Review: Captain America: The First Avenger
I saw this film a while ago but only got around to writing the review today, hope you enjoy, sorry if it loses its way towards the end.
* * * * *
I was apprehensive going to see this flick.
I love Captain America. If you’ve ever read Marvel comics you’ll know he’s a character of real gravitas, inside the fictional world he’s an inspirational figurehead and to the readers he’s one of the consistently likable characters, possessing all the characteristics of the best heroes. The Ultimates reimagination of him was one of the series’ best moves, with him retaining his old fashioned heroism but refusing to shy away from the fact that you don’t make it through a war without being tough as nails and occasionally a bastard.
But you get the character wrong by a little and you have an overly patriotic nightmare on your hands. If a Cap movie had been put out 8 years ago it would’ve been some awful, jingoistic affair. Remember that cheesy scene in Spider-Man where the New Yorkers throw stuff at the Green Goblin “you attack one of us, you attack all of us!” imagine that for an hour and a half.
So its good they waited, and the fact that this follows the brilliant Iron Man flicks and Thor and precedes the Avengers means that this would be a more well thought out effort to click in with a growing on-screen Marvel universe, sitting somewhere between the Ultimates and the original universe.
Anyway, enough background, let’s get to the flick.
Its World War 2, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a small, weak guy is eager to enlist and serve his country in the fight against the Nazis. Using fake names he’s attempted to join up repeatedly, being turned down each time. His enthusiasm, decency and refusal to quit catches the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist working for a special unit seeking a canditate for a super-soldier serum.
During the training regime Rogers fails to impress the unit’s leader Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) but his ingenuity in overcoming his physicial deficincies and strength of character impresses Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) another officer involved in the programme and after proving his bravery, Phillips agrees to select him.
Meanwhile, in Europe, a Gestapo officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has sought out a mythical Asgardian weapon and with his cultish followers in an organisation called Hydra uses it to create an arsenal of superior weapons that will ensure victory for them, as they pull away from the rest of the Nazis.
Talking with Rogers, Erskine reveals that an imperfect version of the serum was used on an insistant Schmidt but the side effects had a negative effect on the already unhinged man and transformed into a monsterous psychopath called the Red Skull.
Rogers undergoes Erskine and Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) super-soldier serum and emerges as a heavily-muscled superman. A Hydra agent attacks and steals some of the serum, killing Erskine in the process.
Rogers uses his new abilities to chase down the agent and capture him, but he kills himself and the serum is lost.
Unwilling to spend the war as a test subject in a lab, Rogers agrees to work for the government, touring the country raising money for war bonds as the colourful Captain America, putting on shows and performing stunts and feats of strength.
While performing for American troops in Italy he recieves a hostile reception, as the soldiers feel he is merely a performer and they are risking their lives for real. Hearing that his friend and former protector, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) has been captured and aided by Peggy and Stark, Rogers goes behind the lines. He succeeds in rescuing Bucky and the rest of the men, and meets the Skull for the first time, who escapes.
After returning to the American camp Rogers becomes Captain America for real and puts together a unit comprising of Bucky and several of the men he rescued and they procede to start striking at the Skull’s bases and factories.
I won’t give you any more of the plot, and get to my thoughts on the movie.
I really enjoyed it, like Thor and especially the Iron Man films it manages to get the tone just right. It’s an enjoyable, action-filled romp which never loses sight of the characters. Evans is on fine form as Rogers, and through some fantastic visual effects is convincingly puny at the start.
But its the essence of the character that is the winner, Evans shows Cap as a frustrated character, a guy who hates bullies and is frustrated and guilty that he is unable to go over and fight against evil while other men go and die in this endeavour. Decency shines through in every scene, but stays on the right side of cheesy, and he never becomes an unrealistic ideal of heroism, remaining touchingly human in his nervousness and eagerness.
The supporting cast does well, Atwell is a likable and sassy love interest and the scenes between Peggy and Rogers are touching. Bucky and the rest of Cap’s unit are a ragtag bunch who while not having that much screen time are engaging enough. The ethnic mix might be a PC construct but the group gel well together and I’d happily watch a Howling Commandos spin off.
Tucci and TLJ are both on fine form. Tucci bringing humour and warmth to Erskine, while still hinting that the man feels guilt over his previous work for the Germans. TLJ does his usual gruff, badass thing but if it ain’t broke…He gets one of the film’s best moments and his deadpan delivery provides the film with humour as well as bringing gravitas to the role of Phillips.
And as the villainous Red Skull, Hugo Weaving excels, a character filled with unhinged fanatacism. He’s a truly menacing character and Weaving brings a tightly wound intensity to the role.
If there’s one weakness its the fact that the move of including Hydra seems a bit of overkill, as though the writer’s decided that the Nazis weren’t quite evil enough for the film.
But this is a minor niggle in an otherwise brilliantly realised comic book adaptation.
They manage to avoid patriotism, in fact other than one minor reference the film is less about American glory than Rogers’ personal heroism and the universal theme of standing up to the forces of evil.
There are a few cheesier moments but on the whole it keeps the balance well, and unlike a lots of blockbusters even manages to connect with the audience on an emotional level.
There are great connections to the other Marvel movies, the Asgardian weapon that the Skull gets ties in to Thor and Iron Man‘s dad, Howard Stark turns up, and in a brilliant scene his entrance at a fair is a 1940s version of Tony Stark’s appearance the expo in Iron Man 2. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury gets a cameo in the film which tees up The Avengers film, for which is set up in a fantastic teaser in the end credits. It looks as though the interaction between the various heroes will capture the spirit of the comics and the “Some Assembly Required” tagline prompted a massive nerdgasm.
A great, fun adventure with great effects and a fantastic central performance from Chris Evans. 4/5