Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Marvel Films is accomplishing something that I doubted would work: they are transferring the wonder of a shared universe from comic books to film. Captain America: the First Avenger marks what I feel is the first film in the Avengers line to fully develop this. Yes, Nick Fury appears in every film and, yes, many Easter eggs have been dropped into the films, but this one really feels connected to the rest.

The lynchpin to this is Howard Stark, Tony’s father, introduced in Iron Man 2. His role ties much of the universe together and leaves a longer legacy than simply putting Fury in a cameo. You see that he started the Avengers’ work earlier than anyone knew, going back to World War II. Dominic Cooper’s energetic performance makes Stark seem like he could have fathered Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony.

Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull makes an excellent villain, actually ramping up all of the horrific things about Nazi’s into the movie’s new nemesis, Hydra. Think of Hydra as cultist Nazis, even more devoted to a power-hungry madman. Everything about Hydra looks amazing, from their goggled and armored thugs to their tanks to the tentacle-skull logo. They’re deadly and sleek and you want to see them go down.

Also looking the part is Chris Evans as Captain America. Once the movie gets past the odd head-to-big-for-his-body stages, which aren’t as distracting as I had feared, Evans is free to let loose. He takes full advantage of his range of motion, too, running leaping and kicking everything in sight. He carries Steve Rogers with just enough shyness, and no over the top “golly gee” kind of manner, to make the character work as an everyman hero. He seems so solid a person, and conveys much of the goodness that Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine talks of, that he makes the character real and not corny.

If it suffers from moments of convenience, Captain America’s story arc builds up quite well. Steve Rogers does not become Captain America through a series of injections; he becomes Captain America through a series of choices. It makes him a far more compelling hero than, say, Thor of his own movie, who was born to fight. Cap had to earn his opportunity just to do that.

The movie maintains the kind of hopefulness that its era seemed to convey in film. Its lead character should not become Batman, and I praise the filmmakers for knowing this. It’s all too easy to add “edge” to a character for the sake of seeming cool. Captain America is a leader, though, not someone who stalks in shadow. He inspires, not frightens, and Joe Johnston’s film shows this off in a fine way. 4 stars

Advertisements

I doubt any actor today can present a portrait of himself quite as tragic as that of Steve Coogan. Picking up where 2007’s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story left off, The Trip finds Coogan and collaborator Rob Brydon on a tasting tour of northern England. Meant to be a romantic trip for Coogan and an estranged girlfriend, Coogan immediately lets Brydon know his third wheel status on their two-man expedition.

Their banter throughout the journey brilliantly extracts a host of insecurities and defense mechanisms in both men. Brydon rarely speaks in his own voice, letting his impressive impression work do his voicing. He is not unlike a ventriloquist in how much he relies on the outside voice to project his thoughts and feelings. Coogan bluffs being too cool for Brydon’s act while simultaneously trying to one up him with fairly accurate impressions of Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Lee.

Concurrent themes of camaraderie and loneliness permeate The Trip. Once each man reaches the end of his competitive streak, Coogan and Brydon seem to genuinely enjoy one another’s company. They become two old friends sharing long held private jokes, albeit private jokes that an audience can enjoy, as well. Coogan spends almost as much time, though, trying to distance himself from Brydon, largely in terms of ambition. Coogan scours for new women to bed, while Brydon enjoys intimate phone conversations with his wife; Coogan dreams of winning Oscars and scorns British television, while Brydon is content with his fame on BBC. The movie makes it clear that Coogan does these things to fill an emptiness that Brydon has already filled. The film’s best scene illustrates this as Brydon talks easily with his wife, while Coogan imitates Brydon’s only original character (presented in this film) before the bathroom mirror.

Michael Winterbottom presents the English countryside beautifully. The scenes of simply driving along meadows are gorgeous, along with some breathtaking cliffs. He also presents the food handsomely, both cooking and serving, from a ridiculously posh eatery to a simple English breakfast. One standout shot features an old man trying to impart information on limestone to an aloof Coogan. As Coogan walks away you can feel the human connection leaving the old man, standing alone atop a cliff.

Hilarious from the first shot to the end of the eponymous voyage, Coogan and Brydon rarely slow in their attacks on one another, the people they encounter or the accommodations provided them. Not that all of it is mean-spirited, just playful. I began to tire of Brydon’s act, funny though he may be, after roughly an hour. Once he dips into the Hugh Grant impression a fourth time it grows old. In those moments, Coogan alleviates the tedium by pointing out what Brydon is doing. The Trip is a great road movie, with two friends entertaining one another for a few days. Getting to ride along with them is the next best thing to being there. 4 stars