Comic books were a major player in my formative years. Believe it or not, there was a time when they were widely available, even in liquor stores. I remember staring at the various titles scattered on a spinner rack while my dad picked up a thirty pack and scratched lottery tickets at the checkout counter. I was just learning how to read at this point, so the story and dialogue really meant little to me. Instead, I was more fascinated by the artwork. Sometimes, I would get lost staring at a cover for what seemed like an eternity before I would even open to the first page. The artwork of Marvel titles like Spiderman and The Uncanny X-Men always left me feeling awestruck. As I began to learn how to read, these were the first two titles I found myself gravitating towards.
It was through the occasional appearance in issues of Spiderman that I became acquainted with Captain America. I recognized the red, white, and blue costume from seeing his title on the newsstand in years past, but never really knew or understand his back story. An abominable direct-to-video film based on the character released in the early 1990s attempted to fill in the blanks, but even at a young age I recognized how atrocious it really was. Also, the film pretty much killed any small interest I may have had in the character. Besides, it was also around that same time Tim Burton was pumping out Batman films and I was also a little preoccupied with a Dick Tracy obsession.
My interest in comic books began to wane over the next several years. They slowly began to disappear from magazine racks. Even the specialty comic book shops that had come into existence were fading out. The only comic book shop in my town shut down after federal agents raided the place on the account of the store’s owner being a huge pedophile. To this day, it still creeps me out knowing that I used to spend countless hours hanging out there after school freely talking about men clothed in colorful, form-fitting spandex outfits.
Then, for a long period of time, my life lacked epic-scaled stories until someone got the idea to resurrect the superhero genre and adapt them for the big screen. The first film that really stood out was X-Men, released in 2000 and just a few months after my high school graduation. I remember thinking I was too old for this type of movie, but purchased a ticket anyways. Although I felt it didn’t truly capture the tone of the source material it was based on, it was still an overall solid movie. It also opened the floodgates to a decade of virtually every popular comic book property and some not so popular (Elektra anyone?) being adapted for the silver screen.
Some of these films worked but most did not. For every decent super hero adaption like X-Men, we had the laughable Catwoman, two poorly imagined Punisher films, and a Ghost Rider that was dead on arrival. It also didn’t help that virtually everyone of these films follows the same basic formula: origin story in the first act, the menacing threat in the second act, and then the quick defeat of the big bad in the third act. By the time Captain America: The First Avenger was announced, it felt like some operator fell asleep at the assembly line that rolls out these movies.
Despite my growing disinterest in comic book movies, I still check them all out in hopes that Dark Knight-style lightning will strike twice. So far, it hasn’t happened, but I like to think we are getting close to that day. After reading a few favorable reviews, I walked into Captain America with high expectations. With a majority of of the story set in the 1940s, I was intrigued by the period piece aspect of the film. I also found this worked well with X-Men: First Class, which took place in the early ’60s.
Overall, I found Captain America to be quite enjoyable. However, in the confines of the movie I didn’t really feel the Red Skull character worked well as a villain. A comic book story always works when there is a dynamic relationship between the hero and the villain. Think of the stories between Professor X and Magneto. They once worked side-by-side but a changing force drives them to become adversaries. Here it just seems like a cat-and-mouse chase with Captain America eventually catching up to Red Skull and defeating him. I don’t expect Captain America and the Red Skull to sit down and have a cup of tea, but some a mid-story interrogation scene involving the two could have created a tense relationship between the two giving Red Skull more depth as a character and allowing him to be a more formidable opponent.
Also, the film was quick to take Captain America into the present. I understand he is expected to lead The Avengers in 2012, but they could have kept him in the ’40s for a few stand-alone movies. This doesn’t allow Steve Rogers enough time to become Captain America, the icon. It would have been a nice touch to jump back and see more Captain America stories set during World War II and save his inevitable thawing for the opening of The Avengers.
Finally, I’m curious to see how Captain America will hold up over time as the movie suddenly ends with Steve Rogers confused and bewildered in the middle of modern day New York City. To me, it all depends on how the character is handled in The Avengers and any following sequels. But if it doesn’t work, they can always just go back and reboot it, right?