Monday, July 25, 2011

REVIEWS: Captain America & Flashback thoughts on The Crow

Captain America: The First Avenger

“So… you want to kill Nazis?”

In a Michael Bay film you could expect a snarky response in the affirmative. It’s the acceptable norm in most summer blockbusters, the hero is an arrogant B-A with testosterone leaking from his pores by the gallon. He’s surrounded by surgically altered women to fit a cosmetic plastic doll design, accompanied by a wise-cracking sexist moron, and he’s just as cool as cool can be. And it’s precisely the sort of model I feared most when the opening credits to Captain America rolled. Where would Joe Johnston decide to take this film? Could he somehow overcome the Hollywood hype machine in order to bring justice to such an iconic comic book character? The answer is found several minutes into the film when Steve Rogers is posed the question I asked in the beginning of this review. His answer isn’t a light hearted quip; it isn’t a bloodthirsty dismissal of the enemy. He earnestly talks about not wanting to kill anyone, just wanting to do his duty, and wanting to stand up to the biggest bully the world had ever known. In short, he talks about being Captain America. And that scene, in a nutshell, manages to capture the essence of Captain America. And that’s the small stuff, the attention to detail, that allows this film to rise above the saturated market of super hero films and deliver the goods.

Set at the height of the Second World War, Captain America is originally created in order to provide the allied forces with a special unit of “super soldiers” to gain an advantage over the Nazi’s. The experiment is thwarted by Hydra, a sub-sect organization led by the nefarious Red Skull. The one time Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is simply delightful as the Skull; a driven, intelligent, and deeply psychopathic extremist with plans to not only dominate but utterly annihilate most of the civilized world. The Red Skull’s own experiments and technological monstrosities threaten the globe and it’s up to Steve Rogers to stop him.

Chris Evans delivers a remarkable performance as Rogers. He’s a humble, determined, and heroic character with awkward charm and slightly immature boyishness. His rise to heroism isn’t without it’s own bumps, from a bureaucratic lack of faith in his ability to political opportunism the opportunity to prove himself only comes through happenstance when he joins the USO tour of Europe. And that’s when the action kicks into high gear as the good Captain gathers a team to help him cut the heads off Hydra! Sidekick “Bucky” Barnes is well represented as the childhood friend of Steve Rogers already serving on the front lines. They’re joined by classic “NICK FURY” WW2 era characters, Howard Stark, and other Allied Agents to do battle with the agents of Hydra and the Red Skull himself. The Captain becomes an inspiration and a leader, driving his team to assault the Red Skulls various bases of operation before the thrilling finale!

5 out of 5.

(Flashback review!) The Crow

With rumors persisting of a “Crow” remake on the horizon, I decided to take a little trip back to my wayward teens and pay a special visit to the Brandon Lee classic. I pretty much fell in love with this movie when it came out and watched multiple screenings in the theater before bootlegging the VHS rental with a pair of recorders. I bought the soundtrack, featuring a significant list of alt rock names from the 90’s. I even wore the make up on occasion, but was by no means the only one amongst my friends. It was alt-goth, it was horror, it was cutting edge, and it hit all the right buttons for fandom of the time. It spawned multiple sequels, none of which succeeded in capturing the magic of the first film… as a matter of fact, “City of Angels” was so wretchedly horrible I very nearly walked out of the theater. So now that I’m turning 36 years old, will the movie still hold up to the test of time?

Brandon Lee’s death casts a large shadow over the production of this film. His death was a tragedy, taking an extremely young performer who had just begun to find his footing as a film star in his own right. As the son of Martial Arts legend Bruce Lee, Brandon was occasionally found in a number of features that attempted to exploit the name. Brandon, however, showed fantastic charisma in both “Rapid Fire” and a strange pairing with Dolph Lundgren in “Showdown in Little Tokyo.” Early talk surrounding an adaptation of James O’Barr’s graphic novel said that this film would make Brandon a star. He tackles the role of Eric Draven with great pathos, humanity, and vengeful fury. A revenant returned for a night to gain vengeance on the people responsible for the rape and murder of his fiancĂ©e, Draven’s spirit is accompanied by a crow with which he shares a spiritual bond. Immune to harm, Draven spends much of the movie hunting down the men before becoming the hunted himself. The men were all in the employ of a criminal “villain” (Top Dollar) who decides he would like to steal Draven’s power for himself. Eric is forced to remember the life that was torn from him and to confront the aftermath of a tragedy and how it affected others in his life.

Watching the film now feels a little odd. A friend on “facebook” replied to a random post I made about this film being a “snapshot of the time” and I suddenly realized how true that was. The gothic atmosphere and tone are symbolic of the time, when Gen-X found itself thrust into a world largely devoid of purpose. Its bleak setting was a snapshot to the boredom and ennui typified by my generation. The villains were dark reminders of where too many friends were headed, the music was raw, and CGI was just starting to be developed for use in live action films. (You can’t help but to compare some of the effects of today, knowing just how early a lot of the CGI in this film was.) But the story still transcends time and delivers on all the emotional cues; an opportunity for revenge against the perpetrators of a terrible crime.

The film always comes back to Draven and Lee’s performance. We are feeling his pain, we are following his path, and we are sharing his story at all times. Even when he is not on the screen, we know he’s somewhere in those dark shadows surrounding the city. Brandon Lee carries this film beyond the effects and delivers in every subtle movement. So the film still retains much of the impact for me that it had in 1994, and I cringe at the prospect of a remake. I know the project wasn’t precisely faithful to the original material, so maybe there is room for a re-imagining based on the comic itself. But, honestly, I would like to see them leave any reboot of this project for a later time and another generation.

5 out of 5.

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