Archive for July, 2011

“Cowboys & Aliens” Movie Review

Posted in Movie Review with tags on July 31, 2011 by Alex

“Cowboys & Aliens” just came out this weekend.  Have you seen it?

It’s funny how quick we are to contradict ourselves.  For myself, I’m finding it necessary to immediately go against what I just stood by in my previous review.  There needs to be a spoiler free version of my thoughts so more people can participate in Martian Sunrise.  I was so firm in my original stance because of my concern about letting movies speak for themselves that I neglected the possibility that someone might not be willing to let it speak (i.e. go watch the movie) without some sort of assurance that it would even be worth their time.  Those that don’t want to read it don’t have to.  So I will bend in this one principle. Let’s not count on this happening often.

Spoiler – Free Review (nOObs start reading here)

“Cowboys & Aliens” is a surprisingly well made movie.  The whole name (with the second word being conveniently similar to the word “Indians”) sends a message of it being a campy summer blockbuster with no real depth at all, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  It actually is kinda awesome.

I think I trust Jon Favreau (well, mostly) because he understands the film making process.  He earns my respect over directors like James Cameron and Michael Bay because his movies, even when they stink, still manage to capture my interest with engaging material.  Iron Man 2 is a great example of this.  It doesn’t have the same level of craft as its predecessor, but it’s not so misshapen as to be uncomfortable to sit through.  “Cowboys & Aliens” has the gift of being both well made like “Iron Man” but also genuinely fun and exciting.

I remember hearing about this adaptation when I started getting more into comics and how, at its very core, the story is about American Imperialism.  And I’m entirely unconvinced of that assessment.  “Revenge of the Sith” was, upon release, about Bush’s ugly side and the movie adaptation of “The Body Snatchers” was apparently about the cloaked threat of communism.  Both of their directors have admitted that the critics were wrong.  “Revenge of the Sith” (and Star Wars as a whole) was never made to be a commentary on any current affairs (but talks about perennial problems and those in the past Vietnam era) and “Body Snatchers’ was simply about scary aliens that had the ability to mimic us with near perfect accuracy.  So critics will inevitably claim they’ve figured out some work of art and often, if not bloomin’ near always, it’s about something that is going on at this very moment and will be outdated very quickly.  I’m not going to argue that art is never about something current or that it’s not about anything and simply “is”, but I am arguing that most of the time people’s opinions are in fact dead wrong.  They’re too centralized around a single point.  They make the work more boring than it has to be.  They fail to realize that the problems we have today stem from deep seated issues that have always plagued us (like greed).  Either way, people are typically wrong.

I usually get a feeling about where a movie is going in its opening.  In “Cowboys & Aliens” first few moments, we learn a lot about the main character (his ability to lead, his quick thinking and skill in combat, his disorientation about the past) without being directly told who he is.  We don’t even know his name until a bit later but, right off the bat, we know him.

We also learn about the concept of the movie in the first scene that the small can overtake the many given the right circumstances.  And in no place are we told that it is possible but simply shown.  This way less curious audiences believe it and more curious audiences can consider the proposition and how it might apply to the story as a whole.  Brilliant.

The characters of “Cowboys & Aliens” are a good fit.  They’re not perfect or beautiful.  But a good fit.  They each serve their purpose and they do it well.  We hear of Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) through his spoiled brat of a son (tightly performed by Paul Dano who I ended up wanting more of) and how he ultimately runs the town through fear.

We get to see how Dolarhyde has had a troubled past and how it’s made him into the grizzled man today but unfortunately it should have portrayed him starting out at a more detestable level.  We hear about his corruption but we never get to truly see it.  And the casting choice makes this problem exceptionally ironic.  When Lucas doctored up the original “Star Wars” to make Han (Ford’s breakout role) more likable and less cold-blooded at the opening of the movie (prompting the “Han Shot First” slogan), it made his eventual redemption less meaningful.  In the same way, they try to develop Dolarhyde but lay a shaky foundation for the process.

It also bears mentioning that there is a fair degree of theology in the movie which makes it a perfect candidate for Martian Sunrise.  The nature of God is revealed (or should I say darkened) by the ironhide preacher Shepherd Book Meacham.  I will not go into any real detail about how flimsy and unbiblical his beliefs are but it’s gross that he is the film’s moral center of which the characters are meant to understand what is going on.  So go in with your discernment cap.

