Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger

During the height of World War II, a crazed madman digging up secret treasures all over Europe has discovered a way to bring the entire world under his control, and the embattled forces of the Allies might not be able to stop him. Their only hope is to fight fire with some mad-science fire of their own, by transforming one volunteer into the greatest soldier the world has ever seen: Captain America.

Joe Johnston‘s Captain America is something of a mixed affair, but if Marvel has proven anything over the last few years, it’s their ability to produce quality entertainment even when they can’t get over all the flaws.

On the plus side, like the most successful recent Marvel films, Captain America benefits from spot-on casting and solid performances, keeping even the weaker moments from dragging the whole down.

Nominally the lead, Chris Evans makes the transition from the smart-alecky roles he has traditionally played into a straight-forward lead without giving up any natural screen charisma. Evans and the filmmakers have conceived of Captain America as a hero with all of the idealism and none of the cynicism or irony that’s often used to make heroes palatable to modern audiences. Captain America is a Boy Scout in the best possible meaning of the phrase: a little naïve, but also without ego and genuinely wanting to do the right thing, right from the beginning. It could very easily be arch and boring, but in Evans’ hands, Cap is exactly what he’s supposed to be: heroic.

However, due to the strength of the cast surrounding him, Evans also isn’t the owner of his film. The result is something closer to an ensemble in execution, though it doesn’t seem set up to be that. Evans is clearly supposed to be the lead, but he’s surrounded by scene-stealers. Still, as problems go, that’s not a bad one to have.

The most notable “other” lead is Hugo Weaving as Rogers’ counterpoint, the villainous Johann Schmidt. The only other living recipient of the Super Soldier formula, the Red Skull is everything Captain America is not — selfish, ostentatious, and murderous. Ostensibly a weapons scientist for the Nazis, Schmidt has cast his eyes further, building his own private army and preparing to conquer the world.

Standing against him is a group of secret soldiers run by Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). Set in the past of the Marvel Universe, similar to the summer’s recent X-Men, the filmmakers take their own sweet stroll through nostalgia, showing off the world’s fair of Iron Man 2, the beginnings of Samuel L. Jackson‘s secret spy agency, even making connections to the recent Thor film. It’s a smorgasbord of continuity.

How much of that will work for more casual viewers is up for grabs, but the speedy pace of the first half irons out most of the kinks as Rogers tries to figure out the best way to help the war effort after the kindly Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) transforms him from a 90-pound weakling into the spirit of physical perfection.

Johnston has done his best to combine Captain America’s comic book and pulp adventure roots, with a desire to treat the characters as real people and approach their adventures as realistically as possible. That is a tall order, especially when you start dealing with men with melted-away faces and their magic cubes of destruction, but for the most part, the filmmakers pull it off, creating moments of genuine pulp excitement.

Unfortunately it’s a pace the film can’t quite keep up, and the film begins to sag noticeably during the second act, tumbling into aching an montage in a few sections. Worse, despite the noticeable chemistry between Evans and love-interest Hayley Atwell, the amount of time spent on the two of them never seems as well-used as it could be, especially considering how packed the film is.

Still, it works more often than it doesn’t, taking advantage of its setting and milieu to create something different than the standard superhero fare. It helps that, thanks to the timing and setting of the piece, Captain America has the opportunity to take advantage of real loss and bittersweet conclusions more audience friendly films don’t often attempt.

A bumpy middle section keeps Captain America from being as good as the best of Marvel’s recent films, but a sterling cast and an attempt to take the character on faithfully and without irony works more often than not. Sure, there’s room for improvement, but the series is still off to a good start.

Cast: Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America; Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull; Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter; Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips; Toby Jones as Arnim Zola; Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine; Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes; Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark; Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan; Derek Luke as Gabe Jones; Kenneth Choi as Jim Morita; J. J. Field as James Montgomery Falsworth; Richard Armitage as Heinz Kruger; Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

(Marvel Studios --; Paramount Pictures --; Captain America: The First Avenger --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, July 22nd, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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