Artificial Continuum

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Picking up shortly after last week's stellar introduction in the shadowy world of Umbara, "The General" transports instantly back into the action, characters, and moral dilemma that plotline has expressed. While it may not be as strong as last week's brutal arc opener, "The General" is still a suitably strong episode of the series and of the arc itself.

After their failed attempt at taking the Umbaran capital, General Krell, Rex, Fives, and their men find themselves pinned down by advancing Umbaran troops and air support. With their current plan failing, Krell is eager to accept a dire mission proposed by Obi-wan, who needs a key air base taken out in order for the invasion to work. However, the only way to accomplish such a task is by advancing exposed through a heavily armed Umbaran controlled area.

"The General" most succeeds in its continual portrayal of its clone protagonists. Each character, both new and old to our eyes, grow significantly throughout the course of the plot, and they soon become the heroes this show has needed since it began. What makes the clone army so compelling as storytelling devices is that ,unlike the Jedi, their fates are undecided, and as horrible as it may sound Krell is right in calling them expendable. Again, the true success of this arc or not rests on Dee Bradley Baker. Luckily, his work here is even more improved than last week's outing.

Rex is a continued standout. Its obvious that out of everyone involved under Krell's command, Rex is the one that is most emotionally and morally confused. He wants to help his men, but at the same time he, by nature, must put incredible trust in his commanding officer. Fives and Hardcase also shine in a moment of bizarrely genuine humor towards the episodes end. Kix, team medic, is also an unintentional standout. Only Jesse and Tup stand as being the most bizarrely underdeveloped out of the main squad.

However, whether "The General" works or not really depends upon the portrayal of General Krell. While suitably abrasive and intriguing, Krell still in many ways, good and bad, is an enigma. We still do not know why Krell is such a starkly different Jedi than any others we have seen. Also, if Krell is such a military genius, why does he continue to make such poor tactical decisions that just lead in men getting killed? There are parts where Krell truly excels at the role the writers have given him, but overall his character is still a frustrating mystery.

While not as down to Earth and gritty as last week's violent skirmishes, the battle scenes in "The General" are suitably violent and visually stunning. This time we focus in upon hulking war mechs driven by Umbaran soldiers. Its a different type of combat, and while different from the previous week's its still effective both visually and emotionally.

The animation of this arc still outshines anything the show has done to this point. In addition to improved facial animations and a planet that quite literally drips with atmosphere, there are some beautifully rendered and shot scenes, especially involving the episodes numerous action sequences.

With guest director Walter Murch at the helm (film editor for Apocalypse Now) "The General" it was hard for the episode to fail. While it may not be as gritty as last weeks and the character of Krell still frustrates, the episode continues to take us through what could be the best arc in Clone Wars history.

Score: -A
Saturday, October 29, 2011

Despite a mediocre season opener and a two week break, The Clone Wars is back with a bang and violent vengeance. The much hyped four part Umbara saga has arrived, and with it delivering one of the most shocking, violent, and downright satisfying episodes of the show we have seen in months.

The shadowy world of Umbara has left the Republic, for reasons largely unknown. (There have been some rumblings that this is related to the death of their representative in “Senate Murders”, but there has been no confirmation on this fact.) The Republic once again joins in a front to bring the planet back under its rule. With Obi-Wan and Sassee Tiin tasked with taking back a separate section of the planet, Anakin along with the 501st(including: Rex, Fives, Jesse, Hardcase, Kix, and newcomers Dogma and Tup) are tasked with retaking the city’s capital. However, after a violent first assault Anakin is called back for mysterious reasons leaving the atypical General Krell involved.

If anything has to be said about “Darkness on Umbara” is that it is brutal. For the first time, the clones find themselves faced with an enemy with a human face, and things get decidedly nasty. The battles are visceral and intense, and for the first time since season 1’s “Trespass” there is a general sense of loss. There are numerous wince inducing scenes, as the men of the 501st meet horrible ends. Including several well-known clones to the mix adds a level of suspense that is often absent from the series, and after the dust clears from every round of artillery you find yourself looking to see if one of the big players has fallen. Like such war films Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers the sound blaster fire not only echoes a coming battle but a feeling of dread and worry.