The story, which isn’t particularly special but it works, does reconcile the genre differences of science fiction and western perfectly.  When odd things happen, characters react as they should.  They’re shocked.  And that’s exactly what the film needs to do.  There is a plot twist about half way through that unpacks and spoon-feeds the audience the necessary back-story and it didn’t feel forced.  Later developments in the plot are hinted at early on in normal unassuming ways.  Just like with the first scene, we understand a later development by its earlier establishment.  So I believed what was going on and it made sense.

I will also warn that there is almost some backside nudity (keyword “almost”) that is used in a completely asexual way.  It makes sense of what happened and tells you something deep about the character.  I’m just darn glad it was done tastefully.

The last (and best) spoiler-free thing I can say about “Cowboys & Aliens” is the visual feel of it.  There is a striking attention to detail in ways most blockbusters overlook.  In particular, my favorite scene took inside a derelict boat.  It’s raining terribly hard and we feel it along with the characters.  There are all sorts of odd things strewn about the boat and the characters have to rest in the midst of all the mess.  In one sequence the saloon owner Doc (played by Sam Rockwell) takes some time to practice his rifle skills by blowing away some empty bottles.  We’ve seen this a million times in movies but here it just really worked and felt natural.  They’re all preparing for the danger that lies ahead.

All I’ll say about that “danger” is that they did a good job of making them strange enough without being impractical or too weird.  They’re beefy, short-tempered, and gooey.  And that’s the kinda baddie “Cowboys & Aliens” needs.

“Cowboys & Aliens” is not a perfect movie but it’s far from the cookie cutter experience that you might expect in the summer.  It’s slicker and smarter than its branding might suggest.  It does so well because the story made sense with how it establishes things early on and I also felt that each scene was really nurtured by making it feel real.  It does lose some points in the way it develops Dolarhyde and it bares mentioning that its doctrine is very short sighted.  I do question if that sort of theological error would have made its way as far as deep in the country as Arizona in that early of a time period.  Who knows?

Overall Score: 3/4 ((***/****)remember 1 star is average))

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW COWBOYS & ALIENS MOVIE

You’ve been warned.

A typical feature in science fiction is the establishment of intelligent extraterrestrial life.  A lot of times they are used to provide an ultimate solution to mankind’s problems since they’ve tried every other thing (everything but the Gospel that is).  There is something of an interesting realization in this: we realize we that we are irreparably broken .  This is mostly true.  I would argue that where the Gospel is accepted people realize how otherworldly it is in comparison to every other system such as communism, the hippie movement, Atkins diet, Pokémon, skateboarding, positive thinking, etc.  Where the false Gospel flourishes, it’s typically seen as something very earthly and similar.  So having an otherworldly messiah, such as aliens,  is a profoundly interesting idea because it means we realize we’re damned.

Sometimes in sci-fi aliens aren’t the messiah but are just as corrupt as us.  This is mostly the case in “Cowboys & Aliens”.  I liked how they brought in the motivation to plunder gold.  This made them understandable in their initiative but terrifying in their execution.  Perhaps the movie would encourage us to think that we would have done the same thing given the chance on a more primitive culture.

Ella provides the counter example.  She is from an entirely different alien species of which we know really nothing about.  I would have liked some sort of clues in the story to describe her species (if she was even a she and didn’t mankiss Lonargen) because it would have made the world seem bigger.  As she is, she is just a solution to a plot problem.

Perhaps the only real interesting thing about Ella is that she is a very Christian incarnation.  She takes on a much lower form to be able to communicate with humans (as the experience of the Father showing up on your doorstep would likely kill you), she literally dies and is resurrected to prove her transcendent nature, and her sacrifice at the end also saves everyone.  I guess the implication is that if the aliens could escape they would later return and wipe the planet clean.

I suppose the main thing to discuss within spoiler territory is Meacham’s theology.  From the very start, he is unsure of Lonargen’s innocence but claims that (poorly paraphrased), “You just need to remember.  This is not God’s story but yours.”

I like how in Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love that he says we are all characters in God’s movie.  We typically lead our lives with the mindset of us being the hero and how it’s up to us to save the day.  Our glory, our glory, our glory.  Chan claims we are not the heroes, but extras.  We’re simply there for the background and all the real drama is about the person and action of God.  What Meacham does is he elevates the position far beyond the status of “extra”.

