4 Shots From 4 Werewolf Films: Werewolf of London, The Curse of the Werewolf, Werewolf Woman, The Wolf Man


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, we pay tribute to a very special breed of monster with….

4 Shots From 4 Werewolf Films

Werewolf of London (1935, dir by Stuart Walker)

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961, dir by Terence Fisher)

Werewolf Woman (1976, dir by Rino Di Silvestro)

The Wolfman (2010, dir by Joe Johnston)

Horror Film Review: The Wolfman (dir by Joe Johnston)


I have to admit that I’m always a little bit surprised to discover how many people really don’t like the 2010 film, The Wolfman.

I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that it may not have been the greatest film ever made but the amount of negative feelings that this film has managed to generate over the years seems, to me, to be a bit out of proportion.  Essentially, it’s just a silly film about a werewolf.

Yes, it is a remake of The Wolf Man and we’re all honor-bound to dislike remakes but, if we’re going to be absolutely honest, the original Wolf Man was sometimes pretty silly too.  If anything, the original’s success is largely due to the heartfelt work of Claude Rains in the role of the Wolf Man’s father.  Yes, the original Wolf Man is a classic but remaking it is not exactly sacrilege.

In the remake, Benicio Del Toro takes over the role of Larry Talbot, who is reimagined as a Shakespearean actor who has a history of mental instability.  Del Toro is not exactly convincing as an Englishman, though the same could be said of Lon Chaney, Jr.  However, nobody broods with quite the panache of Benicio Del Toro and that’s what was needed for the remake’s version of Larry Talbot.  If Lon Chaney, Jr. played Larry as being a dumb lug, Del Toro plays Larry as being a tortured artist.

Anthony Hopkins takes over the old Claude Rains role.  Just as it’s difficult to imagine Del Toro as being English, it’s next to impossible to imagine him sharing any DNA with Anthony Hopkins.  And yet, I’m really glad that Hopkins was cast in the role.  Of course, in the remake, the character of John Talbot has been totally reimagined.  He’s now something of a bitter and sarcastic alcoholic, a negligent father who always seem to be amused at some mean-spirited joke that only he can understand.  I imagine that if I asked Hopkins, he’d say that he did this role for the money but there’s nothing wrong with that.  Some of Hopkins’s best performances have been the ones that he subsequently claimed to have done only for the money.  Freed from any obligation to give a nuanced or subtle performance, Hopkins goes totally over-the-top and it’s actually a lot of fun to watch.  In The Wolfman, Hopkins turns the delivery of bitter bon mots and erduite insults into an art form.

Watching the film’s first half, we all know what’s going to happen.  Gypsies are going to show up in the woods near Talbot Hall and paranoid villagers are going to blame them for everything that happens.  Larry is going to get bitten by a werewolf and transform every night when the moon is full.  Larry is going to fall in love with Gwen (Emily Blunt) but, for her own protection, will try to send her away.  An arrogant but clever inspector, Francis Abberline (Hugo Weaving, playing a version of the real-life detective who inspired the role played by Johnny Depp in From Hell), is going to arrive from London to investigate all the recent deaths…

About halfway through, The Wolfman takes a totally unexpected turn.  I won’t spoil it here, just in case you haven’t seen the movie.  I know a lot of people don’t care much for the big twist but I happened to love it.  Yes, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense and it’s all a bit overdone but so what?  It’s exactly the type of weird twist that a movie like this needs.  It all leads to a final confrontation, one that is as exuberantly silly as the original’s conclusion was somber and tragic.

The key to enjoying The Wolfman is to accept it for what it is, an occasionally dumb and definitely not-to-be-taken-seriously movie that features some appropriately atmospheric cinematography, gorgeously gothic production design, and some very talented actors.  (I especially enjoyed Weaving’s performance as Abberline.)  A classic it may not be, but it’s still a fun little movie if you’re in the right mood for it.

4 Shots From Horror History: The Wolfman, Insidious, Let Me In, The Cabin In The Woods


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we begin our current decade!