Also worthy of mention is the inclusion of General Krell. Although his initial appearance reminds one too much of the hardass military commander, the atypical Besalisk Jedi only grows more intriguing as the episode draw along. If anything, Krell is an enigma. His character stands as so fundamentally different from almost every Jedi we have seen in the series so far, and his ultimate purpose soon becomes an important point of interest.

Dee Bradley Baker once again steals with his performance of the clones. The subtle alterations of his voice for the majority of the cast here is impressive, and essential for the success of this episode.

The animation is once again beautiful. The initial shots of the Republics ships shooting through the mist covered atmosphere of Umbara are suitably mystifying, and add that in the brutal battle scenes that follow and you have a visual stunner of an episode.

Perhaps where “Darkness on Umbara” is most interesting is that there is still so much to go. This episode more than delivered, but we still have three more installments on this shadowy world, and the ultimate destination is unclear. Who makes it off Umbara alive? Who is General Krell? What made this arc so disturbing that Dee Bradley Baker didn’t want to voice it? What will next week’s superstar director Walter Murch bring to the table? It’s intriguing, and more than a bit exciting.

Score: A
Friday, October 14, 2011

This week continued to tell the stories of everyone's favorite robotic duo as they traversed throughout the galaxy. Featuring numerous small stories and locations, "Nomad Droids" is, for better or for worse, one of the more unique episodes of the series.

Following the events seen in "Mercy Mission", C-3P0 and R2-D2 are stationed with Adi Gallia aboard her star cruiser before they are ambushed by General Grievous. Chaos breaks out, and soon 3P0 and R2 find themselves catapulted through numerous locales and facing strange dangers as they take a galaxy hopping journey to find their way home.

"Nomad Droids" quite essentially is a kitchen sink episode. The writers literally wasted no expense in throwing everything they possibly could into this story. One could seriously imagine nearly a dozen different scenarios for how the writing process for this episode went, and several involve a dart board. Somethings stick, and something's don't. Its hardly ever boring, but its not always good either.

3P0 and R2 are shot through locale and situation at break neck speed, and we are introduced to new ideas and characters just as quickly. One minute, we are being treated to The Clone Wars's rendition of Jonathon Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The next, we meet a group of redneck aliens, who worship a Wizard of Oz knock off. Its all very bizarre, and interjected throughout are attempts social satire, genuinely funny slapstick, interesting action scenes, and bizarre aliens. Its certainly a one of a kind episode.

The short mini-episodes themselves are really hit or miss. The first attempt at imitating Swift feels the most forced, especially when 3P0 quite literally pulls a Gulliver and attempts to educate the tiny aliens about correct government. None of the rest are really perfect, but they all have a level of fun to them.

What honestly work best are the episode bookends which showcase the droid duo on the frontlines of the war in sequences not too far removed from A New Hope. These feel the most naturally, and in a way showcase the two's interplay better than having them play god or the Tin Man. It also doesn't hurt that these sequences are expertly animated and lit, making an excellent opener and closer to an otherwise mediocre episode.

The animation in general continues to impress, but the sound work in this episode in particular is a standout. Particularly in the space battles and the numerous droids the team meet, "Nomad Droids" is an aural treat of an episode.

It may be unbalanced and bizarre, but "Nomad Droids" is a fun episode of The Clone Wars. While not on par with last week's "Mercy Mission", it once again utilizes its droid protagonists to their potential.

Score: -B
Saturday, October 8, 2011

One thing Star Wars has always prided itself on delivering is a classic, and sometimes very light hearted, sense of adventure. That is what this week's R2 and C3P0 centric episode "Mercy Mission" attempted to deliver. This in and of itself sounds like it could be the set up for a fun half hour of television, but last year's catastrophe of an episode "Evil Plans" has made many fans (myself included) a bit apprehensive about "Mercy Mission" and next week's follow up "Nomad Droids".