When Doc is so concerned about the safety of his wife, he confesses to Meacham that either God doesn’t exist or he’s evil (which already makes him the more qualified preacher than Meacham).  Meacham replies, almost comedically, “Do you really expect God to do everything for you?”

This is a very modern (and yet still ancient (Eccl 1:9)) view of God.  God created us to do what we want.  If it’s up to be it’s up to me.  God is not here to fix your life.  You determine what you want and grab it.

I’ll tell you why this gets my goat.  As I’m a Christian, morality permeates every area of my experience.  When I do good, it’s not because I have some pathetic timely standard and thought I’d gift someone with it.  I’m doing good that rests on the eternal legitimacy of the character of our perfect Creator in all His wisom, might, and love.

When I do evil, it’s truly wrong because I’m attempting to make my own footing illegitimate.  God spoke all creation (even me) into existence and finds its necessary cause outside itself and in Him.  Its continued rebellious existence hinges on His grace.  Whenever I really think about how God is so different from me and what I’d do (Isaiah 55:8-9) it compels me to worship.  God is so much bigger than us, so much smarter than us, so much more honest than us, so much more everything than us.

The God of Meacham and “Cowboys & Aliens” is very distant and very, very small.  He’s also relatively human.  There is an almost surface level idea of forgiveness in the movie (uttered by Meacham in his all too late dying breath) which is helpful.  I like to think that behind the scenes God is saving them from the aliens through Ella and we get to see their deliverance by His grace.  I’m happy they bring Him up as a way to possibly legitimize  Him, but it’s such a shallow view that I’d almost rather it not be there at all.  Outside of that, God is minimized.  The God of Meacham does not deserve worship.  He’s pathetic, he’s small, and he’s calloused.

The whole idea of a God that is so distant is of no help to those who are without hope.  There are people right now dying of cancer.  They are doing everything they can to fight it but, even with the best medicine, they will likely die.  Some of them will actually survive.  Does that mean Meacham’s God showed grace upon them?  Is he doing something at all?  Were they strong enough?  Or were they “lucky” enough?  The bits of dialogue in the movie aren’t enough to give us answers, but I do think a big part of its theology is the emphasis upon the individual as opposed to the Creator.

All suffering in the individual’s life dampens his own glory when it overtakes him.  The cancer victim wasn’t strong enough.  If his life was fundamentally about himself, then it’s just a painful tragedy with a pointless ending.  Ultimately his efforts were never enough.  The efforts he was able to muster up got him so far and were eventually depleted.  Things he wanted to do were ultimately cut short.  In a generation or two, he will likely be forgotten.  If he survives (or avoids cancer altogether), we have the same end results albeit on a slight delay.  Worm food.

The man whose life is about God is never without purpose.  God has the best intentions possible in the man’s suffering (Gen 50:20) and nothing is pointless or random (Prov 16:33).  Our whole life is shaped by God so, in the end, glory goes where glory is due.

Romans 9:21-25 (ESV)

21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'”

Is this not a more workable worldview?   Good men can sacrifice of themselves simply because they know it’s not about them.  Evil men, by ultimate ordination, do not realize they can’t stop bringing the Creator glory and are actually working towards His ultimate purpose.  I will take the God of the Bible over the God of Meacham every day of the week.

Should this impact my critique of the film?  Many would say no.  Good art is good art no matter where it comes from.  The problem with this claim is that we still need to define “art.”  Does art tell us something true?  Is art simply beautiful?  Well then we have to define “truth” and “beauty.”  We have left criticism and stepped into philosophy.  I’ll leave that to you for now.

I have to knock down “Cowboys & Aliens” a few pegs because it grosses me out.  I don’t think there’s a man alive who doesn’t have a breaking point where art stops being art.  Mine is simply very, very low.  I can’t enjoy something that I know Jesus would not enjoy.  I can’t enjoy something that I know will not pass into New Heavens and New Earth.  So why should I sympathize with it if it’s going to burn?

Roger Ebert said of the pro-racist movie “The Birth of A Nation” that, even though it espouses an evil viewpoint, it’s useful for showing that viewpoint of where we were in history. I think it’s true we can use it for that purpose but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still an evil movie.  We shouldn’t have to be champions of the opposite viewpont.  That is not a burden we have to carry.