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Wolfman (2010, dir by Joe Johnston)

The Wolfman (2010, dir by Joe Johnston)

Insidious (2010, dir by James Wan)

Insidious (2010, dir by James Wan)

Let Me In (2011, dir by Matt Reeves)

Let Me In (2011, dir by Matt Reeves)

The Cabin In The Woods (2012, dir by Drew Goddard)

The Cabin In The Woods (2012, dir by Drew Goddard)

Sci-Fi Review: Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (1985, dir. Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat)


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So one year later we returned to Endor to see the continuing saga of Wicket (Warwick Davis) and the family from The Ewok Adventure. What were those words Burl Ives left us with at the end of The Ewok Adventure again?

“Reunited, the families enjoy the simple pleasures of being together. Having learned something they already knew. That courage, loyalty, and love are the strongest forces in the universe.”

Well, those forces are apparently not that strong because this movie opens up with Cindel’s (Aubree Miller) family getting murdered. That’s nice!

I love that apparently Kilink’s ultimate weapon from Kilink vs. The Flying Man made it all the way from Turkey to the moon of Endor.

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During all this killing we meet the two main villains of this movie.

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This guy (Carel Struycken) who looks like every generic bad guy from ever fantasy adventure movie ever made. He wants some sort of device from a spaceship that he thinks will make him powerful.

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And this lady (Siân Phillips) who looks like she belongs in He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe.

After getting captured, then escaping, Cindel and Wicket do battle with something I’m pretty sure I once hit a golf ball into when I used to play miniature golf.

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While trying to escape that dragon via a hang glider, they crash. Then they meet this guy who is quite annoying throughout this film.

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I guess they figured since Wicket now speaks English, they needed something else small that doesn’t. That thing takes them to a house in the woods, but soon the owner comes home.

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Yep, it’s Wilford Brimley. According to IMDb, he and the Wheats didn’t get along, so the production designer Joe Johnston directed all the scenes with Brimley. How did that work considering Brimley is in the majority of this film. Well, unfortunately Brimley did not bring Remo and Chiun with him. That would have made for a very short film.

A large chunk of this movie can now be described as Brimley talks to Cindel, the bad guys talk amongst themselves, and Brimley and crew decide to seek out the bad guys. Oh, and this happens.

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Unfortunately, Chewbacca from The Star Wars Holiday Special isn’t around to tell little Cindel that something about this doesn’t smell right. Of course she pulls a switcharoo and kidnaps the kid.

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Now we get the annoying little creature, Wicket, and Brimley walking. For some reason we bump into a rock and get this shot of it.

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Looks like a slot machine to me. They finally reach the evil castle, and after girl talk…

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Brimley and crew scale the wall of the castle. Meanwhile, stuff is happening inside. Remember that whole Han and Greedo thing. Who shot first and all that. We can stop arguing about that. It’s time to start arguing over which one of these guys shot first.

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There really isn’t much to talk about now because after they break the good guys (other Ewoks and Cindel) out of the castle, the rest of the film is a run and gun battle. At least this time Endor doesn’t scream Northern California like it did in The Ewok Adventure. Now shots like this just scream EBMUD watershed lands and Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills.

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Eventually it all comes down to a battle between Brimley and the bad guy.

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If you strike him down, he will become a more powerful spokesman for diabetes testing supplies then you can possibly imagine. But before that can happen, Wicket throws something that hits a thing on the bad guy’s chest and this happens to him.

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With that done, it’s time for goodbyes and Brimley and Cindel leave the moon of Endor.

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The question is whether this is any better than The Ewok Adventure. I would say no. Sure Wicket can talk, it feels more like we are on a foreign world, and there’s a lot more action to it, but that doesn’t make it better. The Ewok Adventure was a serviceable, but forgettable children’s sci-fi/fantasy adventure movie. This feels like they were contractually obligated to make a sequel so they threw together as generic a fantasy plot as possible and paid Brimley a few bucks to be in it. It’s super forgettable.

Now I just need to rewatch my childhood favorite Warwick Davis movie Willow (1988) and hope that The Force Awakens opens with Wicket pulling a Star Destroyer out of the sky using the force.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Omar Sharif Edition


Today the film world received news that legendary actor Omar Sharif passed away at the age of 83. The acclaimed Egyptian actor would make quite an entrance with his very first English-language film: David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia.

