Captain America: The First Avenger is extremely effective at what it tries to do: tell the story of a guy with heart who is so determined to fight bad guys that he chances into the body of a superhero. This is the story of Steve Rogers and the people who turn him into Captain America.
And the film works because it is primarily a movie about people.
Preview? Make it so.
Released on July 22, 2011
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (McFeely was my nickname in high school.. j/k) based on the comic by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, and Stanley Tucci
* * * * *
Captain America is not simply a rock ‘em, sock ‘em film with a guy in blue and star-spangled spandex getting his shield and fisticuffs on. It’s filled with CGI, but this CGI is quite lovely and at times elegant. You could probably count the explosions in this movie on one hand.
But it’s a superhero movie! Fighting the bad guy is supposed to involve all kinds of action.
Actually, Captain America: The First Avenger is indeed a superhero movie, but because it focuses (a’la the first two Spiderman movies and Nolan’s Batman films) on the person behind the mask and the people involved in that character’s world, it transcends your basic slapdash film and ends up being effective on a remarkable number of levels.
Some comparisons, to get us started:
Thor is very clever and nicely acted fun. X-Men: First Class is stupendously acted (setting January Jones aside), outstandlingly scripted, and brilliantly paced.
Captain America: The First Avenger is intelligent, sentimental, character-based, fun, nostalgic and totally satisfying. I left X-Men with an exuberant grin. I left Captain America with a thoughtful frown, joy in my heart, and a feeling that I needed to see it again as soon as possible.
Because how did they DO that?
Steve Rogers (Evans) starts the film weighing in at under 100 lbs. He is scrawny, sickly, has an oversized head and all kinds of heart. He wants to join the war effort in Europe and squash the evil Nazis. The majority of the movie is set during what looks like 1943 or so, although some of the set-pieces are a little off. For example, the World Fair was in 1939-40, before the US got involved in Europe.
The thing is that there is a certain patina to everything in the 1943 world. Maybe it’s slightly sepia- but it really evokes a nostalgia of the ’43 hue that we see on propaganda posters. Admit it, most people see that era in our nation’s history through a bit of a ‘looking-back with fondness’ lens. That’s how this movie looks. It evokes a lovely feeling in the viewer. It also marvelously sets the stage for a world wherein someone like Steve Rogers can be Captain America- an unapologetically patriotic hero who doesn’t need to get all angsty about who he is and his role in the world.
He’s there to fight for the US of A and belt Hitler in the mouth. This is not a hero, however, who would kick Hitler in the jewels.
After being rejected for something like the ninth time, Steve Rogers gets ready to find a different recruiting station. He is too small and sickly to be a soldier, but he’s determined to enlist. Luckily, Dr. Erskine (Tucci, with a solid accent), a German scientist, sees something special in Rogers and signs the tiny guy up for Project Rebirth- a program intended to create vast numbers of super soldiers who will finish the war in a week or so.
My question is this: How did they make Evans look so freaking tiny? The guy is big, but through the first 1/3 of the movie, he looks as tiny as my scrawny 11YO son. It’s a wonderfully done effect, and Evans plays it right. Rogers is smart, mentally tough, and is filled with heart.
After undergoing the procedure, Rogers is unnaturally tall and is physically ripped. But also, immediately after the procedure is completed, Erskine is assassinated and the lab is destroyed; Rogers will be the only super soldier for a long time.
Two comments here: Rogers was wearing extra long pants before the operation, and they’re high-waters after the operation. Good. But his belt was tight before and after the operation. Meh. The other thing is that Atwell, playing Peggy Carter, has a moment of excellent comedic timing here that you don’t want to miss.
Rogers is dubbed Captain America, and since there’s only one of him, is relegated to the propaganda circuit. He becomes a performer to drum up support and recruits for the effort. But in Europe, Peggy shows up with Howard Stark (yes, Iron Man’s dad) and the three get together to rescue a regiment of captured soldiers, one of which is Rogers’ best friends.
Thus begin Captain America’s adventures. He becomes a hero after nearly single-handedly rescuing the regiment. At the same time, he peeves off Johann Schmidt (Weaving), who is the head of the Nazis’ secret research organization called Hydra. Schmidt was behind the killing of Erskine and he was after the same goal: superhumanity. Schmidt is also in possession of some kind of powerful alien technology that has enabled him to develop insanely cool weapons. Schmidt also has a red skull. He doesn’t possess a red skull, his skull is red. It’s great makeup.
Regarding the glowing blue cube that Schmidt has, go watch Thor again.
There is lots to laugh at in this film, stuff you’re supposed to laugh at, by the way. Great comedic sense in the writing gets it done. Indeed, on the issue of comedic timing, Tommy Lee Jones playing Colonel Chesty Phillips is brilliant. He is low-key and his delivery is perfect.
I can’t find anything other than the pants thing that I didn’t like about this film. I think its pace is good, its sentiment is excellent for its setting, and I love how the costume designers did Captain America’s get-up. It’s plenty blue and looks a lot like the old Captain America costume from the comics, but it is not spandex. It is leather and looks like a fairly practical military outfit.
Neal McDonough is underused as Dum Dum Dugan.
The romance is actually very nicely done and is not a throwaway storyline.
Notice the total difference in atmosphere from the 40s era to the modern era. I think this is very nicely done.
Stay to the end of the credits, especially you fanboys.
I recommend this movie without reserve.
Content warnings: There is violence, but it is not graphic. No sexual content and there is period-appropriate mild language.
Writing: 4.5 Acting: 4.5 Overall: 4.5
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