Of all the superhero films to grace our screens this year, it was Captain America that seemed the most out of place. We had a continuation of a popular franchise (X-Men First Class), a look at some Norse god’s family problems (Thor) and a space cop with confidence problems (Green Lantern). Each of these had perhaps more bankable high concepts than Captain America, which if we take the name at face value seems quite goofy and could easily be seen as too much American flag waving. However what we get with The First Avenger is a rollicking good time, and perhaps the best film that Marvel Studios has put out in their attempt to introduce us to their main characters before next years Avengers film.
Set during WWII Captain America follows Steve Rogers journey from a scrawny young man, who is deemed unfit to join the army, to the hero of the title, thanks to an experiment called project rebirth which turns him into a super soldier. Evans brings great heart to the role and portrays the character perfectly, balancing the emotion, humour and physicality of the piece perfectly. Rogers’ underdog whose don’t back down characterisation will resonate with most audiences and it is never dealt with in a heavy-handed manner. In fact the greatest asset of the film is that they have literally stuck to their guns with the characterisation of Captain America, who at the end of the day is a good man and fights the good fight because he doesn’t “like bullies, no matter where they come from”. It’s refreshing to see a hero who hasn’t got a chip on his soldier due to some death of a family member or has a midlife crisis, which turns an arms dealer into an armoured avenger. Yes at the start of the film he is the odd one out, the thin sickly kid who can’t fight with his friends on the battlefield, but he never backs down from a fight and this naïve boyish charm is a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre. In fact even after the experiment he is still the same man, awkward around girls, polite and still not backing down from a fight. Add to this the films portrayal of WWII, where heroes are forged on the battlefield and hope comes from perseverance, and Captain America’s got quite a positive feeling to it.
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The films 1940s setting is just the right amount of pulp and some sequences evoke a feeling of Indiana Jones (might be the Nazis). The set pieces are great and the action itself is well staged and director Joe Johnston’s decision to not use a ‘shaky cam’ allows us to witness Cap’s fighting ability without trying to distinguish what’s going on (also it is a joy to watch Cap throw his shield like a boomerang). On a side not seeing the film in 3D adds nothing and actually dulls the already muted colours of the film. In fact it was quite a surprise that the films pallet wasn’t as bright as was expected of a film named Captain America. That being said, it does seem to fit in with the look of the previous Marvel Studios outings.
The supporting cast work well around Evans and Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci both impress as Colonel Phillips and Dr Erskine. Dominic Cooper brings just the right amount of womanising charm as Howard Stark (Iron Man’s dad) and Hayley Atwell brings an assured performance to the obligatory love interest Peggy Carter. However it is Hugo Weaving’s bad guy Johann Schmidt (better know as the Red Skull) and his second in command Dr Arnim Zola, played by Toby Jones, that stand out. Zola starts the film fully confident in his leaders plans and as he realises how far gone Schmidt is he begins to fear for his future and Toby Jones cowardly performance is a joy to watch. Weaving channels his previous villainous roles through an interesting German accent and creates a very menacing Red Skull, a fanatic at the head of a rouge group of Nazis called HYDRA. A mix of bond villain and Indiana Jones Nazis, the Red Skull is quite fun to watch and his all out ruthlessness is the perfect antithesis to Captain America and fits into the pulp world of the film perfectly. However, Cap’s squad of ‘Howling Commandos’ gets short changed and Sebastian Stan, as Bucky Barnes, doesn’t get enough screen time to flesh his character out.
So, the film is fun, fast paced and full of nostalgic puply charm. It oozes a can-do attitude that comes from an unapologetic patriotic love of country, which comes off more sincere than cynically ironic, and this leads to a very strong first outing for the Captain. Evans is as much of a revelation as Steve Rogers as Chris Hemsworth was as Thor and the film adds another strong foundation to next years big screen Avengers, which no longer seems like such a gamble for Marvel. Hell TQS is on board for the ride and can’t wait to hear the immortal words: Avengers Assemble!!