Omar Sharif would go on to star in such film as Dr. Zhivago, MacKenna’s Gold, Funny Girl and Behold a Pale Horse to name a few. He might be recognized by the younger generation in such films as The 13th Warrior and Hidalgo. He would be the vision of the noble romantic whether it was as a warrior, a poet or a leader. He would bring a bearing on-screen that exuded steadfast nobility yet still with a streak of roguish charm.

With each passing year we lose more and more of our classic performers. Now Omar Sharif joins the others who have gone before him but will always live on in our memories of him up on the screen.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Lawrence of Arabia (dir. by David Lean)

Lawrence of Arabia (dir. by David Lean)

Dr. Zhivago (dir. by David Lean)

Dr. Zhivago (dir. by David Lean)

MacKenna'sGold

MacKenna’s Gold (dir. by J. Lee Thompson)

Hidalgo (dir. by Joe Johnston)

Hidalgo (dir. by Joe Johnston)

Arleigh’s 13 Favorite Films of 2011


2011 was a year that wasn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. From January right up to December there were not many films which I would consider event films. This is surprising considering all the superhero blockbusters which arrived during the summer and the final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. Even the prestige films which came out during the holidays never truly captured everyone’s imagination (though one film was very close to achieving it due to one Michael Fassbender).

What 2011 did have was a solid slate of titles which ranged from the pulpy to the cerebral. We even got films which were able to combine the two to come up with something very special. Not every film resonated with everyone and some even split audiences down the extreme middle with half hating it and the other half loving it.

The list below catalogs the films which I consider my favorites of 2011. Some titles on this list I consider some of the best of 2011 while some didn’t make that particular list but were entertaining enough for me to make this favorite list. Once again, the list is not ranked from top to bottom, but only numbered to keep things organized….

