This won’t be the only review for Captain America: The First Avenger here on the Shattered Lens. This may very well be considered an editorial on the film, depending on whether I can stay on topic (I gush a lot in this one). Once they see it, both Arleigh and Lisa Marie will probably make their own posts. Either way, you’ll have more than one perspective on the film.
Addendum: Arleigh’s review is up.
Many years ago, Marvel Comics decided that with all of it’s key franchises spaced around various film production companies, they’d create a series of films that would culminate to one big “Team Up” story. That team is known as The Avengers and it’s members (for the sake of the films, anyway) are Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Scarlett Witch, Hawkeye and Captain America. The project really went into high gear when Marvel Studios was born and Disney purchased Marvel.
I didn’t have a lot of hope for Captain America: The First Avenger. I know very little about the character save for the comics my older brother used to read. He was an army guy given something to make him super and he had a really cool shield that he’d throw and have return to him.. That was basically the bulk of my knowledge. When taken into account the announcement that Joe Johnston was directing the film, after his somewhat disappointing turn in The Wolfman and that Chris Evans was playing the role, I was certain the film was going to fail. I mean, wasn’t he just playing the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four?
Now, you need to understand that hearing Joe Johnston’s name attached to this left a mixture of feelings. I absolutely love The Rocketeer (1991) and period pieces in general. He was able to give it a nice ‘30s feel, right down to the old war serials that used to be shown before films. Hell, even the poster to that film was something grand. My little brother had a Rocketeer toy and I used to film home movies with it, holding the character just in front of the camera and running around the house as if it were flying. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out as well for Johnston or Disney then – but that’s another story.
As for Captain America, the movie floored me. The story isn’t as complex as say, The Dark Knight or as full of itself as Green Lantern, but it’s hands down the best story in the whole Avengers arc that Marvel’s worked on. From my viewpoint, only Iron Man comes close to competing with this film.
The premise of the story is pretty straightforward. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a frail man with just about every problem you can think of. He’s short, he’s asthmatic, and he can’t do a pull up to save his life. Yet, as his parents were in the Army, he felt it was right that he do his part. Every time he tries to enlist, however, he’s told he can’t. This doesn’t sway him from the belief that he can do it, it just forces him to find other ways in. When a scientist overhears Steve’s reasoning behind wanting to join, he gives him a big chance to become the first of many Super Soldiers. The process does indeed work, but a mishap leaves Steve as the only Super Soldier the Allies have, and thus, Captain America is born.
Now, I’m kind of summarizing things there as the story’s just a little bigger than that, but it really needs to be noted just how great a job Chris Evans did in this. He portrays Steve Rogers as one of the most noble characters I’ve seen since Superman. The character never loses that drive or passion, and it came across so well that on reflection, I can’t recall ever thinking once about the Human Torch (something I fully expected to do here). I found myself really wanting this character to succeed, which is more than I could say about Hal Jordan in Green Lantern despite loving the comic. Evans truly was the right person for this film, in my opinion. Again, die hard Captain America fans that have grown up with the character may disagree.
Captain America also has a rich supporting cast. Hayley Atwell, coming over off a great role in the Starz Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth plays Peggy Carter, a tough as nails Army Officer that helps to motivate Rogers toward the path he’s destined to take. Atwell is beautiful, demure at times and responsive at others, every bit as she was when playing Alienna. Also from Pillars of the Earth is Anatole Taubman as one of Johan Schmidtt’s (Hugo Weaving’s) Officers. Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel has some of the funnier lines in the film. Weaving does a great job as always at playing the villian. There’s really very little I can say on that other than the make up job they gave Weaving’s Red Skull was nice, right down to the visible seams just under his ears. Sebastian Stan has a good role in Rogers’ best friend, Bucky, but I think he could have used a little more. Even Natalie Dormer (Cassanova, The Tudors) and Amanda Righetti (Friday the 13th) have cameos. If the film has two supporting anchors other than Atwell, it would be Stanley Tucci (Easy A) and Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double). As Abraham Erskine and Howard Stark, respectively, they both almost steal the show from Evans. They both have a few key moments in the film.
If Captain America suffers from any problems, it may be that it gets from Point A to Point B a little quicker than I’d have liked it to. Some of the pacing is done in Montages, which is okay for showing the audience that the Captain is making progress, but I would have liked to have seen another mission or two before the finale. The buildup to Steve Rogers becoming the Captain is fast, and everything else moves pretty quickly from there on in. The last battle sequence could have been stronger – I’m reminded of the tank sequence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – but considering the era in which the story was told, I wasn’t really expecting lightsabers or anything along those lines. It wasn’t bad, but it was over sooner than I expected. I should also point out that it really does help to have seen the other Avenger related movies. It’s not really a requirement, but the larger puzzle really comes into view on seeing this film.
Visually, the film is great. Johnston really catches that sense of old New York, though it may not be as nuanced as Jackson’s in King Kong. The colors are a little muted in some places, but I’m thinking that’s part of the tone that was set. There’s even a musical number that’s somewhat cute. The 3D effects in this are okay for some scenes. The end credits in particular were nice, but over all it’s really nothing to write home about. I’m still of the notion that 3D should really be restricted to animated features.
Overall, Captain America was a fun film in the vein of Joe Johnston’s earlier film, The Rocketeer and is easily the best of the Marvel Studios Avenger prequels. I’ll be heading back to see it again on Sunday.
And remember, when the movie is done, don’t leave. After the credits comes something definitely worth seeing (at least the yelling and cheers from my audience seemed to deem it so).