Despite being around for 70 years, Marvel’s second most iconic hero (behind only Spider-Man) has had trouble finding his way to the big screen. Aside from his appearances in various cartoons over the years Captain America‘s career boils down to an old WWII serial, the perhaps best-forgotten 1970’s made-for-TV movies starring Reb Brown, and the 1990 live-action film which ended up going straight to video.
Attempting to rectify this oversight Marvel Studios and director Joe Johnston bring Captain America to the big screen with Captain America: The First Avenger which tells the basic story of Steve Rogers’ origin with a few interesting changes.
We meet Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a plucky young patriotic American who wants to enlist to fight Nazis alongside his best pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), as he’s turned down yet again for service due to medical reasons. Just looking at the scrawny young man you’d have a hard time believing he would eventually become the world’s greatest soldier.
Impressed by his gumption Steve is given the chance by a German scientist (Stanley Tucci with a ridiculous German accent) to join a top secret program to create an entire legion of American Super Soldiers. Steve proves his heroism and is chosen for the procedure which increases his size and mass, speed, and agility. As in the comics, a Nazi infiltrator kills the doctor shortly after the test is complete and destroys the remaining data which means Steve Rogers isn’t only America’s first Super Soldier but also its last.
With the doctor gone Steve is relegated to propaganda purposes by selling War Bonds and performing at USO Shows. It’s not until he learns of Bucky’s capture that Captain America proves his worth by saving his pal and his comrades but also delivering a crippling blow to HYDRA, the secret science division of the Nazi Party under the direct command of the world’s first Super Soldier – The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).
As an introduction to Captain America the film gets quite a bit right including Evans, who certainly wasn’t my first choice for the role but proves to be more than up to the task in giving Steve a heart by toning way back on the goofiness we’ve seen him use in other roles. It’s his portrayal of a good and honest man that makes the film and sells the character without appearing cheesy or dated.
The Red Skull makes a good, but not over-powering villain for the film. Although I’d like more Nazis in a WWII movie, the choice to put HYDRA front and center works well and also allows director Joe Johnston to go crazy with 1940’s futuristic weapons all powered by the mysterious Cosmic Cube.
Surrounding the hero and villain are a strong group of supporting characters including perfectly cast Howling Commandos (Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, JJ Feild, Kenneth Choi, Bruno Ricci) , and even Tommy Lee Jones has fun as the gruffy Colonel Chester Phillips. Hayley Atwell turns out to be a fine choice providing not only the look but fiery nature of a 40’s soldier and the Captain’s love interest.
I’ve also got to commend the film’s look which recreates the feel of the 1940’s but adds a few nice twists as well. I’m so glad this film was done as a period piece that allowed us not only to get to know Steve Rogers but also the world from which he came from. Aside from just being good filmmaking this has the adding bonus of laying a large amount of ground work for next summer’s The Avengers.
I still have some issues with the costume but it looks far better on-screen than in early stills. Yes, it still has too many (pointless) straps, and the helmet looks incredibly awkward when shot from the wrong angle, but it’s far more functional than I expected.
I also commend the film on the inclusion of an early knitted version of the costume used for the USO shows which much more closely resembles the character’s look in the comics. This is just one of several nods to longtime fans of the character including one scene featuring Cap throwing his shield on the front of his motorcycle (ala Reb Brown).
Although Captain America gets quite a bit right, the film isn’t without it’s flaws. The CGI creation of the skinny young Steve works better than I thought it would but from certain angles still looks very awkward (as does the face of the Red Skull). I do have to wonder whether these effects will age any better than the hobbits re-sizing in The Lord of the Rings.
There are also a few clunky scenes such as the futuristic World’s Fair which starts with one of the movie’s worst CGI shots and although it does a good job in introducing the skeezy Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) the entire sequence feels more than a little off.
The action sequences are well-done for the most part although there’s one where Cap seemingly takes on the entire HYDRA army which stretches even the credibility of a film with a super-powered soldier dressed like an American flag. I also would have likes more on Roger’s training as well as more of his missions other than the short (but impressive) montages we are given.
Like Marvel’s other entries of the summer Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t a great film, but it’s a solid effort with a good story, strong performances, and it’s hellova lot of fun. It may not be Iron Man or The Dark Knight in ranking with the best of the current crop of comic book movies but it’s a darn good, and very entertaining, film that does the character proud.