The summer is sadly fast approaching the end. One of the highlights in the world of blockbuster summer cinema for me was the arrival of Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger . I definitely awaited its arrival with some degree of anticipation. As it turned out, it may have been more than I expected. In retrospect, it was certainly one of the better comic book films and easily among my favorites of the last few years. Director Joe Johnston delivers period adventure like no other a la The Rocketeer  and October Sky  to name two of his films. The former takes place in 1938, while the latter 1957 and Joe Johnston always effectively delivers that sense of time and place with style and muted beauty lending his pictures a good degree of detail in capturing the look and feel one might imagine. And, of course, what gets more period than Jurassic Park III . In fact, these pictures are among his best.
Most of the critical feedback regarding Johnston's work on Captain America: The First Avenger has been favorable, but a few have had a negative assessments levied against him. Personally, the film walks that always difficult fine line in an introductory hero film balancing excitement, character and origin story like a circus performer on a tightrope and the trick is a sight to behold. Johnston succeeds beautifully as we hold our breath. With such a sure and steady hand on the project it's interesting how Johnston often receives backhanded compliments regarding his work as if he stumbled upon good luck. He may not be Christopher Nolan, but his work is solid as it is here in Captain America: The First Avenger.
The casting choices are brilliant from Chris Evans [Sunshine] to Hugo Weaving [The Matrix, V For Vendetta] as The Red Skull and everyone else standing between good and evil. I had my doubts about Evans, not here, but as an actor once upon a time. After seeing the dismal Fantastic Four  and his grating work as The Human Torch, perhaps in character as Johnny Storm, I may have judged the fellow unfairly and too harshly. Sadly, as it turned out, no one cast for Fantastic Four could save that film from mediocrity.
But, somewhere along the way, Evans connected with Danny Boyle and delivered something special, for me, in a supporting role in Sunshine . Sunshine was easily one of the finest science fiction films of that year and Evans completely altered my potentially unfair opinion of him. So when the announcement came that Evans would be Captain America, I embraced the choice and rallied behind it. Had the announcement come pre-2007 I would have had a much different reaction. My opinion of Evans as an actor is still not fully formed, but as Captain America he was a terrific choice to wear the stars and stripes, the red, white and blue. How fitting Evans should hail originally from Boston, Massachusetts, home of the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere.
Captain America: The First Avenger, the film, was like an old-fashioned antidote to all of the grim-faced darkness pervasive in comic book adaptations and graphic novels that we enjoy today. There's a warmth and likability to the film that feels like it arrived in a nick of time amidst the souring of our national economy and an America that appears to be realigning financially and politically. It arrived at a time when some including our leaders spend a good deal of time apologizing for our country. Whether intended or not, Johnston makes no apologies for the patriotic vibe of the picture and he shouldn't based on the source material. If he had it wouldn't have been Captain America. Heck, a good deal of critics express their affection for the film, but quickly deflect that it has anything to do with a sense of pride about the picture's tone. We can't have that. We can't be perceived as patriotic as writers. It was truly a shot in the arm.
The film's only failure from a marketing perspective was that the studio didn't release the it on the long 4th of July weekend. I would have thought it might have had even greater returns. It seemed like a missed opportunity.
Johnston's avenger is like the light night to the tortured dark one called Bruce. It's a welcomed contrast. Evans sincere and spirited soul, natural, All-American good looks is the perfect choice for a summer action hero. He also plays the underdog portion of the film delightfully. He's the regular little guy, literally, to salute and get behind.
Most of all, this is a rare comic film where its sense of place and time gives it a unique vibe from almost all of its contemporaries. What better place to rekindle American pride and patriotism than a setting of World War II? Who better to deliver it than Johnston? In a world where America is no longer perceived a righteous champion with its excursions into Afghanistan and Iraq, and God knows our soldiers are just, Johnston's Captain America paints the portrait of a hero, a symbol of American strength, at a time when it held the moral and just high ground. The world seemed painted in black and white, when it came to enemies and allies, not the grey shift of mounting global players knocking at our borders. America was indeed a heroic nation to most. Films like Saving Private Ryan , as painful as World War II was, painted us as liberators and a force for good long before things got murky in Vietnam, because we were. Shifts from conventional war to asymmetrical and de-centralized warfare have moved us a long way from those black and white days. Captain America: The First Avenger reminds us of a better time for the nation and not just a simple, comic book diversion. The Red Skull and Hydra are all symbolic constructs of the Nazi evils of World War II, and Captain America takes us back to a time when the fight was right and a nation was beloved. How things have changed. Such motivations, intended or not, are certainly rare in Hollywood, but Johnston delivered a film with a tone wildly unexpected for today's Hollywood.
