Saturday, July 23, 2011


It took 70 years and four tries, but Captain America finally made it to the big screen.  So, did the good captain deliver?  I thought so.  Potential spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.

Agent Peggy Carter escorts Pvt. Steve Rogers to his future.

The Red Skull.

Captain America: The First Avenger shows the transformation of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a kid from Brooklyn, from a 98 pound weakling into America's ultimate super-soldier. The process is developed by Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) under the supervision of General Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).  Steve was meant to be the first of a line dedicated to combating Hydra, Hitler's science research division, led by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) -- the first recipient of Erskine's formula. However, Erskine is killed leaving Steve the only one of his kind: Captain America.

Evans proved to have deserved the role and the three attempts the producers made to convince him to take it.  He delivered a well-ranged performance and managed to nail the little comedic moments peppered throughout the script.  Weaving proved a true threat as the Red Skull, and the make-up department did spectacular work on his "skinless" face.  Jones redeems himself for his last comic-based outing as Two-Face in Batman Forever with an excellent performance as the hard-as-nails commanding officer, while Atwell was able to achieve the strong independence the producers went for with her character.

The original shield.
The costume was nicely designed, combining practical elements with the design from the Ultimates comics. However, they also found a way to utilize Cap's original spandex suit AND triangle shield within a context so as to provide a treat for comic fans and yet not hurt the overall tone of the movie. A nice touch with Cap's round shield was the "battle damage" to the paint job it received as the movie went on.

Cap suit version 2.0.
With Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) relegated to being a present-time secret agent (the original Fury in the comics served in WWII and was given a formula that slowed his aging), Cap took over leadership of the Howling Commandos after having rescued them from the Skull's clutches. Unfortunately, while the group does get to participate in some humorous and action-packed scenes, their development is left on the back burner. While comic audiences will know and appreciate who they are, general audiences are afforded no such resonance. Marvel's tie-in prequel, Captain America: First Vengeance actually gave the characters a decent introduction that could have been utilized here.

The Howling Commandos.
The character of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) makes a return to film as the US Army's go-to technology guy, who has several roles instrumental in helping Cap in his battles. His presence also helped tie the movie into both Iron Man films, including the Stark Expo location from Iron Man 2 and the presence of an incomplete version of the shield seen briefly in Iron Man and utilized in a fashion in Iron Man 2. Also featured in the film were Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), a research scientist working with Hydra, and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Cap's best friend and sidekick, and a cameo from Stan Lee, who brought Cap into the Avengers in the 1960s. Not to mention a couple of Easter eggs these movies have become known for (hint: keep on the lookout for the namesake of a prior Chris Evans role).

SHIELD Agent Caulson holds an incomplete replica of the shield in Iron Man 2.

The Avengers.
Overall, the movie was well done and well-paced.  The only place that really suffered was the ending, which felt a bit awkward in order to leave it tied-in and open for next year's The Avengers.  And while the extra ending scene was also underwhelming, The Avengers promo after it did its job and built up some excitement for the upcoming film. Captain America: The First Avenger is definitely worth a look in theaters, and, if you're willing to shell out for it, makes the most effective use of 3-D technology yet.

Cap buried in the ice in The Incredible Hulk.
Bonus Fact: Captain America made his first appearance in the combined Marvel Movie Universe in The Incredible Hulk. The original arctic opening cut from the theatrical release has a brief shot of a red, white and blue figure in the ice after an avalanche.  However, it's a good thing this scene was cut as Cap's icy discovery was made a bit more complex in The First Avenger. This scene is can be viewed on the DVD special features of the movie.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Many moons ago, when Syfy was known unapologetically as the Sci-Fi Channel, they would run what they dubbed the Mighty Marvel Movie Marathon every Thanksgiving (and some other holidays here and there). So while you watch the Spider-Man balloon go down Broadway on NBC, you could watch Spidey taking down bad guys over on basic cable.

The usual line-up included all three Incredible Hulk movies (spawned from the TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno), the Doctor Strange movie, the three "feature-length" Spider-Man episodes (from the TV series starring Nicholas Hammond), and, what they'll be playing this Thursday in a mini-marathon harkening back to those old days, the three Captain America movies.

