Skull is building a fleet of tesseract-powered airships that will strike at every major city on Earth, destroying every major power that tries to oppose him. The first target will be New York.

And I’ve got to say, in the pantheon of plots to “conquer the world,” this one is actually global in scale and might possibly have a shot. Except that Captain America decides it’s time for a final showdown.

Zola has given them the location of the final, hidden Hydra base, so Steve rides a motorcycle there, alone. And because this is an action movie, he gets chased by evil Hydra bikers.

They provide so little challenge and are such a cliche by this point that I wonder why they’re even in there, other than to say, “Yeah, fine, I guess you’re expecting some kind of chase, so here you go.”

Meanwhile, the Skull is preparing to take off on his mission to destroy New York and gives a little pep talk to his troops, who shout, “Hail, Hydra!”

And I can see why the salute comes in for such derision from just about everybody who has mentioned it. I agree, it looks pretty silly, although I can see the inspiration, a cross between the standard Nazi salute and the “cut off one head, two more shall take its place” slogan. Just be glad that they didn’t try to copy the salute from the first S.H.I.E.L.D. story. Can you imagine trying to stage manage this without it looking like a Busby Berkeley number?

Cap breaks into the main Hydra compound and beats up a bunch of guys until he runs into these two dudes with flamethrowers who have really bad aim.

And yes, I get it that their purpose is to capture him instead of kill him, but seriously, this whole action finale is kinda’ weak and by-the-numbers for a movie that has been so good up to now.

Steve is captured and taken in to the Skull’s office, where we see prisoner Steve repeating dialogue from when he was a skinny guy in Brooklyn getting beaten up. This offends Schmidt, who believes he is a superior man and can only be beaten by another superior man, which Steve is not (by the Skull’s standards, at least).

And then the Americans come charging in, and all hell breaks loose in a great combination of Simon/Kirby style WWII action with an episode of G.I. Joe fighting COBRA (and just in case you didn’t know, the entire Joe/COBRA dynamic is directly ripped off from S.H.I.E.L.D. versus Hydra). And in the middle of it all is Cap, trying to stop the Skull from taking off in his giant flying wing.

But he’s too late. The plane is gaining speed on its underground runway, and Cap can’t catch it. Until Colonel Phillips shows up, having stolen the Red Skull’s bitchin’ car.

Steve hitches a ride on the plane, and we’re into the final action sequence. The giant bomber doesn’t hold standard bombs, but small one-man fighters that (I’m guessing) will act as kamikaze tesseract bombs or something. We never really find out, because Steve starts beating up the pilots. He’s almost got them beat when one manages to get in his plane and eject.

These rear-prop jobs were pretty common concept planes in the 30’s and 40’s, but they never really worked out in real life. But this one looks cool as hell. Steve manages to eject the pilot and commandeer the plane for himself, so he can once again go after the Skull. And for people who complain that computer effects have taken all the artistry out of movies and made them little more than big-screen video games, let me offer this image as a rebuttal.

That is beautiful, and I’m not sure that there is any actual physical photography in that shot. It’s time for Steve’s final battle with the Red Skull in the cavernous cockpit/bridge of the giant flying wing. Over the course of the fight, they manage to destroy some of the plane’s controls, as well as the housing for the Cosmic… ummm, for the tesseract. Until this moment, Schmidt has been careful not to touch the artifact himself, but at this moment, he can’t help himself.

The tesseract opens up a dimensional gateway to a distant region of space, and it disintegrates the Skull and transports the pieces away before the gateway closes and the cube burns its way out through the floor of the plane.

A plane that is now passing over the Arctic Circle on its way to New York. But even though the cube is gone, Steve decides the plane poses too great a danger and decides to ditch it in the ocean.

And here, at the end of this action extravaganza, we get an honestly touching goodbye between Steve and Agent Peggy Carter. They make a date to go dancing, even though they both know it’s a lie, and then Steve is lost.

The war is won, and life goes on, and Steve wakes up in a hospital in 1940’s New York, attended by Grace Van Pelt.

Except he knows it’s a deception, because the baseball game on the radio is one he remembers attending in 1941.  Agents come in to restrain him, but he’s Captain America, so he knocks them through the wall and escapes into madness, also known as Times Square.

Nick Fury tells him he’s been asleep, and Cap’s only thought is that he missed his date.

And that’s it until The Avengers. I love this movie. It has its problems–any film having to fulfill all the functions it does, as both a comic book adaptation and part of a global franchise will inevitably have them–but this film is about as good as I think it could have been given the challenges it had to overcome, and it’s way better than I ever expected it to be.

Both the script and the story keep the focus on Steve as the little guy from Brooklyn who never forgets who he is, even when he stops being little. And Chris Evans’s performance just nails it. Between that, and the great supporting performances, and the amazing art direction and director Joe Johnston’s obvious love for the period, I can forgive the film its flaws.

And that finally wraps up the Captain America series. Whew!

I’m thinking that Super Movies will be going on another hiatus as I start to ramp up for Halloween, and what may be a major change in the blog’s overall direction. Meanwhile, enjoy the final weeks of Run, Digger, Run!

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