Captain America: The First Avenger is the origin story of well-known comic book hero Captain America. Set in the 1940’s during WWII, the film follows Steve Rogers, a scrawny Brooklyn man who wants nothing more than to serve Mother and Country and do his part. Unfortunately, Rogers is deemed physically unfit to join the U.S. Armed Forces, but a simple twist of fate finds him volunteering for the “Top Secret Super Soldier Project.” Quickly transformed from sickly young man into Captain America, this superhero fights for the best interests of the U.S.A. and battles the evil forces of HYDRA, lead by the villainous and disfigured Johann Schmidt (AKA “Red Skull”), Cap’s arch nemesis.
This film is on-par with its super hero movie counterparts, flaws included. With a strong 40’s comic book feel, this film features scenes that actually look like they could be transposed with a comic book panel and not detract from the story. Director Joe Johnston seems to be quite comfortable in the 1940’s comic book genre; his 1990 film, The Rocketeer, has a striking similarity to the feel of Captain America. Unfortunately, The Rocketeer is a better overall ‘hero’ movie in both direction and feel. This film felt rushed. I should say that Captain America himself felt rushed: we go from scrawny Brooklyn man with a heart of gold to super-soldier extraordinaire without the hero’s journey that superhero film fans have come to expect. Even the typical ‘training montage’ was missing. I suppose I should suspend disbelief and just take for granted that the super-soldier process combined with Steve’s heart of gold provides a NEO-from-Matrix type of learning style (“I know Kung Fu…Woh!). It is not until he becomes a full-fledged super hero that we get the montage, but it is merely footage of Captain America and his crew battling the forces of HYDRA and its leader, Red Skull. I’m sorry, but what we need to have is a montage of him training to be Captain America so that we can really enjoy watching him whup-ass on the bad guy.
The film was shorter than I would have liked. I think some extra time would have helped round out some characters, polish the already rushed story, and would have greatly benefitted the audience. I have heard some liken this story to the first Iron Man, which, if you ask me, should have been the model for these films. Sadly, it was not. THOR suffered the same ‘time vs. story’ issues: Thor went from “braggart God” to “humble hero” in two seconds! Like Captain America, there was no real hero’s journey. Both films needed more to help audiences relate to the characters, their motives and their actions.
However, the costumes are OUTSTANDING in this film. I love Captain America’s new leather armor and “Vibranium” shield! As the first X-Men did with the black and gold leather jumpsuits, the costuming on this film took the main idea, spun it into something new and realistic, and was able to keep the feel of the original designs! The special effects are the standard for today: lots of CGI and minimal practical environments. That being said, what practical effects and props that were used were fantastic. From the tanks to the experimental weapons, they made for a satisfying and well-rounded viewing experience. My screening was in 3-D, which seemed take away from the movie, with its tendency to muddy the screen and make things appear darker than they should be. I found myself removing the 3-D glasses several times just to get my bearings on some scenes. Several scenes were, however, quite stunning to view in 3-D (explosions, flying aircraft, Captain jumping his bike over a wall, etc.), but such 3-D-worthy scenes were few and far between. My advice: skip the pricy 3-D experience and use the cash you saved for extra movie snacks!
Captain America is portrayed by Chris Evans, whom most of you may recognize as The Human Torch from the Fantastic 4 films. Physically, Evans fits the part of Cap, but I’m not sure I liked his portrayal of Captain America. It felt flat and without heart at times. His character worked, but not as I would have preferred. I think the way the character was written had more to do with how it was performed, which made it barely squeak by with me! The stand-out in this film is easily Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings) as Red Skull, leader of HYDRA, a secret Nazi Super weapons organization bent on world domination. As with everything this man is in, he turns it to gold! Weaving’s portrayal of Red Skull was FANTASTIC! His flawless German accent, his body language…everything was spot-on. I was honestly terrified.
Rounding out the major cast members were Hayley Atwell as military liaison Peggy Carter. Carter’s character also felt somewhat flat and lacking, particularly as the hero’s love interest, but she is quite easy on the eyes! Tommy Lee Jones plays the gruff and weathered Col. Chester Phillips. Jones, as usual, takes what could be just any old role and gives it his personal touch with great success. He had several good laughs throughout out the film and I was happy to see him on the screen. Stanley Tucci plays Dr. Abraham Erskine, a sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi to Steve Rogers. Tucci, a seasoned and talented actor, nails this role with his trademark on-screen versatility.
Overall, Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun ride from start to finish. It has all the nods to previous films, such as Iron Man and THOR, tying up some loose ends and making sense of some of the after-credit scenes in the aforementioned films. The movie fits the molds for both a summer blockbuster and a credible comic book movie. Flaws aside, Captain America: The First Avenger is a welcome addition to the Avengers movie franchise.