Thursday, January 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: Th is an interesting movie title because the bad guy Captain America's fighting against is clearly not named Th.
Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS.

What I wrote about Captain America: The First Avenger here on the AFOS blog back in 2012:

I remember watching the Marvel Comics float during NBC's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a kid and thinking, "This fake battle between the Marvel heroes and villains looks so cheesy, and the music from Back to the Future's not really helping."

That was back when the Marvel characters had a lousy track record on both the big and small screens, outside of animation. (Sure, The Incredible Hulk landed a few Emmy nominations back in the day and actually won one of them, but have you watched it lately? Its formulaic and Fugitive-inspired premise wears thin quickly, despite showrunner Kenneth Johnson's mostly serious treatment of the material and Bill Bixby's best efforts as the renamed-due-to-homophobia David Banner in standout episodes like "Dark Side," where both Banner and his Hulk self turn evil and pervy due to a serum experiment gone wrong.) In the years between the Marvel Thanksgiving Parade float and the breakout success of the first Blade movie, the first Marvel-inspired feature film that both the mainstream and the comics crowd liked, I thought, "Having the Marvel heroes run around and strike a pose to Alan Silvestri's Back to the Future theme was corny as hell, but wouldn't it be sweet if someday, someone like Silvestri wrote music for a Marvel character that was on a par with something like Silvestri's work for Back to the Future and Predator? Oh yeah, and a quality screenplay for that character would be dope too."

In 2011, both those things actually happened after Silvestri got recruited for a Marvel Studios project where screenwriting partners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely skillfully brought to life one of Marvel's oldest properties--a character I never really cared for, even when one of my favorite comics authors, Ed Brubaker, gave him an ambitious relaunch in print.

Hey, at far right, it's Neal McDonough, who's much less batshit crazy here than on Justified, despite the slightly porno handlebar mustache.

The first things that would come to mind whenever I'd hear the name "Captain America" were Glenn Miller, LaSalles, bobby socks and Japanese internment camps. Even though a comic shop owner who knew I was a fan of the Brubaker titles Gotham Central and Sleeper insisted that Brubaker was doing a bang-up job and making Captain America more of an espionage comic than a superhero comic, I still couldn't get past issue 1 and see the appeal of this whitebread Boy Scout in the silly jingoistic costume, the star of the lame Thanksgiving Parade production number above. He was never as interesting to me as the prejudice-fighting X-Men, Spider-Man the angsty and quippy New Yorker or Spidey's West Coast counterparts, the younger and much more anti-establishment Runaways.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, Markus, McFeely, an uncredited Joss Whedon and director Joe Johnston, armed with the same sense of style he brought to The Rocketeer, all found ways to keep Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) from coming off as antiquated and banal while still confining his character to a period setting. One of those ways was to say "Screw it" and embrace Steve's do-gooder nature, but to make that eagerness to do good relatable and appealing (with the help of a subdued performance by Evans, removing all traces of his one-note, probably-bathes-his-dick-in-Axe-body-spray Johnny Storm character from the Fantastic Four movies and his smarmy action movie star character from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). That's best embodied in the frail but courageous Steve's response when a scientist (a German-accented Stanley Tucci) asks him if he wants to kill Nazis: "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies. I don't care where they're from."

Hayley Atwell is gunning for whoever talked her into doing that wack AMC remake of The Prisoner.

The First Avenger supplies this guy who doesn't like bullies with two outstanding original marches. "Star Spangled Man," penned by Disney musical songsmiths Alan Menken and David Zippel, is an amusing fake '40s show tune that accompanies the newly buffed-up Steve when the military doesn't consider him experienced enough for combat, so they sideline him to performing at a USO tour as a war bonds-promoting mascot, clad in a costume as shabby-looking as the tights worn by the stuntman who played Captain America on the '80s Marvel float. The USO tour is a clever device that helps make Steve's offstage heroism pay off beautifully in the film's second act.

The other march, which is much less comedic than "Star Spangled Man," is provided by Silvestri, who, while writing the First Avenger score, found time to give a concert with the Video Game Orchestra at his alma mater, Boston's Berklee College of Music, where he told an interviewer from Berklee that Steve's humble quality was what particularly appealed to him about The First Avenger. Silvestri tapped into that quality throughout his First Avenger themes, which is a reason why they work so well.

Silvestri's suitably old-school First Avenger score is truly on a par with his work for the Back to the Future and Predator films. It's like the score that should have accompanied that cheesy Marvel float back in the '80s. (Like Steve during the USO montage, the vigorous end title rendition of the "Captain America March" got sidelined, specifically to bonus track status on the iTunes edition of the First Avenger soundtrack album, which frustrated consumers who already bought the end title theme-less First Avenger CD.)

Man, I would love to hear Cap's march in a live setting, but this will do.

What I think about The First Avenger in 2015:

It holds up. Hayley Atwell's breakout performance as Agent Carter is one of the highlights of The First Avenger, and I'm glad for the continual presence of Atwell's character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (this week's solid two-hour premiere of Atwell's Agent Carter miniseries on ABC makes me wish for Agent Carter to become a regular series, although I'd prefer it to be in the eight-episodes-per-season format that's closer to British TV, instead of the increasingly outdated and unwieldy 22-a-season format). But the Winter Soldier sequel, which drew inspiration from much of the acclaimed Brubaker revamp of the Captain America comics, is even more impressive than The First Avenger as a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, showing "some surprising depth in its depiction of an unchecked intelligence agency and a U.S. government that executes enemies without trial," as Jamelle Bouie wrote in Slate. Hail HYDRA fighta.

Selections from the Captain America: The First Avenger score can be heard during the AFOS blocks "AFOS Prime" and "Hall H."

No comments:

Post a Comment