Many of you may know that Captain America: The First Avenger isn't the first foray into live-action for ol' Cap, but it's possible you may only be familiar with the 1990s attempt starring Matt Salinger. Yes, there were two other Cap movies (not counting the 1944 serial, which I'll get to later). Let's take a little look at the past of Cap on film in preparation for the marathon and the movie.

Big pimpin', red, whte and blue style!
Steve Rogers, played by Reb Brown, was a modern day former Marine-turned-cartoonist whose father was a government agent in the 40s, dubbed "Captain America" for his patriotic attitude. After his father was murdered, Rogers drew a super hero based on the stories of him before being caught in a near-fatal accident. Dr. Simon Mills saved his life by administering FLAG (Full Latent Ability Gain), a "super-steroid" that brings Rogers to peak physical prowess. Given the costume he designed, Roger becomes Captain America with a tricked-out van and a motorcycle with a detachable windshield that serves as his shield (with transparent parts replacing the classic white). He picks up where his father left off and tries to live up to the example he set.

Always wear a helmet!

Brown returns as Cap, with a costume closer to that of the comics. This time, Cap goes up against a revolutionary named General Miguel (Christopher Lee) who uncovers the secret of rapid aging. He threatens to hold Portland, Oregon, hostage until Cap stops him by accidentally causing the serum to burst onto Miguel.

No mask is complete without rubber ears.
Matt Salinger is Steve Rogers, a boy with polio who volunteers to submit to Dr. Vaselli's (Carla Cassola) Super Soldier process, which the Italians used to created the Red Skull (Scott Paulin) out of an abducted young prodigy. After the process, Vaselli is killed leaving Cap the only one of his kind. Cap faces off against the Red Skull, but loses and is strapped to a missile aimed for the White House. Cap diverts the missile and ends up frozen until a team of archaeologists find him in the present day. After coming to grips with losing all that time, Cap teams up with the daughter of his 1940s sweetheart, Sharon (both played by Kim Gillingham), to stop the Skull's plans for world domination and rescue the President of the United States.

Intended for a theatrical release, the film underwent reshoots to add more stunts after a poor test screening. It was set to be released in 1990 to coincide with Cap's 50th anniversary, but it ended up shelved until it was released on video and cable in 1992.

Captain America wields his mighty...gun?
Captain America was a 15-chapter serial by Republic. The series is noted for it's drastic changes of the character, including Cap being District Attorney Grant Gardner (Dick Purcell, who died shortly after filming from the strain) who carried a gun instead of a shield and had numerous costume alterations, and the elimination of the army background, Bucky, Nazis and the Super Soldier serum. The serials show Cap and his sidekick, secretary Gail Richards (Lorna Gray) try to stop museum curator gone bad The Scarab (Lionel Atwill) from obtaining two devices that could be used as super-weapons. Unlike other Republic serials, the villain was revealed from the onset, whereas they usually preferred to leave their identity a mystery until the final act.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


The 1970s Spider-Man.
As most of us know, there's a new Spider-Man swinging to town next year.  Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures have decided to reboot their 5-year old franchise with an all-new movie with an all-new cast and all-new touches. The biggest touch of all: the costume.  While Sam Raimi, director of the last three films, and company decided to keep as much of the traditional look as possible without making the suit seem silly on screen (such as in the 1970s American and Japanese interpretations), the crew behind The Amazing Spider-Man have decided to completely reinvent the character inside and out.

The Results? Well, see for yourself from these pictures from Entrainment Weekly:

Seen enough?  So have I.  Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer that becomes Daredevil for the uninitiated, could have designed a better costume...and he spent his debut swinging around in THIS:

So, let's compare.  Here's Sam Raimi's Spider-Man:
 And here's the Amazing Spider-Man:
Which do you think is better?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


TNT, current owners of the former prime time soap opera Dallas, have optioned a new series of the show featuring the children of the original characters (essentially Dallas: The Next Generation). Originally starting as a mini-series in 1978, it ran for 13 seasons until its final episode in 1991. The show was about greedy oil baron JR Ewing (played by Larry Hagman of I Dream of Jeannie) and followed all the scandal and intrigue of his schemes and the people in his life closest to him. As a result, we received such memorable moments as the year-long mystery of who shot JR (which also led to the concept of ending seasons on a cliffhanger) and the infamous "dream season" (Bobby Ewing, played by Patrick Duffy, was killed in season 7 and brought back at the end of season 8 by saying the entire season was his wife's dream).