There is nothing inherently authoritative about art that demands we respect it (especially when it comes from a heretical worldview).  I love Mars but I cannot call all of it beautiful in light of the Sunrise.  It is dead, blemished, and if you’re not carrying an air supply you will suffocate.

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An Introduction to Martian Sunrise and a review of “Captain America – The First Avenger”

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , on July 24, 2011 by Alex

I tend to be aggressive in expressing my opinions.  When I speak wearing the  mask of internet cowardice, my words tend to become venomous.  So I pray right now that I can serve anyone who wants to read Martian Sunrise, a place where the Gospel is brought to strange places, that I speak not only with passion but with grace.  If I dip into immorality I will right now ask for your forgiveness.  Sometimes God pulls back the curtain to show us who we really are apart from Him.  And it’s always a nasty sight.

So what is Martian Sunrise?  First, it already exists as a url for some dead WordPress site.  Since I couldn’t use it, I picked “Barrow Blade” as it captured the imagination and wonder that exists within Middle-Earth.  A Barrow-blade is a sword forged long ago and “wrought with spells for the doom of Mordor.”  It’s then lost and found much later (within the contemporary events of Lord of the Rings) in the barrow of a barrow-wight.  Once Merry wields the Barrow-blade in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, it proves ultimately useful in slaying the Witch King of Angmar.  So there is this idea of an ancient blade pulled out of a ghastly place that is designed to slay evil.  Does it sound familiar at all?

I can only call Middle-Earth imaginative and wondrous because of the Gospel behind it.  Christ left Heaven with the full intent of destroying Satan. To do this He died and rested in a tomb with the enemy cheering at His demise.  It would seem Satan could use the crushing of the Son to ruin any hope we would have in being reconciled back to God.  Yet the sword is pulled out of the grave and has destroyed death.

In the same way, we defeat death by wielding and trusting in Christ’s strength.  We are born into sin, it having already overtaken us, and condemns us to conscious, eternal Hell.  The only way to be rescued from Hell is to wield and stab with the Barrow-blade.  The Word that precedes from the mouth of the Father.  The Christ, that is.

So this connection I found, however intentional it was on the part of Tolkien, has been a symbol of what I take pleasure in.  God has given me a wealth of interest in stories of all forms because they, in some way, reflect their creator being image bearers of The Creator.  And it’s wonderful when they get close to the heart issues.

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are my favorite types of stories.  Today, their authors and audiences rarely glorify, or even acknowledge, the massive grace God has shown them in the person of His Son.  This is especially true with science fiction.  In the same way, the planet Mars is, to our current knowledge, a dead rock.  So when I’m saying “Martian” I typically refer to the strange, alien (and maybe dead) places the gospel (the Sunrise) has not transformed.  In this specific example I use Mars as a very convenient figure for the genre of science fiction but, overall, I don’t have to use it for just that.

So my goal with Martian Sunrise is to provide a place where I can discuss strange things in light of the Gospel, the Bible which tells us of it, and the God Who holds all things together.  A relatively easy way to do this is by reviewing movies.  I don’t have to draw some sort of specific parallel in each like I do with the Barrow-blade, but at least in some way show how this particular piece of art affected me.  For if God gave me the ability to think, to reason, and to feel, how am I not giving Him glory by displaying them?

Movies are easy because they are so short and easily accessible.  Count on me in discussing all sorts of other things like video games, poetry, novels, short stories, philosophy, music, comics, and (eesh) current events.  My goal is to describe exactly what went on in it, how successful it was, and (if possible) what it says about God.

Today I am not going to give you a traditional spoiler – free review because I’m questioning the legitimacy of the idea.  Sometimes it helps to see a very generalized impression (like a Rotten Tomatoes score) to see if it’s worth my time.  Sometimes it helps to just hear, “Go see it.”  So I can give you at least that.  Go see it.  I do enjoy reading some reviews and listening to movie podcasts (like MovieChatter) but I’m beginning to really think about the importance of going into a movie completely fresh to it.  I’m not even sure about trailers at this point.