The planet of Aleen has been hit with a massive earthquake. With its population and ecosystem in turmoil, Aleen has contacted a nearby Republic cruiser, containing fan favorite Commander Wolffe and the famous droid duo, to supply relief. However, what seems to be a routine supply drop soon develops into a twisting adventure through the planet's underground.

While lacking in action or serious drama, "Mercy Mission" is perhaps one of the most delightfully light hearted episodes of The Clone Wars to date. As opposed to previous side character episodes such as "Evil Plans" and "Shadow Warrior", "Mercy Mission" knows how to keep its tone consistent and to create a fun adventure without devolving to insulting humor/slapstick. There are moments of humor interspersed throughout the plot but they contain a certain genuine touch. C-3P0 and R2D2 bicker like an old married couple, and to be honest it's fun. The two droids have always had this interplay, and when the writers of Clone Wars find new ways of creating that humor without losing its base it's always fun.

Even the diminutive tribal species, the Aleena, for the most escape the typical "Ewok" trap. (In a great moment of meta humor, a clone even acknowledges the fan's worries for the introduction of the goofy little reptiles.) Although undeniably played for the cute factor, the Aleena don't overstay their welcome.

An easy standout in "Mercy Mission" is the portrayal of clone commander Wolffe. Although Wolffe has appeared in numerous episodes of the show in the past, this is the first time he has been featured as one of the primary characters to the plot. Surrounded by the bickering droid "couple" and the endless cute factor of the Aleena, Wolffe is a solid rock that grounds the episode in reality. Dee Bradley Baker's voice acting helps to carry the character's curmudgeonly depiction a long way.]

Visually, "Mercy Mission" contains numerous standout set pieces. The initial shots of the Republic entering the planet's atmosphere are absolutely stunning. The scenery and creature design shine in particular when visiting the planet's subterranean world. Particularly fascinating are a group of tree like creatures that the two droid's encounter briefly in their voyage. The only aspect that truly falls flat is the bizarre fairylike character of Orphe. In addition to her off putting design, her writing and voice work simply don't seem to mesh with the rest of the episode not to mention the Star Wars universe in general.

Although its lacking in action and features one incredibly off putting character, there is little denying the heart and fun that "Mercy Mission" possess.

Score: B
Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gungans. Why'd it have to be Gungans? There are few less respected additions to the Star Wars universe than the bumbling pseudo-racial stereotypes from Naboo. That being said the gungans weren't all that was wrong with this week's episode of The Clone Wars. While possessing some interesting moments, and the welcome appearance of two the series's villains, "Shadow Warrior" ranks as one episodes of the series we have seen since last year's "Pursuit of Peace".

Turmoil has broken out on Naboo. The Gungan army under the sway of the Separatists has declared war on the surface dwelling population. As Jar Jar, Padme, and Anakin attempt to create peace between the two races, the leader of the Gungan people is injured. With the forces of General Grievous approaching, Jar Jar must take on a role of leadership and prevent war.

There are many things wrong with "Shadow Warrior", and believe it or not most of them exist outside of Jar Jar and his aquatic foes. While their slurred speech and antics still may seem rediculous and offensive to some viewers, the Gungans, including Jar Jar himself, have simmered down considerably since their first appearance into the Phantom Menace. Here we are given an interesting view into their world, and surprisingly it isn't all that bad.

The reason why "Shadow Warrior" really doesn't work is how disjointed the episode feels. There are really two or three plots competing for screentime here, and at times it feels as if it were really three episodes crammed into one, which to be honest may have been for the best.

Although not the best episode of the series, the first half of "Shadow Warrior" wasn't anything unacceptable. We were being treated to a story of Gungan intrigue with some actually moderatley amusing Jar Jar antics. The Clone Wars is allowed to take breaks from its grimmer more violent stories on occasion for more fun storylines, but the condition is that they must be executed well. We get that for about twelve minutes, but then "Shadow Warrior" explodes into something must bigger faster than it can control.

