Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper
Captain America: The First Avenger marks the fourth and final blockbuster super-hero movie of the summer of 2011, and for some, the last hope. After merely being satisfied by Thor, nonplussed by X-Men: First Class, and marked “present” at Green Lantern, The First Avenger has more than just the fate of the free world riding on Steve Rogers‘ broad-ass shoulders. Cap also represents the final piece in the Marvel Studios puzzle before the long-buzzed-about big-screen Avengers team-up slated for next summer, the make-or-break endgame in plans since before the release of 2008′s Iron Man.
While nowhere near the mainstream status as a Superman, Batman, Hulk, or even Spider-Man (prior to the 2011 Sam Raimi film), the character of Captain America is at least more recognizable than his Avengers counterparts, if only to American audiences as the flag-waving sentinel of liberty. Couple that with a briefly-renewed period of hyper-patriotism post-Bin Laden, and The First Avenger was poised for a crossover success. Steve Rogers’ journey from “a kid from Brooklyn” to Super-Solder to Avenger appeals to fans of the Rudy-esque tale of the underdog, the swashbuckling adventures of Indiana Jones, the war-is-hell grit of Saving Private Ryan, and the sight of Chris Evans with his shirt off.
Chris Evans, knee-jerkingly dismissed by many when cast as Steve Rogers due to his previous type-casting in winking smart-ass roles, roundly impresses as the sympathethic pre-Serum asthmatic (also of note, the effects used to make Evans look like a pipsqueak are extraordinary). Evans is able to remain humble, likable, and identifiable even once he’s slinging his vibranium shield at hordes of goose-stepping Hydra goons, all with the slightest of smirks peeking from behind his mask. To say that Evans carries the film would mean to discount the superb direction by Joe Johnston, the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely (adapted from the comics by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon), the spectacular set and costume designs, and the rich ensemble cast. However, Captain America: The First Avenger would have floundered without the strong lead of Evans filling the red leather boots. His performance is as good as Robert Downey, Jr.‘s Tony Stark, but more remarkable considering Evans was cast against type (and Robert Downey, Jr. is essentially playing…Robert Downey, Jr.).
Evans isn’t storming Hydra HQ alone, however, as Cap gets support from his Special Service Force teammates. Sebastian Stan plays Steve’s best friend, the [SPOILER] ill-fated James ‘Bucky’ Barnes. It’s really interesting to see Bucky transition from big brother to little brother once Steve gets all jacked up on Super Soldier Serum, later following Cap’s lead into the gates of hell as a member of the Howling Commandos. Tommy Lee Jones, looking more worn than usual, lends his steady Texas drawl and fills out the uniform of Colonel Chester Phillips, Roger’s superior. Hayley Atwell plays British agent Peggy Carter, who immediately sees the quality of man in Steve Rogers, but is also totally stoked when he grows a foot-and-a-half and starts sporting pecs like an Adonis. Speaking of pecs, Atwell looks right at home in this 1940′s period piece, right down to her capital bazooms.
Dominic Cooper‘s Howard Stark makes his son proud, decked in sweet threads and chasing tail while making leaps and bounds in the name of science and freedom, helping out Cap some 70 years before Tony ever meets his future teammate. My favorite supporting player was Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, creator of the Super-Soldier Serum, and father figure to young Steve Rogers. In just a few scenes, Tucci’s Erksine hits similar notes to Iron Man‘s Yinsen, displays flashes of Uncle Ben and Pa Kent, and even a little bit of Michael Caine‘s Alfred for good measure.
But what would Captain America be without some Nazi scum to KO and Hydra goons to decapitate? Hugo Weaving, he previously of Agent Smith, Elrond, and 12 lines of dialogue over three Transformers movies as Megatron, gets his master race pants on as the Fuhrer’s weapons guru and lead head of Hydra, Johann Schmidt. Weaving resists temptation to play Schmidt as a raving, screaming, Nazi stereotype (finally, Nazis get a fair shake), and even once Schmidt peels back his lily-white complexion to reveal the crimson cranium of the Red Skull, the performance never devolves into broad parody. Weaving’s turn is even more noteworthy considering he is tasked with performing through the Red Skull prosthetics, which, in their own right, are spectacular. Toby Jones skulks in the shadows and plays number two to Weaving’s Schmidt as Arnim Zola, in a performance reminiscent of a chubby Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark, so much so, I expected him to gaze into the Cosmic Cube and have his face melted onto Red Skull’s newly buffed floors.
It’s really a hard task to find something to criticize Captain America: The First Avenger for. The most glaring issue, and this has been the same with all of the Marvel Studios films, is the lack of a resounding, identifiable score theme. How awesome would it have been to identify the first appearances of each marquee character in The Avengers before they even appear on screen, just by their instrumental theme? Among the numerous positives, the touches added for hardcore fans are pitch-perfect, yet not wrenching to the pace. There is a great diversion in the second act chronicling Cap’s time as a USO poster boy that helps introduce the classic Cap costume, albeit tongue in cheek. The method with which the screenwriters were able to recreate the infamous “Cap punches Hitler” comic cover is inspired and terribly amusing. Personally, I was most pleased with the introduction and evolution of the infamous Captain America shield, which evolves from a trashcan lid to the shiny vibranium disc covered in Hydra DNA.
Captain America is a solid actioner that crosses genres and appeals to a wide audience. Despite being emblazoned in red, white, and blue, and rocking a huge “A” on his forehead, Captain America refrains from any “America, F— YEAH!” sentiment, instead, represents a worldwide fight for freedom against tyranny. When Iron Man was released in 2008, we had never seen a Marvel superhero movie quite like it, especially considering the scope of the proposed Marvel movie universe. Iron Man has since been the measuring stick for all Marvel Studios films since, and in turn, might make a fun film like Thor seem lesser by comparison. However, despite The First Avenger being the fifth movie in the series, I think it can very well stand toe-to-toe with the quality of Iron Man, and might have made a similar impact had it been the first Avengers solo film to hit theaters. I look forward to Captain America’s tenure with The Avengers, and his future solo films, but a part of me laments that we have more than likely seen the last of WWII-era Cap stories, as The First Avenger‘s period setting made it different than any other superhero flick to date.
4.5 out of 5 Hitler Punches