When I walk into a movie I want to be able to judge it for myself.  I want to be fresh. If I’m predisposed to another’s opinion, it’s very likely my opinion will be in some way related to it.  And then it stops being my personal opinion.  If I want good acting in a movie, I don’t want to be told it’s good acting.  If I need to be told it’s good…it’s likely not good.  I place a high emphasis on giving the viewer a chance to use his own God given ability to watch and form an opinion.

In the same way, I don’t like the how some people view movies as a chance just to turn off their brain.  This is sometimes called “unwinding” and “letting off stress.”  A lot of times, any future discussion of the movie is discouraged.  And I think within that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to unwind.  Fishing is unwinding because it is simple, pure, and serene.  At no point does your brain turn off in the midst of it, it just relaxes.  You start thinking about deeper things.  The Earth that God gave you.  How you have dominion over it and the fish in the water.  You might even look back into your childhood with fondness.

If movies are meant to “unwind”, typically someone means that they want to suspend thinking.  And I heartily challenge that idea.  Because in no other area of life do we encourage that kind of behavior (in fact we call it dangerous).  So when you’re watching a movie (or after it), why not consider what’s going on?  Do the actors love Jesus?  What about the director?  Is it filmed with shots that both make sense but, at the same time, are not boring?  What about the end of the movie?  Can you see it coming?  What about afterward?  Did it make sense?

I find myself in the midst of “good” movies not thinking normal questions like this and more of trying to absorb every detail of the fictional world.  When a character does something morally complicated I may consider where the director stands in regard to the issue.  But overall, I build the frame of my opinion as I go along and then build the rest of the home afterward.

What I’m encouraging for you who have basked in the Sunrise: use the brain that God has given you.  You use your hands for making dinner.  Why not use the brain that God gave you to dive into art?  If you’re not going to be using your brain, did you even like the movie?  Or are you asleep?

So I can’t really do much as far of spoiler – free review.  If you have not seen “Captain America – The First Avenger” then I strongly recommend you don’t read…any…further.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE, THE COMICS BEHIND IT, AND LOTS OF BATMAN SPOILERS.

You have now adequately been warned.

My experience with the characters of Marvel comics has been somewhat limited.  When I do read comics books, I feel more comfortable with DC because:

1. Batman.

2. There are no X-Men

I became interested in Captain America when he was killed in Civil War. I thought, “Wow! A superhero that is decades old and they off him?  Gutsy!”  So part of my interest in superhero comic books was ignited by the idea that the publishers were interested in telling stories that actually mattered.  And then the Batman “RIP” story arc was just kicking off and I once again thought “Woh..they’re going to kill off Bruce.  The franchise is actually evolving.”  It’s hilarious how mistaken I was in my assumption.  If there is one thing I have learned about major comic book characters is that they rarely ever die or change.  Death is only a revolving door that is lubricated by the reader’s wallets.

When DC made the choice to dazzle readers by killing off Bruce (and I can say with confidence they did so in a spectacular fashion), does it not ruin everything by bringing him back?  Does it not make the original story not matter?  It’s only been a couple of years since Bruce was sent off into the abyss and (as of this blog entry) he’s on the verge of reclaiming the cowl.  Steve Rogers was also recently brought back to life and reclaimed the title after Bucky was “killed” again.

I do enjoy superheroes.  But I realize there are very few places you can take them without it all being retconned or reversed to oblivion.  I like limited series like “The Dark Knight Returns” because, as it’s a self contained series outside of the main DCU continuity, things can and do happen.

Recently superheroes have invaded the movie theater.  In a way, they are closer to the limited series like DKR because they are self contained, outside, and will only last for a limited time.  Imagine if in the upcoming Batman movie, Bruce gets permanently crippled by Bane at the finale and yet still manages to beat him somehow.  Would that not be an epic way to end the trilogy?  If Christopher Nolan actually tries something so gutsy that would possibly prevent the creation of any future Batman movies within his continuity, then he will have made art.

Of the Marvel movies, I’ve typically been satisfied with their quality.  The best thing they’ve put out is the original “Iron Man” because it’s tightly paced, fun, and the casting was near perfect.  I remember when it came out I heard whispers of a big monstrous “Avengers” crossover coming out once Marvel introduced all the characters in their various solo movies.  “Captain America” is the penultimate act that’s supposed to set up the last bits before the team is assembled.  So how does it do?