This shift in scope begins when General Grievous faces off against an army of Gungans. Although the scene itself was decently executed (and featured the death of recognizeable character as well), the outcome catapults the episode into a completely separate plotline that proceeds to dominate the final ten minutes. The story itself isn't horrible, but it feels so separate from what we have seen before that the transition is jarring and awkward. Its even stranger that at episode's end, the writers proceed to tell us that the episode really was about Jar Jar the whole time even though he truly had nothing to do with the conclusion.

There is one scene however within these final minutes that is truly noteworthy and that is the brief confrontation between Anakin and Count Dooku. Brilliantly choreographed and smoothly animated, this brief two minute scene is truly the highlight of "Shadow Warrior".

Perhaps even more disappointing in "Shadow Warrior" is the jarring drop in animation quality. Despite advances in water technology, The Clone Wars crew seems to still be having difficulty with creating digital grass. That being said the crew should have known better than to place half the episode on the plane's of Naboo. In certain scenes where the lighting is particularly dark, the scenery truly looks like it escaped from a Gamecube game.

All in all, "Shadow Warrior" is frustratingly poor episode in both plotting and animation. Despite an above average start and a great hero-villain confrontation, at its best it merely reaches levels of mediocrity.

Score: C
Saturday, September 24, 2011

Our heroes are in a dire situation. "Prisoners" brings about the final episode of the Mon Cala arc with a opening that is probably as bleak as we've seen on the show (perhaps outside of "The Citadel" arc last season). Heroes are captured, a king is on the run, and Riff Tamson stands as proud leader of Mon Cala. While, "Prisoners" brings about a suitably satisfying conclusion to this opening art to Season 4, it (like its predecessors) is still flawed, but suitably entertaining.

Following the disastrous results of the battle seen in "Gungan Attack", Anakin, Padme, Ackbar, Jar Jar, Fisto, and their armies have been captured by Separatist forces. As Tamson attempts to torture the location of Prince Lee Char out of the surviving Republic leadership, Ahsoka and the fleeing Prince must develop a plan to not only rescue their people but win back their planet.

One thing that "Prisoners" and the entirety of this arc has provided well is a sense of scale. The battles, environments, and even the consequences of battle seem larger than we have seen so far in the series. Although the end result of this episode is really no surprise, there is a suitable amount of tension leading up to its climax.

Perhaps the most notable improvement is how the character of Lee Char seems to have undergone a drastic improvement in both writing and voice acting between episodes. Although his overall story arc is still predictable, Lee Char is no longer as cringe worthy a central character as he was in the previous installments. His dialogue feels more natural, and for some odd reason his voice has grown on me.

Tamson, of course, is once again a welcome addition to "Prisoners". His brutality makes a comeback, and the shark headed general kills in some truly jarring ways. With the conclusion of "Prisoners" it is easy to place Tamson alongside such classic Clone Wars villains as The Son, Cad Bane, and Savage Opress.

Like "Gungan Attack", the action in "Prisoners" is better shot and more suited to its underwater environment than the opener "Water War". That being said, the return to land and spaced based battles will be a welcome decision by the production crew. While these past episodes were an interesting experiment and obviously a valiant effort on the part of the animation crew, they were not as successful as one might have hoped at conveying a sense of visceral action.

Despite the positive improvements "Prisoners" made to the Mon Cala storyline, it also made some rather jarring missteps. The conclusion itself rang as being to hollow and predictable, and there are some moments of ridiculous Gungan/Jar Jar slapstick that stand completely completely at odds with the rest of the episode.

That being said, "Prisoners" was an entertaining conclusion to the first arc of season four. While it was flawed and frustrating at times, its easy to see that quite a bit of work went into the production of these episodes and in that regard alone they are respectable.

Score: B
Friday, September 16, 2011

The Battle of Mon Cala/Dac/Mon Calamari continues in the second half the fourth season opener of The Clone Wars with a jump in quality but with the reappearance of old problems.