  1. Shame (dir. by Steve McQueen) – This character-driven film starring Michael Fassbender and Cary Mulligan was one of those film which got close to becoming the one film everyone ended up talking about as the year wound down. It’s an exercise in minimalist filmmaking as Steve McQueen doesn’t allow too much dialogue to get in the way of telling the visual story of sex-addict Brandon and his downward spiral from addiction to self-hate. Much have been said of how much Fassbender’s penis in full display was a reason why people flocked to see this little existential film, but I rather thought that was probably just a bonus for some and instead it was Fassbender’s uncompromising performance in the role of Brandon which made Shame one of my favorites for 2011.
  2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. by Rupert Wyatt) – this film was one which didn’t garner too much high-anticipation from genre fans leading up to it’s release. People had been burned by Tim Burton’s reboot of the franchise and saw this second attempt to reboot the series as a failure in the making. So, it was to o everyone’s surprise that Rupert Wyatt’s film managed to not just bring new life to a stagnating franchise but do so in such a way that it became one of the best films of 2011. Sure, there was some flaws in how the human character were written, but in the end it was the performance-capture work by Andy Serkis and the digital wizardry of WETA Digital which made Rise of the Planet of the Apes not just a wonderful and fun film this past summer, but also one which laid the groundwork for more stories in what is a franchise reborn with fresh blood and life.
  3. I Saw the Devil (dir. by Kim Ji-woon) – this little revenge thriller from South Korea was one which I happened to catch just before it left the theaters this part spring. It had played in one of the few arthouse theaters in the Bay Area that hadn’t closed down. I was glad to have seen this film on the big screen instead of on Netflix Instant the way most have seen it. It’s a brutal cat-and-mouse story of a South Korean secret agent who stalks and hunts the serial killer (played by Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his fiancee. The film is not for the timid and weak of stomach as we see through the eyes of not just Agent Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) but that of serial killer Kyung-chul the dark corners of South Korea where hunter has become prey and vice versa.  South Korea has always been good for one great film that I feel personally attached to and for 2011 it was this film.
  4. Cave of the Forgotten Dreams (dir. by Werner Herzog) – I don’t think I could ever make a year’s favorite list of any year that had a Herzog release and not have it as a favorite of mine for the year. It happens that Herzog had two films come out in 2011 and both of them excellent documentaries. It would be his earlier documentary for 2011 that became a favorite of mine. It also happened to be his first (and according to him the only time) foray into 3D-filmmaking. Herzog makes great use of 3D filmmaking’s added epth of field to make the cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave come to life. If this was going to be Herzog’s only film shot in 3D then he made one for the ages and it’s a travesty that those who vote for documentaries to be nominated for the Academy Awards failed to even list this film.
  5. Attack the Block (dir. by Joe Cornish) – this scifi-action film from the UK became the darling for genre fans everywhere. It had everything which bigger-budgeted films of the same stripe failed to accomplish. It was fun, thrilling and, most important of all, had characters which the audience would get to know and care for. John Boyega as the gang leader and, ultimately, the reluctant savior of the block which has become under siege by an alien force is just one of the highlights of the film which boasts one of the best screenplays of 2011. Joe Cornish joins the likes of Neill Blomkamp as a filmmaker whose first feature-length film hits on all cylinders.
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston) – this film was to be the last leg of the Marvel Films before 2012’s highly-anticipated The Avengers film. It introduced the film’s title character and his origins for those not familiar with the name Captain America. This film could easily have been a throwaway one. A film to set-up this year’s The Avengers. Instead what we got was one of the most fun blockbusters in the summer of 2011. Joe Johnston goes back to his Rocketeer days and creates an action film that’s full of genuine nostalgia but not burdened by it. Any doubts fans might have had of Chris Evans in the role as Captain America had them wiped clean with his pitch-perfect performance as the title character. The film also had one of the most romantic relationships on-screen in quite awhile with Evan’s Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter.
  7. Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn) – In my opinion, Refn’s existential take on the pulp genre with Drive is also one of the best films of 2011, if not the best of them all. Refn, with Ryan Gosling in the role of  the Driver, has created a film that mashes up so many different genres and does it so well that it’s hard to be sympathetic to those who felt they were misled by the fim’s trailer that it would be a nonstop action film similar to Fast Five. The film is not an action film, but a film which just happens to have some action in it. Action that comes sudden and brutal and none of the whiz-bangs other action films rely heavily on. It’s another film where Refn explores duality of the male persona. It helps Refn’s film that Gosling is so great as the Driver that the film never slows down too much before things revs up once more. The rest of the ensemble cast also does stand-out work with Albert Brooks as an aging, cynical Hollywood gangster leading the pack.