I kept on telling myself while watching “Captain America – The First Avenger” that it is a movie with “some magic.”  What makes it special isn’t always obvious, it usually works against it as if it’s embarrassed at how good it could be, but sometimes…you can see it.

In the opening scene there is way too much talking.  Far too much.  See the opening of the original “Alien” for a superior way of opening a movie.  I’m not saying that all movies have to be operatic and slowly wake up as the characters do… but in “Captain America” I felt bombarded with characters that didn’t really matter taking the stage as if they did.  There are a million ways to show characters treading upon a frozen legend.  But we don’t need the one way that builds anticipation by telling us how special it is. We have to clearly understand that the whole world  changed in that one instant just by looking at their faces.  Don’t just have them be kinda rattled.  This has to shock them.  Slow things down.  Show don’t tell.  Let the viewer feel the magic.

When we are brought over to Norway things get slightly better.  The tank…dozer…thing busts through the wall unexpectedly.  The headlights of Schmidt’s car are malicious slits.  It has a hood ornament with a skull and tentacles.  We know this guy is evil before we even see him.  I say to myself “Okay…good, good.  This movie might not be terrible.”

Yet the moment he opens his mouth I can tell he wasn’t the right man for the job.  Schmidt doesn’t sound like a Nazi.  He sounds like Hugo Weaving.  I loved Hugo in the Matrix.  Not so much here.  He could not communicate a believable German accent.  It was very thin.  Perhaps it was just my pessimism thinking for me, but I think even in some points he dropped out of the accent completely.

And then we’re brought to poor little Steve Rogers.  The guy is so skinny my dad thought he was a polio patient.  The CG in transplanting his head onto a shrimp was very well done.   While watching, I considered if Chris Evans was crazy enough to be a method actor like Christian Bale and actually drop all that weight and gain it back again.  But he didn’t.  And it wasn’t as real as I thought it might be.  And I like to be fooled.

Steve Rogers is a guy with heart.  He lives to defend his country even though he is awfully scrawny.  When we see him in boot camp and they do the “grenade test”, I really knew who he was when he jumped on it.  It emphasizes how tough he is on the inside so much that I started thinking about the Christian experience.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Matt 23:12 (ESV)

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” ~ James 4:6 (ESV)

Steve is a perfect illustration of this principle.  He would be a liability on the battlefield because he’s so weak.  He can’t do anything that the army can put to use.  So why does he make the perfect candidate?  The movie makes the point that while there is a distinction between buff and frail men, the greater distinction is between courageous, compassionate men and brutish, arrogant men.  Sort of like faith and works.  If we do amazing things in God’s name with no inward change…are we really filled with the Spirit?  So it is then the inner man that always takes precedence over the outer man.

Stanley Tucci was a great fit for playing Dr. Abraham.  When they bring Steve underground and are loading him onto the table, I noticed how Dr. Abraham suggested that Carter might be more comfortable in the viewing room upstairs.  When I realized he was concerned about Carter’s safety in the possibility of this machine horribly backfiring, I didn’t just like the man but I knew him.  Shortly later he is killed off and the death is weighty because I knew the man.  And that’s efficient storytelling.

With Carter I wasn’t as impressed.  She was a pair of lips with an accent.  The only real moment of depth (aside from possibly the ending) comes whenever she blasts away at the Cap when he gets his shield.  I remember being bombarded with this scene in the trailer.  It got annoying.  It’s the sort of thing that always appears in the trailers. “Come see our movie, it’s got explosions and guns and dames!”  Trailer trash.What made the scene work was just how furious she was.  In the trailer, Carter is eccentric and brutal. In the movie she was consumed by anger and jealousy.

Her parting from the Captain is quaint and bittersweet.  It would have been ruined if they were sobbing and dropped the “L” bomb in the conversation.  And a good last line in the flashfoward.  I’m okay if we never see her again.

Now Bucky.  I remember really liking him in the Brubaker comics.  He was much shorter than Cap and knew his way around a combat knife.  It was even alluded that he had some sort of blood-thirst inside that made him extra violent.  I don’t know much in the comics outside of what Brubaker  has done, but what he did was enough to give me a real encounter with some of the characters.