After the overwhelming loss in the previous episode, the survivors are on the run from the ever persistent Quarren and Separatist forces. Lee-Char is doubting his abilities as a leader more now than ever and even the help of Ahsoka and Ackbar can't seem to help him step up to the role of leader his people need. Meanwhile, Master Yoda approaches an old ally for assistance in the battle and the Separatist's prepare for a final assault to kill the last lines of the Mon Calamari defense.

As the second episode of a three part arc, "Gungan Attack" suffers from much of the same problems as "Water War" but improves due to a better sense of direction and character.

"Gungan Attack" throughout conveys a sense of urgency. Our heroes are stranded and separated and are faced with seemingly impossible odds. Like last year's "Counterattack" (one of my personal favorites), this episode follows a small band of heroes attempting, mostly fruitlessly, to avoid the clutches of a diabolical enemy commander and waves of enemies. Its interesting to see a battle go so utterly against the Republic's favor, which is something we have yet to see in the series.

Tamson is ,again, a scene-stealer. Although not as brutal as he appeared in the episode prior, the shark-like commander continues to manipulate both the Quarren and Mon Calamari to benefit himself. The plot line is interesting and is a welcome distraction from Lee Char's floundering attempts at leadership. The fact that Tamson is paired with a sympathetic and honorable Quarren leader makes the entire political web of this arc all the more engaging.

The inclusion of the Gungan army comes as a surprising (well, relatively given the title of the episode) and bizarre twist. Their inclusion seems rushed and almost haphazard, and this continues to their inclusion in the battle itself. Jar Jar makes his return and again he injects an otherwise serious episode with unneeded and jarring slapstick.

For the most part the action in "Gungan Attack" is far more focused and visceral. The big scale battles have passed in favor of guerilla warfare, and the latter lends itself better to the underwater setting. The climax for the episode features an inventive sequence that involves a great fight scene between Tamson and Jedi Master Kit Fisto, who plays a far more pivotal role here than in "Water War".

Again, the animation is beautiful. The world of Mon Cala is vibrant and the animation team again succeeds at creating realistic water effects. Subtle touches such as muffled explosions and floating corpses help to create a unique visual flair to the episode that make it a unique viewing experience.

As for those returning problems? Well, Lee-Char is still frustrating and poorly voiced, the terms of war are still confusing, and the large scale battles are still poorly executed. Outside that, "Gungan Attack" represents an improvement for the arc and leaves it open for an even stronger installment next week.

Score: B

Season Four is upon us and The Clone Wars promises to give us one action packed season beginning with a three part underwater battle on the series famous planet of Dac/Mon Calomari/Mon Cala (whatever).

The world of Mon Cala is in a state of crisis. Its long time leader, a Mon Calomari king, has been assassinated and in his death leaves a power struggle between the two native races the Quarren and Mon Calomari. The current prince, the young Lee-Char, is next in line for the throne, something the Quarren aren't particularly happy about. Due to the manipulation of the Separatist ambassador Riff Tamson the Quarren are soon swayed the enemy side and the planet is plunged into civil war.

"Water War" like numerous episodes of Clone Wars presents an interesting premise and great visuals but struggles over execution and muddy dialogue.

The episode's beginning is chaotic and even with the typical "Clone Wars Intro" sequence what exactly is going on takes a few seconds to piece together. This may be in the fact that it doesn't really make sense why the Quarren care so much about the death of a Mon Calomari king. The races have always been portrayed in the past as two separate entities previously in the Expanded Universe. If this has been retconned then while unfortunate, it would have been nice to have a better understanding of what exactly the state of the planet is.

The character arc for this series of episodes appears to focus around Lee-Char, who is a hard character to adjust to. He is portrayed as a naive and childlike leader, which in itself is okay. Lee-Char just suffers as a character from hackneyed dialogue and a less than stellar voice actor. Thankfully, he is paired alongside Captain Ackbar (the earlier incarnation of the famous fish headed alien from Return of the Jedi). Ackbar's portrayal is both refreshing and true to the original film and its great to see him take a lead role in this episode.