  8. Fast Five (dir. by Justin Lin) – Speaking of Fast Five…this was a film that surprised me in so many ways. It’s the fifth installment in a series that seemed to have evolved from being an action series whose main goal was to highlight the street-racing community and the ridiculous lengths people in it would go to in order to trick out their cars. This latest installment in the franchise has put the street-racing aspect of the series on the back burner and instead has remade the franchise into an action-heist series that just happens to have fast cars in it. This film was loud, fast and fun and despite some major leaps in logic in the storyline it never stopped being entertaining. It also brought back Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an action film role that he had stopped doing these past five or so years.
  9. Hanna (dir. by Tom Hooper) – If someone had come to me and said that little Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement) would turn out to be kickass action-hero directed by a British filmmaker not known for action films then I would dismiss such a thing as crazy talk. But crazy talk it wasn’t and all that came to pass with Tom Hopper’s excellent modern fairy tale in Hanna. Ronan as the title character was asuch a find in a role that didn’t just need for her to act like the little lost babe in the woods, but to also turn on a dime and kick ass with the best of action heroes past. It helped that everyone else around her were up to the task of supporting her performance whether it was Eric Bana in the role father (huntsman in fable lore) to Cate Blanchett as the cold-hearted CIA chief (evil queen) whose connection to Hanna drives the film’s narrative from beginning to end.
  10. Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson) – in a year where Pixar had one of it’s rare misses (Cars 2 really was awful and such a blatant cash grab for the studio) it was there for the taking for top animated film of the year for everyone else to fight over. There was Rango and there was The Adventures of TinTin, but my favorite animated film of 2011 has to be Kung Fu Panda 2. It continues to adventures of the Dragon Warrior and panda kung master Po and his compatriots, the Furious Five. With the first film having done with him becoming the Dragon Warrior, this sequel was free to explore more aspects of Po’s life and personality such as his true origins and the tragic circumstances which led him to be adopted by his noddle-making goose of a father. The film is much darker than the previous one with it’s storyline exploring such themes as genocide and the destructive march of technology over nature’s harmony. It also had one of the best villains to come out in 2011 with Gary Oldman as the evil peacock, Lord Shen. Plus, it had scenes of Po as a baby Panda…A BABY PANDA.
  11. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (dir. by Tomas Alfredson) – a feature-length film remake of the BBC miniseries of the same name (adapted from a John LeCarre novel), this spy thriller/procedural was Tomas Alfredson’s follow-up to his coming-of-age vampire film, Let the Right One In. Once again he has taken a well-worn genre and infused it with his own unique style of storytelling which valued characters and how they all interacted with each other over action and thrilling sequences. With a cast that’s a who’s who of British cinema the film was able to condense many hours of the miniseries into just a couple and still not lose the complex and layered plot involving political intrigue and betrayal. This film also had one of the best performances by any male actor for 2011 with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley. With Fassbender being passed over and not nominated for Best Actor for the upcoming Academy Awards I would be very perturbed if anyone else other than Oldman took home the statue.
  12. Kill List (dir. by Ben Wheatley) – I’m not well-versed on the work by Ben Wheatley so I saw this film on the recommendation of many whose opinions I trust when it comes to genre films. To say that I was thoroughly surprised by just how well this filmed turned out would be an understatement. Kill List is one of those films which turns so many horror and thriller conventions right on its head, but do so to serve the film’s narrative instead of a filmmaker trying to show his/her audience just how clever they can be. The film moves at a gradual pace that leads to a surprising ending that has split audiences down the middle. Some have loved the ending and other have hated it. I, for one, thought the ending was the only way the film could end. This was a film that was able to balance the different aspects of what makes a thriller and what makes a horror film. The moment when the film transitions from the former to the latter was so seamless that it takes several viewings to find just where it occurred. The best horror film of 2011, bar none.
  13. 13 Assassins (dir. by Miike Takashi) – many will be saying that I’m cheating with this final entry since the film was released in 2010. I would agree with them, but then again this film wasn’t released in the US until early 2011 so in my own honest opinion it qualifies as a 2011 film. This latest from Japan’s eclectic and prolific filmmaker, Miike Takashi, is his own take on the Japanese jidaigeki and a remake of the 1963 film of the same name. If there was ever a best action film of 2011 then this film would be it. Miike would pull back from his more over-the-top visuals (though he still manages to insert some very disturbing imagery early on in the film) for a much more linear and traditional action filmmaking. It’s a men-on-a-mission film that pits the 13 assassins of the title against 200 or more bodyguards of a sadistic lord who must be killed for the sake of the country. The first 45 minutes or so of the film shows the film gathering the assassins and planning their ambush. It’s that final hour or so of the film with it’s nonstop action which qualified this film not just one of my favorite for 2011, but that year’s best action film. No other film could even get to it’s level.