When I was a kid, the carpet of my bedroom floor was covered with comic books. There was hardly a spot of rug exposed. Everything from The Uncanny X-Men, The Champions, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and eventually The Micronauts populated my shelves and floor. These were incredible books and comic books filled with wonderful stories and beautiful art. As cinematic as today's books look, they simply don't make comics the same way anymore.
For a period, I was a fairly big fan of Captain America And The Falcon, but one of my favorite books was The Invaders created by Sal Buscema and Roy Thomas. In fact, I enjoyed just about everything Buscema touched and for a time he was doing some terrific stuff on vintage era Captain America. His prolific, epic touch ran on a host of titles from 1968 through the 1980s and beyond, but his work in the 1970s remains some of my favorite. His Invaders, which is hinted to in the film, is preceded by the tagline reading The Greatest Super-Heroes Of World War Two! Perhaps this is one component of Captain America: The First Avenger that worked so well for me. The Invaders unit is certainly hinted to, but I would love nothing more than a sequel film called The Invaders featuring Captain America, The Human Torch [could Chris Evans carry both parts?; actually this one is Jim Hammond -the original android Human Torch; not Johnny Storm] and Namor: The Sub-Mariner. Supporting players would include Bucky [introduced in the film], Toro [Thomas Raymond; sidekick to Hammond] and Union Jack. Having these heroes battle Adolf Hitler, The Red Skull and the Axis Powers [Germany, Italy and Japan] would certainly be a comic book joy. Such a production would be forever unlikely, and a book like The Invaders seems oddly, politically incorrect today, despite its basis in history, but a boy can dream can't he?
In many ways seeing Captain America: The First Avenger reach the big screen as it did was partly a dream come true. Never in a million years would I have thought they would go back to the origins of the character in such a stylish, impactful way. Director Ang Lee destroyed the source material for his Hulk  film. I believe the handling of Steve Rogers and his alter ego, created in 1941, would make creators Joe Simon and the late Jack Kirby proud. Giving us Captain America in this way was genius and Joe Johnston breathes and weaves his typically sincere kind of Saturday matinee fun into the picture that reminisces of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. It's rare to find a picture with that kind of energy today. To see the film come to life, propelled by a story filled with stellar costume design and blockbuster ideas, within the era of the World War II hero he was designed to be was truly refreshing and something special. Now if only I could get my Invaders in the form of a healthy and sizable flashback in a Captain America sequel.
The Invaders returned for this issue of Namor: The Sub-Mariner with cover art by John Byrne. While I'm certainly excited about the potential of The Avengers on film, which will feature Cap's next appearance, the idea of an ensemble picture, like The X-Men, makes me a little uneasy. Captain America: The First Avenger did a nice job of mixing action with character and I hope the latter isn't sacrificed as a result of sharing the stage. If I had a choice, Invaders or Avengers, I'd be pulling for the former, but I'm certainly more inclined to say I look forward to a legitimate Captain America sequel, one that takes the character to the next level in a manner reminiscent of The Dark Knight's  arrival following the underappreciated Batman Begins . Yes, bring back the shield.
Is Captain America: The First Avenger on the same level as The Dark Knight? Of course not. People wonder why so many of the superhero films run average to good in the final product, but it's rare the material receives the support of a top tier talent like Christopher Nolan. That's why Batman is in such great hands.
Joe Johnston is often slighted for his reliable efforts, but there's a simple, reassuring pleasure he brings to a strong, streamlined narrative like Captain America: The First Avenger. He's a sturdy, good director with an eye for adventure. Fortunately Johnston does the character justice. Cap explodes off the screen like the classic character from the pages of the comic book. Perhaps I was hungry for a film like this, susceptible and open more than ever to it, but like the classic comics, Johnston embraced those patriotic ideals and he wasn't ashamed to deliver the wholesome kind of character embodied in Steve Rogers, a good, decent man and one proud of his country. Several lines in the script reflect that attitude. Can you imagine?