You’re Doing It Right: Captain America

So, like many other people, I went and saw "Captain America: The First Avenger," though I waited a week after it's release since I am allergic to overcrowding and theater-based insanity.

So, as you may judge by the title here, I think the film is good.  In fact, I think it was great.  More than great – it's a lesson in doing a superhero film right.

This may sound like a gushing review, but Captain America is one of the least interesting properties I could expect to be adapted.  Frankly, I had doubts that it could be done well for the simple fact that iconic characters tend to be handled poorly since you will never make everyone happy.  I also had doubts about what kind of plot could support such a character.

Well, the film made it work.  So enough gushing, on to the analysis.  Why did it work and what can we, as professional geeks, learn?

* Make a film not a superhero film.  Captain America is a mix of character piece and war movie – with a little tweaking and toning down you could have turned it into a standard war-adventure movie with a compelling character.  Thus you have a film that's a film, and not about shoving a guy in some tights and figuring out how to film him.

* Make it your own.  The film had a lot of very loving feels to it – it was very "personal."  From the cast's excellent acting to the creation of an imaginary past, there was a lot of loving craftsmanship to this movie.  This enhanced the fact it's a good solid film, and also meant there were lots of nice little details.

* Cast well.  The cast was excellent – if anything, they were at times underused.  Chris Evans owned the role of Captain America.  Hugo Weaving, having a character with some limits, went enjoyably crazy with the Red Skull.  Hayley Atwell was a tough-as-nails old-school film heroine.  Tommy Lee Jones was, as usual, great.  The actors really did well and loved their work – I think Evans, being given a near-impossible role, took complete ownership of it and made it work well.

* Tell a real story and don't just make set pieces or follow standard plots.  Captain America really dealt with this by having a story that, upon reflection, was about a man constantly loosing things as a hero.  Steve Rogers, upon becoming superhuman, loses his dignity and self-respect being part of a USO show.  Upon taking to the battlefield, he eventually loses one of his companions.  His final act of heroism sends him into suspended animation, and he wakes up with everything he knew and everyone he know gone.  This film was in many ways tragic, and the author's didn't shy away from that.

* The Right Style.  The film oozed a kind of retro sensibility.  The technology of Hydra had a weird sci-fi gothic sense.  There were flying cars out of old science fiction.  There were classic scenes of marching soldiers and bombed-out-bars.  It looked and felt right.

The end result again?  Do a good film that's it's own film with the right cast, and the superhero just happens to be part of the plot.

If people keep following this lesson, I think the potential for Superhero Burnout in films may be diminished.  It'll really be about making good films.

Which, you know, is what making films is about.

Steven Savage

P.S. Stay through the credits.  The closing credits have an amazing animated sequence, and the stinger at the end is great.