Captain America: The First Avenger * * 1/2

Genre: Action

Director: Joe Johnston

Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely, based on the comic series by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson

Running Length: 125 minutes

Synopsis: Captain America: The First Avenger focuses on the early days of the Marvel Universe where the scrawny but courageous Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteers to participate in an experimental science program that  eventually turns him into a super soldier known to the world as “Captain America”. He joins forces with best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and a bunch of gung ho soldiers in a war against the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). He also finds some time in between to romance the beautiful Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), though not always to good effect.

Review: After what seems like an endless slew of prequels for The Avengers, we’re finally at the last one before the main event next year, and this time it’s featuring one of the oldest Marvel superheroes – Captain America. Although the film is a serviceable origins movie and fairly entertaining, the fact that most cinemagoers have seen more than a handful of similarly-themed films means that the bar has been set quite high, and the flaws of this film seem particularly pronounced.

Let’s start with the positives. Captain America makes very good use of CGI, and not just in the big action sequences. It’s truly magical to see Chris Evans shrunken down to a much scrawnier size, and this is done so seamlessly that one can’t help but marvel at the advances in technology that have allowed this to happen. It’s also refreshing to see a superhero movie set in the 1940s, and the period details make even mundane actions like operating machinery seem that much more interesting. It’s no surprise that director Joe Johnston has The Rocketeer in his canon of work, because the two films bear many visual similarities.

Captain America is also packed with a good number of comedic moments, and this is largely the reason why the film is rather entertaining. The bigger action set pieces are pretty well choreographed, but for a superhero film the sequences take up far less screen time than expected. Although Chris Evans doesn’t really impress with his acting skills (and the scrawny Evans definitely is a bigger scene stealer than after his transformation), most of the supporting characters manage to acquit themselves, excepting Hugo Weaving who is unfortunately a wasted opportunity in the film, playing a one-note, cookie-cutter villain that really doesn’t deserve as much screen time as he was given.

One of the biggest flaws of Captain America is its pacing. The film spends too much time in exposition and setup, and as a result the final showdown between Cap and Red Skull feels really rushed and very unsatisfying – Red Skull’s fate has got to be one of the hastiest and sloppiest I’ve seen, and the denouement has very little emotional impact. The two modern day scenes that bookend Captain America are also clearly shoehorned into the script purely as an explanation of the Cap’s presence in The Avengers next year, and there’s never a satisfactory or explanatory segue into present time.  

Taken on its own, Captain America: The First Avenger feels somewhat hollow and incomplete, but seen as part of the lead-up to The Avengers, the film’s purpose seems clearer. Much as how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II managed to round out the deficiencies of the first film, here’s hoping that The Avengers next year will be able to give audiences the big, satisfying payoff, as has been suggested along the franchise’s various films in the last few years. 

P.S. As with all the Avenger prequels, there is a coda at the end of the credits, but this time it’s a full-on sneak preview trailer for next year’s The Avengers, which seem to be promising enough.

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of four stars) 


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II * * * 1/2

Genre: Fantasy

Director: David Yates

Writer: Steve Kloves, based on the novel of the same name by J. K. Rowling

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton

Running Length: 130 minutes

Synopsis: Continuing right where Part I left off, Part II begins with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)locating the Elder Wand, one of the three items that constitute the Deathly Hallows. Having already destroyed three Horcruxes, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) continue the search to make Voldemort mortal again, including a return to and a last stand at Hogwarts. It is soon apparent that Harry Potter may have to make the ultimate sacrifice if he wants to prevent the Dark Lord from reigning supreme over the wizarding world.

Review: Part II of The Deathly Hallows is everything the first part wasn’t – concise, precise and engaging throughout, the shortest film in the entire Harry Potter canon happens to be one of its best as well. Because much of the exposition and meandering was done in Part I, Part II begins in the thick of the action and doesn’t let up till the very end, and because this truly is THE end, the sense of urgency is palpable and much appreciated – no dragging of heels in this film unlike every single Potter film before it.

Given the leeway of two movies, it’s little wonder that resident scribe Steve Kloves’ screenplay is nothing short of being slavishly faithful to the source material. It’s a little more understandable and tolerable in the final film since any omissions would have legions of fans up in arms, and at least all the important action unfolds in this installment so audiences aren’t left hanging. The film’s pacing is also vastly improved especially when the focus shifts back to Hogwarts.  

However, this is a caveat for viewers who are not familiar with the Harry Potter universe – prior knowledge is a necessity as almost nothing is explained in this film, and even audience members who are familiar with the films are advised to at least watch Part I again before venturing into the cinemas for Part II.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have been immersed in their roles for a decade, but to be honest their performances have never been outstanding, especially because the movies have always roped in a large number of British acting greats to act beside them. In this final installment, the list of British actors is by far the longest (unfortunately, many esteemed actors like Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent don’t speak more than a couple of lines each), which means the young actors have an even greater obstacle to overcome. However, having been through this for such a long time means that despite their deficiencies, the trio share excellent chemistry and many audience members are too vested in the characters to care about acting quality.

It’s also interesting to note how far the visual effects have come since the first film, and the visuals in Deathly Hallows Part II are about as good as it can get. Aiming for a much more monochromatic look and gritty feel than in the previous films, Deathly Hallows Part II shines most in battle sequences, especially in the finale sequence where no expense was obviously spared. Having only seen this in digital 2D, I am not able to judge if the 3D elements are retrofitted successfully onto the film – but somehow I think watching the film without a third dimension might actually serve it better.

This is likely to be the definitive last film of the Harry Potter franchise, and it’s amazing to look back at the past decade and see how far the franchise has come. It’s an excellent send off and ends the franchise on the best possible note, to be sure, but there will be plenty of fans wishing that more could follow, especially since Deathly Hallows Part II has managed to deliver everything it promised. Already the most successful film franchise of all time, there’s no doubt that Harry Potter is here to stay, and despite this curtain closer would definitely continue to thrive in other iterations and formats.

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of four stars)