Marvel Studios closes out the unofficial Summer of Superheroes this week with the debut of Captain America: The First Avenger, the final film in Marvel’s road to next year’s Avengers film. While armchair quarterbacks debate in hindsight the modest commercial success of Marvel’s Thor and the commercial failure of Warner Brothers’ Green Lantern, no matter how boffo the box office is this week, the studio can certainly boast of making one spectacular movie in Captain America: The First Avenger.
As much 1940’s serial as 3D blockbuster, Captain America works double duty telling his life story, which includes a glimpse into his future, as well as the origin of his nemesis, the Red Skull. Starting in the present, S.H.I.E.L.D’s ever-present Agent Coulson is called to the arctic to help investigate an amazing discovery. Once we see the striped shield on ice, the ride officially begins.
The year is 1941 and with the world at war, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is more than ready and willing to enlist to fight the good fight. Problem is, he’s got more medical ailments than found on WebMD. The 97-pound Rogers is all heart as shown by his willingness to bounce his jaw off of a bully’s fist. Luckily, he’s bailed out by his best friend James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan).
After failing for the 4th time to sign up, he’s recruited by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to become part of an elite Super Soldier program headed by Erskine and Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Assisting Phillips is the English Lieutenant Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Military industrialist, ladies man and father of future Iron Man, Howard Stark, (Dominic Cooper) rounds out the cast.
Meanwhile, Nazi Commander Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is about to embark on his own personal upgrade. After discovering a long-lost Norse artifact (last seen in Thor), Schmidt declares himself a free agent from old Adolf and company. Schmidt dubbed the “Red Skull” along with his organization HYDRA, sets out on their own plans of world domination. The former test subject of Erskine knows that to realize his dreams, he must eliminate his American counterpart at all costs.
Erskine’s experiment is a success as Rogers is transformed into the “embodiment of human perfection,” complete with a foot in height, abs and even a new hairdo. Before BALCO comparisons are made, the super soldier formula enhances both physical and personality traits, with the latter being more important. Denied yet again a chance to serve, Rogers is given the ultimatum of being a lab rat or a government pawn in US bond sales. He chooses the latter, ultimately much to his displeasure. When Bucky is captured by HYDRA, the reluctant showman becomes the hero that he was meant to be.
Despite the name, Captain America: The First Avenger is not about flag-waving, but about a man being given the chance to be great. As star Chris Evans recently stated, “It could’ve just as easily been called Captain Good,” since all he wants to do is good, no matter his country of origin. Luckily, he’s got 70 years in the Marvel Universe and a top notch cinematic crew to make it happen.
Writing duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely crafted a marvelously thought out screenplay that appeals to fanboys and new fans alike. Unlike most superhero films, Captain America: The First Avenger is a period piece, but one set in the Marvel Universe.
Markus and McFeely chronicle the battles of Captain America, but never let us forget that within the enhanced physique is the scrawny hero in the making, Steve Rogers. Having written all three Narnia movies, Markus and McFeely kept the dialogue simple but engaging with just enough humor to not take things too seriously.
Most of that humor can be attributed to the spot-on delivery of Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips. He seems to grab positions of authority and strike fear into friends and foes alike while delivering one liners as though he had written them himself. Hugo Weaving as Schmidt/The Red Skull could’ve been an overacted, hokey mess, and while not the caliber of Heath Ledger‘s Joker performance, he superbly creates a believable on-screen supervillain.
Several names were linked to playing Cap from Will Smith to Chace Crawford, but thankfully producers settled on their original choice, Chris Evans. The former Human Torch of the Fantastic Four movies changed gears and costumes for this role, playing a hero with a humble, “gee whiz” quality that can’t be taught or pulled off easily. Take away the muscles and the incredible CG effects and his Rogers is the one comic book fans have waited for and theatergoers can cheer for.
Director Joe Johnston may have used Raiders of the Lost Ark as a template in regards to keeping a 40’s serial feel about the film, but he avoided anything that could be considered a ripoff or a tired cliches. Taking a cue from successful direction in superhero films such as The Dark Knight, Johnston always keeps the audience focused on the characters. Stripping away the tights, leather and even the awesome throwing shield, Johnston manages to craft a fast moving two hours about the evolution of a heroic man into a hero, all the while building to a climactic yet bittersweet conclusion.
Captain America: The First Avenger may be the final link towards the Avengers, but it stands on its own and begs for a sequel, no matter if it’s in present day or set in the 1940s. Its only flaw is the 3D effects, which were underwhelming. Whether because it was originally filmed in 2D or because filmmakers focused on more important things I’m not sure but I can’t recommend seeing it for the 3D unless it’s in an early matinee.
Nonetheless, Captain America: The First Avenger is definitely the best superhero film of the year and it’s one hell of a fun ride.
Be sure to check out our interview with star Chris Evans.
Captain America: The First Avenger is definitely the best superhero film of the year and it's one hell of a fun ride.