Honorable Mentions: Warrior, Super 8, Batman: Year One, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Sucker Punch, A Dangerous Method, The Adventures of TinTin, The Skin I Live In, Bunraku, The Guard, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Hugo, Tyrannosaur, Thor, The Interrupters, X-Men: First Class, Contagion, Battle: Los Angeles, Project Nim

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston)


It is called the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and it’s a world-building program that’s been in the making for almost half a decade. It first began when Kevin Feige and the powers-that-be at Marvel Entertainment decided to forgo licensing out the rest of their comic book characters to other studios to play with (Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc.). Marvel Entertainment was getting rich off of these films without having to help finance any of the films, but the results of these films where hit-or-miss and recently they’ve been really misses (X-Men: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider to name a few). So, the decision was made for Marvel to open up their own film studio, Marvel Studios, and use money from those licensed films to adapt the remaining characters in the Marvel Universe the Marvel way.

The first film to come out with Marvel Studios as the primary company was 2008’s Iron Man which was followed very closely with a reboot of the Hulk with The Incredible Hulk later that same summer. Iron Man 2 arrived in 2010 (though it was a mixed bagged depending on who one asks about this sequel) and in 2011 two more Marvel Studio films arrived to continue building this so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. In early May 2011, the first one was Kenneth Branagh’s Thor hitting the big-screen which was widely-acclaimed to be a good and fun entry to this cinematic universe. The final piece and the second Marvel Studio film to arrive in 2011 is the Joe Johnston-helmed film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters. The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” finally finds it’s last piece before 2012’s arrival of Marvel Studios’ superhero team film, The Avengers.

Captain America: The First Avenger was being predicted as a film that could fail because of the character itself. Steve Rogers aka Captain America is the All-American G.I. who was straight-laced and never morally ambiguous. This was a character sure of himself and saw the world through a moral prism of black and white. The film that came out of the work by Joe Johnston and his capable film crew was one which surprised most everyone by it’s retro and nostalgic look at action serials of the past but without becoming to beholden to those tropes and losing all the fun in the story. This film played out like a throwback to those very serial action films of the 40’s and 50’s before cynicism and snark took over Hollywood and most of the entertainment industry.

Joe Johnston and his screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (and an uncredited Joss Whedon whose strength with dialogue could be seen in this film), were able to make an origin tale which didn’t seem too rushed in laying out just who Captain America was and his early adventures during World War II. It was a great decision to keep most of the film set in World War II since Captain America’s origins would be the hardest to pull off and even harder to convince audiences too used to conflicted and unsure superheroes in their superhero films.

The film begins in current Marvel times as an expedition finds Captain America’s shield in the frozen ice floes of Greenland in what looks to be the wreck of a giant flying wing-type aircraft. Once the shield’s discovery was made the film quickly transitions back in time to 1942 where we get to see first-hand the evil mastermind Johann Schmitt aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) whose obsession and search for ultimate power finally garners him the Tesseract from Odin’s weapon’s vault (the Cosmic Cube last scene in Thor). He would use this cosmic power to power the superweapons being developed by his Nazi-funded splinter group, HYDRA, and it’s lead scientist in Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones).

Both Markus and McFeely actually wrote the film to be two storylines running concurrently with Red Skull and HYDRA running in one storyline and the other with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as the 90-lbs Brooklyn-native weakling whose attempt to enlist in the Army gets shotdown each and every time he tries. Rogers is just not the type of man the US Army requires no matter how much courage and heart his asthmatic and weak body may hold within. But this very non-physical quality of Rogers is what gets the attention of the US Army’s own research division headed by German scientist and expatriate, Dr. Abraham Erskine, who believes Rogers is the perfect candidate for his super-soldier serum program.

Much of the Roger’s storyline in the early-going brings much comedic dialogue and scenes which made Captain America such a fun film. While Roger’s appearance and situation was never played off for laughs, it was how those around him outside of a few people whose reaction never get past the weakling standing in front of them. Once Rogers does become Captain America the film continued to have fun with the character as he’s drafted by politicians who sees him as the perfect pitchman for the government’s program to sell war bonds. This entire part of the character’s arc even got the full Busby Berkeley musical dance number reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s musical number to start off Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (this won’t be the first time Johnston would pay homage to the Indiana Jones series).

Once Captain America moves past his war bond selling phase the film’s two concurrent running storylines of the Captain and the Red Skull converge to begin the second-half of Captain America. While the comedic dialogue and sequences take a back seat the film still remains very fun as Johnston ramps up the action. He begins with the Rogers disobeying orders and attacking a HYDRA base to rescue not just his boyhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) from the clutches of HYDRA, but all the prisoners held in the same weapons manufacturing base. The action sequences were filmed in an almost old-school fashion. There’s no tricks of fast editing and quick cuts to make the battles and action chaotic and real, but brought to mind more the action scenes from the Indiana Jones films of the 80’s which Johnston was a part of. All the action sequences in this film were choreographed to be seen and understood, but at the same time with a sense of fun energy that most action films seem to have lost in the last decade.