Riff Tamson is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe. His political aspirations are ambitious, and some might say cliched, but he makes up for that in visual style and sheer brutality. He alone carries some scenes above the mediocrity that tends to grip this episode. During the inevitable battle, Tamson rips and tears his ways through enemies with animal-like brutality and its a gory wonder to behold. His manipulation of the Quarren people is also an interesting plot line as it helps to emphasize the grey areas of the show's political storyline.

Visually, the episode is a wonder. Underwater effects are given beautiful levels of depth and feel as realistic as a Star Wars world can be. Characters float, swim, and charge through liquid with incredible fluidity that has never been matched on the show until this point.

However, something has to be said about how non-compelling the large scale battles in this episode are. While the sheer scale of them are sometimes a fun visual treat, they lack the punch that episodes like "Landing at Point Rain" or "Arc Tropers" brought. This is primarily due to the underwater set piece. Characters are slowed down considerably and underwater fire fights are actually less exciting than they sound. This could have been avoided with clever choreography and camera work, but outside some close up action scenes (mostly involving Tamson) there is little to be impressed by.

Overall, "Water War" is an above average episode of the series. While boasting some interesting characters and great visuals, it is eventually weighed down by its uneven plot, frustrating main character, and disappointing battle scenes that prevent it from reaching its potential.

Score: -B
Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We live in the age of the reboot. We see more retellings and remakes of old properties than original ideas populating the theaters during blockbuster series. Most are humdrum and unremarkable, but everyone once and awhile a true stunner comes along. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that film. Not only is it a great reboot and summer film, it could be the welcome return to a franchise that's been on rocky ground for decades.

Will Rodman (James Franco) works for an up and coming pharmaceutical inside San Fransisco. Focusing his studies in the fight against Alzheimer's to aid his ailing father (John Lithgow), Will creates a new drug that he claims will be able to rebuild lost brain tissue. The first test subjects, chimpanzees, show mixed results and through a series of events Will finds himself caring for a young chimp dosed with disease. The young chimp, known as Caesar (played through motion capture by Andy Serkis), forms a bond with Will as his brain power increases drastically with each passing year. The events following lead down the road to create one of the most iconic settings in cinema history.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an atypical summer film, especially for a blockbuster reboot.  Every aspect of the film fires on all cylinders. Despite a slightly disjointed first hour, Rise grabs hold of you and draws you in. The film in many ways grows along its protagonist Caesar, maturing in intellect and power as it progresses.

While the script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver is undoubtedly strong, it is elevated to an even greater degree by director Rupert Wyatt who takes the stunning journey of Caesar and the growth of his empire and makes it a captivating tale of liberation. Filled with gorgeous shots, Wyatt adds a decided visual flare that when accompanied by Patrick Doyle's thumping musical score surrounds the audience in the emotional and sometimes incredibly haunting atmosphere.

Even than Rise, improves upon a strong script and directing with great performances. James Franco, who matures further as an actor with each passing role, gives his role as Will his all. The character breathes with genuine motivation and emotion. While easily the strongest out of the non digitally rendered actors, Franco is also accompanied by great performances across the board. John Lithgow provides a heartbreaking portrayal of a Alzheimer's victim, and Tom Felton is suitably repulsive as Caesar's eventual captor.

However, the real stars of the film truly are the apes through which the series gets its name. For the first time in franchise history, the primates are rendered through CGI created by Weta Digital, the production team behind Lord of the Rings and King Kong. What could have been a gample pays off spectacularly in delivering apes that breath with realism and shreak with character.

Andy Serkis, now famous for his motion capture performances of Gollum and King Kong, steals the entirety of the film with his dedicated portrayal of Caesar. Silent and inhuman, Serkis wins over the audience through a genuine character arc that begins at infanthood and ends as liberator of ape kind. Its an incredible journey that Serkis takes on with professional skill. Caesar becomes not only the iconic character of the film, but perhaps the most captivating we've seen all summer.

