Review: 'Captain America: The First Avenger' is the Best Avenger Yet
by Jeremy Kirk
July 24, 2011
Captain America: The First Avenger, the final stop on the road to next summer's The Avengers movie, is the best Avengers movie yet. A slick and stylish period piece, it takes us back to the World War II era of steam and metal with explosive results, a solidly told story of one man's physical rise to the greatness found within him, and the beginning of what is sure to be a blockbuster comic book franchise. Directed by Joe Johnston, the film has a look, story, and character all its own but never feels out of sorts with the other pre-Avengers films. In essence, it is the perfect lead-in, the ideal set-up for bringing this character into the modern world of Marvel films while never feeling like it's serving that purpose alone.
Donning the blue suit, patriotic shield, and about a hundred pounds of genetically altered muscle is Chris Evans as Steve Rogers. At the start, Rogers is a 90-pound weakling whose solitude and patriotism makes him desire to join the army. It is 1942, and the United States is well on its way into a World War against the Axis. But Rogers, physical disabilities and all, is not cut out to be the soldier he desires. Enter Dr. Abraham Erskine, a German scientist who has defected to help the US battle Hitler's army. He has concocted a serum the US military hopes to use to create an army of Super Soldiers. But first, the serum must be tested on one, and Rogers, hand-picked by Erskine, is chosen as this test subject.
Needless to say, the serum works, and Rogers transforms into a perfectly sculpted creation complete with massive biceps, super speed, and the ability to bust through walls. Of course, this kind of soldier can't be used on the front-lines, and it's here where Johnston and the screenwriters involved go in an unpredictable direction. The US Army makes Rogers a marketing tool, a symbol to speak to the American public and sell war bonds. It's an incredible misdirection in story, a swerve of sorts to have this man who only wishes to fend off the world's bullies finally blessed with the physical abilities to do so but denied.
In fact, this one side-step in Captain America isn't even the first of many Johnston and crew take to make the film feel different from standard comic book origin stories. Most of them have become drab, commonplace, the kind of paint-by-numbers story arcs that make films like Green Lantern come and go with minimal interest. Captain America isn't all action, nor is it all humor though the film carries with it ample amounts of both. Instead, the story is on the front-line here, and as impeccably written as it is, it fends off the superhero ennui effortlessly.
Johnston's sense of style is on full display with that story, as well. He brings a hazy sensibility to each shot, a nostalgic tone that gives Captain America the feel of something older yet still epic in nature. This tone is perfectly laid out in the way 1940s New York City is brought to life, the Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibition seen early in the film - which also introduces a familiar face to the future Avengers movie - and the isolated lair of the film's villain, Red Skull.
Speaking of which, and this is something Captain America does far greater than most comic book films, the villain here is spectacular. Red Skull, diabolical and, yes, a bit one-dimensional, is an incredibly created arch nemesis for our hero, an excellent match in terms of physical and mental strengths that is made all the more menacing by Hugo Weaving's superb performance.
But Weaving doesn't have the only acting chops that come to life. Evans, first and foremost, was born to play a superhero. While he has had his fair share of attempts before - Captain America is his seventh comic book film - his performance as Steve Rogers is seamless. The special effects that create the pre-serum Rogers is amazingly constructed, but Evans work amidst the effect makes it all the more life-like. Even later in the film when Evans is forced to bring on the emotion, he never backs away and gives the role the best he can.
Of course, that isn't always enough to counter-balance certain setbacks the film runs into. Most importantly, Captain America deals much with mythology of the comic books most may not understand. Johnston and crew dance around certain aspects, especially those that may come up again in next year's Avengers film, but it may leave some audience members scratching their heads. The same could be said for some of the relationships in the film. Rogers' relationship with British SSR officer Peggy Carter, played firmly by Hayley Atwell, is fine. However, a few of the connections between Captain America and the men in his team never feel whole. When the explosions start and the bullets fly, the sense of tension you might expect isn't completely there. During one particular moment, we should even feel sadness, but without the fully realized connection, the moment comes and goes with a mere shrug.
But the positives in Captain America: The First Avenger fully outweigh the negatives. Johnston's nostalgic feel brings the perfect wrapping to an already sturdy package built on great characters and dynamic action. The 1940s aura, the Captain America aura alone, projects a patriotism that some might find corny. "Some might find" nothing. It is corny, but it all works in the grand sense of Johnston's film. But goofy as it may be, The First Avenger proves beyond a doubt that as a hero, as a symbol, and as an Avenger, Captain America is as good as they come.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10