Captain America: The First Avenger

22 Jul

Captain America: The First Avenger is the latest Marvel Comics character to headline a feature film, and the last to do so before the “let’s get together and have a fight” extravaganza that will theoretically be next years Avengers.  Cap is also the oldest Marvel character to hit the screen, having been created before the U.S. entered World War II, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, for Marvel predecessor Timely Comics.  (The rest of the Marvel movie characters were created in the 1960s.)

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a 90 pound weakling who has tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the Army to battle the Nazis during the Second World War.  As he argues with his boyhood friend, Sgt James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) prior to his latest attempt, Rogers is overheard by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), an expatriate German scientist working on a secret Super Soldier project for the American military.  Erskine enlists Rogers in his program, over the objections of Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), the military commander of the program.  Erskine sees the good man inside the weak frame, as does the beautiful Strategic Scientific Reserve agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and Steve is chosen as the first American test subject, putting him on a collision course with Erskine’s first experiment, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), the villainous Red Skull, leader of the Nazi Occult Science squad, Hydra.

The cast is up to the challenge of bringing the characters to life.  Evans especially evokes Steve Rogers’ patriotism without veering over into the mawkish or campy, and is equally believable as the pre-experiment weakling Rogers (heavily aided by CGI), and the buff, Nazi butt kicking post-serum Cap.  Hugo Weaving, buried under prosthetics for much of the film, chews scenery with the best of them, and Stanley Tucci does his usual exemplary job, making the character at once distinctly different from others he has played before but also distinctly Stanley Tucci.  Tommy Lee Jones has gotten to the point in his career at which he appears to just be playing Tommy Lee Jones in each movie, but in this case, that is perfectly fine.  Dominic Cooper is good as Howard Stark, and the always great Neal McDonough stands out a bit from the squadron of soldiers.  Hayley Atwell has little to do but look beautiful, but she displays far more personality doing it than some other summer movie eye candy (I’m looking at you, Rosie).

Captain America does a masterful job of setting itself firmly in the World War II era.  It translates the character, arguably the most human of the major Marvel heroes, seamlessly to the screen, nodding to the character’s roots.  Both Cap’s original shield and his traditional wing-headed costume make appearances, though the outfit he wears into battle is far more practical, though no less inspiring.  Cap’s military strike force are the Howling Commandos, of Nick Fury fame (back when Nick Fury was a one-eyed buzz cut white guy rather than a one-eyed badass black guy), though they’re never actually called that.  The crew’s engineer and inventor is Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), who will mature into John Slattery and appear in flashbacks in the two Iron Man movies which feature his son, Tony.  Sharp eyed viewers will recognize Marvel guru Stan Lee in his ubiquitous cameo appearance, and some might even catch a glimpse of a pre-incendiary Human Torch (the original, not the one that Chris Evans played in the Fantastic Four movies).

Captain America is a superhero film, as were the two Iron Man movies, the two Hulk films, and Thor before them, but it attempts to embrace another genre, a trait common to this summer’s crop of superhero movies:  Thor was a coming-of-age film, Green Lantern a science fiction adventure, and X-Men: First Class had many scenes that would not have been out of place in a 1960s James Bond movie.  Captain America is squarely in the war movie genre, as its name and setting would suggest, but it’s a rarity among superhero movies in that there’s killing in it.  Lots of killing, and not just by the bad guys, either.  It’s war, and Cap is a soldier, and he kills more than his share of Nazis and Hydra agents.

Don’t forget to stay through the credits as well, as there is a traditional Marvel post-credits sequence, though it wasn’t shown at the screening I attended.

My rating:  7 shields (out of 10)

by Charles

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