All these combine to create a jaw dropping crescendo of a film. Once the chaos starts and the revolution begins you are glued to your seats.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be one of the best summer blockbusters to grace the silver screen in years. Its a film that cares not only about style and spectacle, but about performance and character. If it weren't for an awkwardly fast paced first act, Rise could have been a perfect film. As it stands, Wyatt's reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise stands as a spectacular summer film with a brain and a heart.

Score: A
Saturday, July 23, 2011
The pieces are now in place. With this weeks release of Captain America: The First Avenger Marvel has officially assembled its Avengers on screen. Yet how do does its final hero stand amongst the ranks of its fellow blockbusters? Captain America is easily the best Marvel Studios film released in recent years, but it may not be enough to dethrone the Studio's spectacular start with Jon Favreau's Iron Man.

A weakling his entire life, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants nothing more to serve his country alongside his best friend Bucky Rogers (Sebastian Stan). With a war waging in Europe, Rogers wants not only to do his part, but ,as a man who has been picked on constantly since birth, to stand up to the world's ultimate bully the Nazi Party. Opportunity presents itself in the form a super serum created by former German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who finds Rogers to be the perfect test subject, much to the chagrin of Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Rogers, joined by technological genius Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and the beautiful British agent Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) finds himself soon part of a sect of the war that he never knew existed.

Captain America as directed by Joe Johnston plays out like a classic adventure film, very much in vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plot contains creative set pieces, snarling Nazi villains, a bombastic heroic score, an often clever style of humor, mystical weapons from god like powers, and moments of godlike heroism. It would not seem strange at all to find Captain America and Indiana Jones fighting side by side against HYDRA agents.

This in many ways is one of the films only faults. Although this sense of adventure often pays off through exciting  action sequences and clever moments throughout, Captain America at times does not execute this design choice as effectively as it should. The opening sequences of the film often feel awkward, as Johnston attempts to ease into the world he has created. While Rogers's spirit is endearing, he at times feels one and almost saint like in his weakling heroism. This disappears as the film progresses, but those awkward moments at the films start are enough to drag the film down ever slightly. The classic sense of adventure also sometimes strays away from fun and into fleeting points of corniness, which isn't helped by the film's heroic and sometimes bombastic score.

Despite this flaw, Captain America excels as blockbuster entertainment and as a film. The plot is fun and for the most part cleverly paced. The action scenes are exciting and surprisingly brutal for a Marvel film. The film even portrays one of the best romances to grace a comic book adaptation since Spider-man 2. You will never find yourself bored. The characters are engaging, the action is exciting, and the humor is surprisingly funny. Michael Bay could learn a lesson or two from Johnston on how to tell a joke in a summer action flick.

However, the real stars of Captain  America are, oddly enough, its actors. Chris Evans is a empathetic and powerful lead. Despite early scene script pratfalls, Evans sells Rogers as an earnest hero at heart. He creates a hero, that while lacking the depth and energy or Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, proudly stands amongst Marvel's heroes.

Even then, it is the supporting cast that truly steals the show. Haley Atwell is largely who sells the compelling romance of the film, and also plays a pretty fun WWII era spy. Dominic Cooper creates a Howard Stark that is every bit the father of the Tony we have come to love. Hugo Weaving plays the villainous Red Skull with brilliant Nazi evil, making a villain that could have easily done battle with a certain archaeologist. Sebastian Stan is also notable as Roger's childhood sidekick. Yet, the real scene stealer is Tommy Lee Jones's Col. Phillips. Jones has an undeniable screen presence and delivers the majority of the films humor with unbreakable deadpan.

If the script had been a bit tighter in its portrayal of the environment and the growth of Rogers as the title character, The First Avenger could have easily become the best. However as it stands now, Captain America stands as a great entry into the Marvel mythos.

Score: B+