Film Review – Captain America : The First Avenger
Did you guys see Jurassic Park III? You know the guy who directed that also helmed this. He was also responsible for The Wolfman last year. Though that won an Academy Award, so I won’t be cruel to that one. Plus, much like Captain America, the best part of that film was Hugo Weaving straight up chewin’ scenery. My point is that Joe Johnston was a bold choice to direct what would be the final piece in Marvel’s film-puzzle before The Avengers hits next may. At the same time, much as Kenneth Branaugh was an inspired choice to take up Thor Johnston is one of those directors who, when on his game, would be perfect for something like Captain America. The number one reason that people have been giving since the day he signed on the dotted line was the fact that he directed The Rocketeer which shares some similar themes as well as the “period piece” setting. Well, Captain America is decidedly better than The Rocketeer. Though to be honest I’d love to see Timothy Dalton hamming it up against Hugo Weaving. That would be golden.
The film begins in the present day, where a team of scientists drilling in the arctic find something unusual. The story is familiar to anyone who has a basic knowledge of Captain America beyond “he fights Nazis.” From there we fade back to World War II, where we meet up with Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt laying siege to a village in Norway hoping to obtain some ancient Norse artifact supposedly taken from Odin’s throne-room. At this point we must accept that if you’re not seeing every Marvel Studios film you’re not getting the full experience. The item in question is of course the Tesseract, or the cosmic cube, which was actually glimpsed by keen eyed viewers in Thor earlier this year. We’ve finally reached the point where everything has come together and while if you missed Thor you can still enjoy Captain America, the sense of connectivity will be an added bonus for fans who have been following the buildup since Iron Man.
I have to say that this is probably the best origin story comic adaptation to date. Only Iron Man really comes close. There have been some complaints that Steve Rogers doesn’t really have a character arc, he just has a physical transformation. Those people clearly missed the point of the film. Steve was always a good man. His discussion with why he was chosen to be a super-soldier with Stanley Tucci’s Abe Erskine (another standout among many) touches on this quite effectively. Steve’s real arc doesn’t get a chance to begin until he reaches the future. With this being a true origin story, we don’t get to deal with that yet. A good portion of that will be dealt with in The Avengers I would assume. And that is the only downside to Marvel’s interconnected universe. There will always be things that get lost in the shuffle. In a movie like this you can’t get everything in a two hour time-span.
But they do manage to work in a good number of things that work, a truly epic villain who isn’t afraid to go big in a way that most villains have been lacking for a while on screen now for one. Hugo Weaving is perfect as the Red Skull and it’s good to see a true, and pardon the term, “comic-bookey” villain on screen and done well. He’s what the scenery chewing villains of the 90’s Batman franchise aimed for but missed entirely. Much credit must be given for making a character that could have been hokey and downright lame into a memorable character.
Chris Evans also does a good job portraying Steve Rogers. He’s almost too likeable. He brings that sense of honor and duty that Steve Rogers has always had as well as a truly great degree of charm. After seeing him in the role I’m not sure if any of the other names on the shortlist to play the character would have worked out near as well. This is the first time where I watched Chris Evans and didn’t see Chris Evans. I saw Captain effing America. As much as I enjoyed him in Fantastic Four, his Johnny Storm was much like the wise-cracking characters he had played in other films. In Scott Pilgrim, I got a feeling he was mostly just Chris Evans making fun of Chris Evans trying not to be Chris Evans. Here, he was Steve Rogers. The earliest parts of the movie where they used all the CGI left in the universe to make him a skinny little runt seemed to distract from the fact that this was an actor playing a part. I was greatly impressed.
But one of the things that truly stunned me, especially coming off of something like Thor, is that the romance element of the story was handled organically and sincerely. Hayley Atwell, who will likely become a lot of young men’s new celebrity crush after this film, plays a fully developed character in her own right whose relationship with Rogers is given time to shift and grow in a way that feels very real and genuine. Compare this to Chris Helmsworth’s attraction to Natalie Portman in Thor that was basically boiled down to “She’s Pretty, He Has Muscles.” Granted sometimes that’s how real relationships do happen but it doesn’t make for the most satisfying cinematic experience. The Rogers/Carter romance is definitely more interesting. Steve’s jealousy of the attention Tony Stark’s dad keeps throwing her way over the course of the film is one of the more entertaining aspects and shows that even though Steve is a good man at heart, he’s just like you. He hates it when good lookin’ dudes start eyeballin’ your girl.
Personally, this is my favorite of the Marvel Studios entries. I’m a big Cap fan and I feel they nailed it with this one. Iron Man comes very very close. But there was something about this film that just felt more like a Marvel comic come to life than any of the previous entries. Iron Man II attempted that feeling but in the wrong manner. Cameos out the wazoo do nothing. But capture the tone and feel of the page and translate it to screen, and you’ll get something truly special, which Captain America is. I plan on seeing it again very very soon.