Captain America: The First Avenger

Prompt review time. Here are my thoughts on the third and final Marvel movie of 2011: Captain America: The First Avenger. I apologise for the bland, generic opening but I couldn’t think of a decent way to kick things off. If you were offended by the cookie-cutter intro there are two things you can do. Firstly- get a fucking life and secondly, let me know your name, address and bank details and I will endeavour to pay five (5) pounds sterling into your account within three working days.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Where would Chris Evans be without comic book adaptations? Apart from a couple of indie, character-driven pieces, the guy’s IMDB page reads like a shelf at Forbidden Planet. Of these though, Captain America is undeniably his step-up to the big leagues. I was concerned that the antiquated character of Cap (originally war propaganda, but revived by Stan Lee in the ’60s) would be hard to adapt. The man’s a walking flag for a country that isn’t exactly topping World popularity polls at the moment and whilst risky Marvel property Thor had been done well, I wasn’t entirely sure Cap would have the same success. On the other hand, I reminded myself that Marvel have been on a winning streak of late and I shouldn’t be so sceptical. I’m pleased to say that Captain America continues that streak and has me looking forward to The Avengers all the more (if that was even possible at this point).

“I asked for an army. All I got is you.”

The film takes place during World War II and follows skinny weakling Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who longs to fight for his country, but is repeatedly turned away because of his health problems and general shrimpiness. However, Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) sees a spark in Rogers that makes him the perfect candidate for his secret military experiment. With the help of Iron Man’s dad, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and under the supervision of Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Rogers is transformed into a muscle-bound super-soldier and becomes Captain America. Good thing too, as the leader of specialist Nazi group Hydra, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is after a little artifact familiar to the people who saw Thor, which will grant him the power to change the outcome of the war. The plot is decent and cleverly updates the character of Cap without straying too far away from his inked origins. Chris Evans is fantastic as Rogers/Cap adding some believability and vulnerability to what could have been an embarrassing “golly gee whiz!” portrayal. Hayley Atwell was great as the tough, but sensitive Peggy Carter and reminded me a bit of Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a great compliment to her. Tommy Lee Jones also does what he’s best at- playing a grizzled, authoritarian figure who gets to say all the best lines. Weaving’s Red Skull was a slight disappointment, but not because of Weaving himself, who can play solid baddies in his sleep but more down to the writing. I wanted more for the man who brought us Agent Smith.

The thing I loved about the film above everything else was the retro setting and style. It’s set in the ’40s and has a real Indiana Jones / The Rocketeer feel to it. It’s sepia-toned Americana but done so you don’t feel like rolling your eyes, vomiting or doing a terrifying combination of both. Whilst we’re on the subject (of Americana, not vomit), the character of Captain America isn’t as nauseatingly jingoistic as one might expect from the name. He’s a morale boosting mascot for the first half or so, encouraging cheering crowds to buy war bonds and such. The name “Captain America” and the ridiculous spandex costume he initially has to wear both make perfect sense in this context. I know I bang on and on about superhero films trying to be brooding and dark like the Nolan Bat films, but I can’t think of a better contrast to Batman than Captain America. It’s refreshing to see a character this good and morally upstanding without layers of snark or reluctance to sweeten the pill for today’s cynical audiences. I expected Chris Evans to give Cap a jokey, sarcastic edge similar to his Human Torch portrayal in the Fantastic Four films, but he plays it straight-faced and earnestly. A decision that really pays off. I also must mention the impressive CGI that went into turning the normally brick shithouse sized Evans into a puny girly-man. People have been saying that his head looks too big for his body, but I can’t see it. Genuinely amazing work.

The first half of the film is a hell of a lot of fun. Whilst it takes a long time to get Cap into his ridiculously patriotic gear, it’s enjoyable enough to be spending time with skinny ol’ Steve. The USO show stuff is great too, with a catchy-as-fuck Menken track called “Star Spangled Man” scoring an insanely entertaining montage. When Rogers finally starts kicking arse, the film’s quality wavers slightly. The action is very well done and shot, it starts feeling more generic than it should do after such a strong opening. The hand-to-hand, shield-to-face stuff is brilliant though. Not once did I get tired of Cap hitting people. As I mentioned before, the Red Skull isn’t as menacing as I wanted him to be. For a man who is supposedly too evil for the Nazis (think of that!), he doesn’t seem to have a coherent evil plan. His target is apparently “everything”, which is pretty fucking lazy writing. He has some vague notion to blow up major U.S. cities, but I can’t for the life of me remember the details. (Invisotext) He does get a decent climactic scrap with Rogers though. It’s a shame that his demise is so unsatisfying. Whilst on the subject of spoilers, I really liked the final conversation between Peggy and Cap- it was really quite sweet. Steve’s “…but I have a date.” when confronted by Nick Muthafuckin’ Fury was surprisingly touching. I think my problem with Red Skull is we don’t get to see him do that much. His dialogue is well-written, it’s just his actions aren’t.

(On the subject of killing Nazis) “I don’t want to kill anyone. I just don’t like bullies.”

So, Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s great. On reflection, (I initially thought it was simply on par with Thor), it’s the best Marvel movie this year. It has a real boy’s own, old-style adventure film to it which bypasses any feeling of superheroic saturation you may feel. I had some minor quibbles with it, but I was too entertained by it all to get hung up on them. As usual, stay after the end credits for an exciting teaser.

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