Now, the series is back 13 years later (the show is slated to premier in 2012) and is just the latest in a long line of resurrected franchises over the last few years.  It does pose an interesting question: does this trend signify that nothing new is good so they need to bring back all the old stuff, or that they are literally finally out of new and original ideas in Hollywood?  Share your thoughts on this!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


The Holograms and the Misfits from the Jem board game.

Jem the doll.
About a month ago, The Hub, the children's networked owned by Hasbro toys, resurrected another toy-based property, Jem and the Holograms (1985-88).  Based on a doll line of the same name and designed to be one long commercial for them (just like G.I. Joe, Transformers, My Little Pony and He-Man at the Mattel camp), head writer Christy Marx took the task of fleshing out the characters and making them viable enough to sustain a half hour weekly program. 

Jerrica and Synergy.
The result was the story about a girl named Jerrica who inherits her father's music company, Starlight Music, and control of their live-in orphanage, Starlight House.  However, Starlight's now co-owner, Eric Raymond, has his own ambitions and complete cuts Jerrica out of Starlight in order to promote his new band, the Misfits, who go against everything Starlight stood for.  All seems hopeless until Jerrica receives special earrings that served as micro projectors for a computer her father made, Synergy: a hologram generating A.I. devised to put on the ultimate show.  Using it to disguise herself as Jem, Jerrica and her band the Holograms step up to battle Eric and the Misfits at every turn and save Starlight Music.

Since I didn't have the memory capacity I do now, the most I remembered from this show after having not seen it for over 20 years was the intro and the commercial bumpers.  Ordinarily, with some exceptions, seeing an 80s show after all this time usually makes me cringe.  Two prime examples are G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero and Transformers (now called Generation 1).  But this show actually held up in the sense it had me hooked from the first episode.  A few things that helped:

The Holograms and Misfit Pizazz.

-The animation: Despite how choppy or stiff the 80s toons tend to be in comparison to today's toons, the simple fact is they were all done in the style I like...which is to say comic book style.  Every cartoon from the decade starring real people looked like it jumped off the page of an old comic.  I will take that over anything new Cartoon Network puts out now.

-The characters: Marx did an excellent job taking a 2-dimensional gimmick and giving the characters depth, making them compelling and interesting.

-The music: The songs are done as little music video interludes that relate to a situation going on in the main plot, resulting in usually three per episode, plus a repeat or two if the overall episode ran short.  Despite the fact the songs are only a minute or so, they are wonderfully done.  They're good enough to make you wish there were full-length versions available somewhere. Not to mention Britta Philips, the singing voice of Jem, whose beautiful vocals brought many of them to life.

Rio and Jerrica.
However, the show is not without its flaws.  The episodes apart from the ones done by Marx do fall into 80s tropes of campiness and contrived situations. The perils the Misfits get the Holograms into sometimes border on downright felonious, making one wonder how they never saw any jail time.  Also, the only good male character (in season 1), Jem/Jerica's boyfriend Rio, only serves to be a sounding board of reassurance for Jem/Jerrica, leaving him without much of a personality all his own.

Along with the return of the show are talks about either a resurrection, a movie, or an all-new toy line.  With the success of the Transformers, and to a lesser extent G.I. Joe, franchise, the possibility doesn't seem so far-fetched., especially with Shout Factory announcing the new Jem DVD collection they're working on. Hopefully, any attempt to resurrect the franchise will fare much better than some other property's attempts in recent years.  But, in the meantime, check out the show on The Hub every weekday and Saturday and relive some childhood memories.  Or, maybe make some new ones for the kids in your life now.  Guaranteed this is better than anything they're currently watching now.