Captain America was also the first film in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which added to the fun by creating a genuine romantic subplot for it’s main lead. The relationship between Steve Rogers and British agent Peggy Carter was written quite beautifully as one between two people who saw each other as equals. This relationship unfolded very organically and not forced onto the two characters and to the audience. There was no manipulation to create a false couple. Steve Rogers gradually grew to not just admire Peggy Carter as a strong-willed, capable, but still feminine woman who saw beyond his initial weakling appearance, but by film’s end as a person who he truly had feelings for. It wouldn’t have worked if the Peggy Carter was just written to be a damsel in distress which she wasn’t and this character’s own journey to admiring Roger’s courage and tenacity in the face of impossible odds to mutual admiration once he became Captain to full-blown love by the end really added the emotional punch to the film. It’s no wonder that the bittersweet ending to the film between these two characters had such an emotional impact. The audience followed these two characters’ in their growing relationship from sweet beginnings to the tragic and bittersweet climactic finish.

It’s that very writing which made Captain America: The First Avenger more than just another superhero film. This was a film that went beyond just superhero action sequences, but a film which brought to mind not just the retro film of such films as Johnston’s own 1991 retro-futurist superhero film, The Rocketeer, but also the fun inherent in the serialized action films of the 40’s and 50’s which Spielberg did paid homage to with Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action, explosions and witty (though without the snark and cynicism) dialogue didn’t dominate the film but became supports for the well-written characters. Characters that were well-played by it’s cast of exceptional actors.

This film, like any other superhero film of the past quarter century, lives and dies by how it’s hero and villain were played. It’s a great thing to have not just Hugo Weaving playing the Red Skull with such relish (with a voice that sounded like a mash-up of Werner herzog and Klaus Kinski), but the surprise was Chris Evans as Captain America himself. Evans had the tougher role since he was the titular character. He was an actor who was more well-known as playing wiseass and jokester roles, but in this film he plays Steve Rogers straight with a sense of unabashed goodness and confidence that he became Captain America without having to be unsure of his abilities, conflicted about his new role as a hero. Evans showed depth and range that was only hinted at in films such as Sunshine.

Another delight in the film would be Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. She could’ve been the weak-link in this film and no one would’ve noticed, but she became the moral anchor and strength for the film as she became not just Steve Rogers’ eventual love interest but also his sounding board whenever doubts creeped in. She kept not just him, but the film on course and it helped that she was just as much as kickass as Captain America. Also, to say that Atwell as Peggy Carter was gorgeous to the point of blinding would be an understatement. It’s no wonder Captain America fell for her.

The rest of the supporting cast were up to the challenge no matter the size of the role. Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones were great as the compassionate mentor and grizzled commanding officer respectively. Jones’ Col. Phillips actually got some of the best one-liners in the film. When Tommy Lee Jones plays such a character as well as he does it’s no wonder he’s the go-to-guy for such roles. He just lives the part and pulls off the lines with such great comedic timing. Dominic Cooper as the young Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark/Iron Man) brought images of the suave and debonair Howard Hughes while Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes did a great job in making the character not just a sidekick, but also show hints of why he would become the Winter Soldier later on in the Captain America stories. It’s Stan’s role as Bucky which gives me hope that future Captain America sequels would tap and mine this character’s own journey from sidekick to potential rival as the Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The First Avenger is Marvel Studios’ last puzzle piece in what would transition into 2012’s The Avengers by Joss Whedon and it more than delivers the goods which was a testament to the creative forces led by Joe Johnston, Chris Evans and everyone involved. This was a fun, rollicking good time which brought back the concept that films were ultimately started as a form of mass entertainment. Not every film had to explore the meaning of life and existence. Not every film had to be a journey into the light and dark of existential themes. Films could be a couple hours spent entertaining and allowing it’s audiences to have a fun and good time. Captain America: The First Avenger was able to deliver this type of experience and do so with not a cynical gene in its code. It’s definitely Marvel Studios’ best film to date and one of the best films of the summer.

(Leonard Wilson’s review of Captain America)

As an added bonus below are some of the character and propaganda-type posters released for the film.