In the movie I wasn’t as impressed.  Bucky is not different enough from the Captain.  He’s a decent friend (not a great friend like Sam to Frodo) and is…just kinda there.   We never really see him pursue Steve as a friend.  It was cool to see him wield the shield (foreshadowing perhaps?) but outside of that…meh.  When he went over the edge into the ravine I felt no sense of loss.  And they will likely bring him back as the Winter Soldier.  Because that’s how comics work.

I liked having Howard Stark in there but I was a bit confused about how old he is supposed to be.  Tony is in his late 30s in his movies.  So he might be born in 1970.  Howard’s actor in this movie, Dominic Cooper, is 33.  If we assume this is the character’s age (or least close to it), then he had Tony when he was 61. That’s certainly not impossible (especially for men) but people typically get married and children before that age and we are not lead to believe Tony has any older siblings.  I’d have to go back and rewatch Iron Man 2 for further information (maybe compare tape quality to Howard’s age as to guess when it was filmed), as something feels off.  It might have been easier to just say he was the grandfather.  Or maybe he was.  Dominic Cooper doesn’t think so.

But since Howard, like his son, is something of a disrespectful woman chaser he might not actually mature enough to settle down until much later in life.  It kinda makes sense now but, in the theater, I was very confused and thinking Howard was actually Tony’s grandfather.  It’s possibly a case of fridge brilliance.  Or just an error.

(reference here)

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FridgeBrilliance

The movie also did a good job of weaving together the worlds of Iron Man and Thor.  Since the Iron Man franchise is about things at least looking scientific and Thor is so fantastical, having the Nazi occult scientists utilize the power of the gods for their inventions was the perfect mesh.  I can talk about the  flaws within the movie all day, but one thing they did exceptionally well was create a sense of logical harmony across the movies.

The only real problem is that, with their solution, I became too familiar with the villains and they lost their menace.  At no point was I really absorbed in the conflict between Steve and Schmidt.  I knew everything was going to be neatly tied up in the end.  And the Hydra salute (while it makes sense with the different “heads”) hilariously ruins the tone.

Once Steve buffs up and emerges from the “tomb”, Carter is humorously enthralled by the results and the movie gets dumber.  While the commandos are fun, it loses the Christian intrigue of the setup.    There is very little inner conflict left in Steve.  He still wants to fight but is held back as a stage performer for the troops.  He wears that ridiculous costume (paying a snarky homage to the earlier comics)  and eventually gets a better costume (looking more like the Ultimate version of the Cap).  He pursues the girl throughout the movie and has her for but a moment.  These issues are interesting, but they don’t speak as deeply when we see Steve getting bullied and refusing to stay down out of honor.  All the good stuff is packed into the first quarter.

The dynamic growth of a character should not be stuffed into the opening of a movie.  It should start low, crescendo throughout, and then end on a high note in the climax.  We don’t get that here and there’s not as much to look forward to.  Perhaps the Super Soldier Serum worked too well.  At least the fights are cool. *shrug*

Now my above review is the clearest way I can express my opinion.  But in the interest of categorization (and not truncation) I feel compelled to give it a rating.  My reviews that score at the top (or even somehow beyond the top) will have a chance to put into a special Martian Sunrise Hall of Fame. Or Canon.  We’ll see.

Actionbutton.net is a good website for interesting video game reviews.  In particular, I like their scoring philosophy.  The range is 0-4 stars (with halfsies) and 1 star is average.  Rather than having a more academic system with 70 somehow being average or passable, why not reward accomplishment rather than failure?  With a bigger high end, we can have greater precision when discussing the really, really good stuff.  Besides, Sturgeon was right when he said that 90% of everything was terrible. I shouldn’t have to spend as much time thinking about how bad something was.  90% of everything is, at worst, only two steps away from average.

“Captain America – The First Avenger” gets 2 stars (**/****) from me.  Chris Evans does great in the lead but, unfortunately, doesn’t have enough to work with after his transformation.  Bucky’s death is of no real consequence (because we know he’ll be back and he wasn’t that interesting to begin with).  The villains have very few teeth but are in no short supply of double raised fists.  This movie has some heart in it but it’s difficult to find.  The ending was well done.  The beginning was not.  The stinger after the credits (or as I call it: the biscuit) got me pumped for what was to come.  Now it’s time for Joss Whedon to work his devil magic next summer.