The Road to The Avengers – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Luke Owen continues on the road to The Avengers, revisiting Captain America: The First Avenger…

Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011.

Directed by Joe Johnston.
Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan, Stanley Tucci, Neal McDonough and Toby Jones.


SYNOPSIS:

During World War II, Steve Rogers becomes a test subject for the US government’s Super Solider Serum, which turns him into the heroic Captain America.


When you think of the big guns of Marvel, you tend to think of three people – Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America. Starting out life as a Hitler-punching symbol of America’s fight during World War II (about a year before they actually joined), Captain America became a poster child for the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Silver Age of Marvel and is now one of the biggest selling comic book stars with over 210 million copies sold in 75 countries. So when the comic book movie explosion happened, how come there wasn’t a Captain America at the forefront?

Well, just like Thor, Captain America has had a troubled time in Development Hell. Ignoring the 1944 serial and the super low-budget 1990 film featuring an Italian Red Skull, Captain America has been restricted to the animated world. Marvel had planned to put a Cap movie into production back in 1997 but nothing really came up until 2000 when Marvel teamed with Artisan Entertainment to help finance the picture – and this is where the problems came in. At the time, Marvel was in a very large lawsuit with Captain America co-creator Joe Simon, which wouldn’t be settled until 2008. With the lawsuit drama now over, Marvel and Paramount Pictures could move forward with their plans to introduce Captain America into The Avengers picture. Joe Johnston was brought on to direct despite The Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier offering his services and in 2010, Hugo Weaving was cast as the Red Skull alongside a man who was no stranger to the Marvel Universe as our leading hero.

In 2005, Chris Evans featured in 20th Century Fox’s live adaptation of Fantastic Four as Johnny Storm, The Human Torch. The Internet did not react well to the announcement that he would also be portraying Captain America, fearing that Evan’s involvement could confuse the general public who may recognise him from the previous role. Whether his soirée into the Marvel world fuelled his decision or not will probably never be known, but he did turn down Paramount and Johnston three times before accepting a six-picture deal to play Steve Rogers. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he stated, “If the movie bombs, I’m fucked. If the movie hits, I’m fucked!” While sounding negative about the role, he did admit that, “Marvel are doing a lot of good things now… I think Steve Rogers is great… Even if it [were] just a script about anybody, I would probably want to do it.”

Captain America is set in 1942 and tells the story of Brooklyn boy Steve Rogers – a skinny kid with every defect under the sun who is desperate to join the army and fight for his country. When he is caught faking his military application once again, he is taken under the wing of German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine who is looking for a guinea pig to try out his new Super Solider Serum. The Serum is a success and turns Rogers into Captain America – the world’s first superhero. Now Captain America and his team of Howling Commandos are trying to track down the only other man to be injected with the Serum, Hitler’s head of weapons Johann Schmidt, also known as The Red Skull. The Skull and his Hydra army have located an ancient force that was once the jewel of Odin’s treasure room – the Tesseract (known by most comic book fans as the Cosmic Cube) – with plans to take over the world.

Let’s lay down the good points first, because there are a lot of them. The look of the movie is fantastic and Johnston has encapsulated a comic book movie perfect for all ages. When I watch Captain America: The First Avenger, it feels like a movie I would have grown up with on VHS and would look back on with great fondness when I got older (a lot like The Rocketeer, one of Johnston’s previous movies). The costumes all look fantastic (especially Cap’s suit which has the potential for looking fairly goofy), the acting is pretty decent and the script and story are very entertaining. They do a great job of establishing Rogers’ desires and emotions to fight for his country as well as Captain America’s initial rise to fame before becoming nothing more than a piece of propaganda to sell war bonds. Much like how Favreau managed to feature both Tony Stark’s original Iron Man look before moving into the more popular red and yellow suit, Johnston manages to blend both the silliness of Captain America’s initial 1940s propaganda run and his Silver Age rebirth where he became a proper superhero. It really is something to be commended on.

However, so much time is spent on building up the origin of Captain America that some of the plot elements do take a back seat. His romantic relationship with Peggy Carter at times feels very forced and his close friendship with Bucky Barnes is almost forgotten about. This unfortunately does mean that when Barnes meets his untimely end it doesn’t have the effect it should have – even if it is just backdrop to set up his return as Winter Soldier (if that is where the sequel is heading). It also means that by the time Steve Rogers and his Commandos (who also become nothing short of cameo fodder) finally get going into action we’re nearing the third act and a lot of their action sequences are reduced to nothing more than an elaborate montage. Even his final showdown with The Red Skull feels rushed. It’s a real shame as Captain America: The First Avenger is a really great and solid movie with some wonderful storytelling – it just didn’t have enough time to fit everything in.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the film because I really did – for me, it is just one tiny step below Iron Man. I just feel that, had it been spread over two movies, we could have had more time to establish Rogers as a character in the past before we bring him into the present and into The Avengers. Evans does a superb job of bringing Rogers to life and manages to encapsulate the character in one line of dialogue with the excellent delivery of, “I don’t want to kill anyone, I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they are from.” Hugo Weaving is at his usual menacing best with his Wener Herzog-inspired Red Skull and while it looks like Tommy Lee Jones is simply phoning in his performance of Col. Phillips, it’s very entertaining one.

The film also serves as the glue that binds all of the previous movies together to lead into The Avengers. It features a lot of Howard Stark, Iron Man’s father, and introduces us to the repulsion technology that Tony would make good use of for his suit (as well as The World of Tomorrow – which was the setting for the final scenes of Iron Man 2). We are given more history on the Super Soldier Serum that would lead to the creation of The Incredible Hulk, and lastly the audience are introduced to the Tesseract – a jewel that once belonged to Thor and Loki’s father – and is one of the focal points of The Avengers. When you put it down on paper, this really was the best film to end the run on before the final hurdle – even if technically it comes first in the timeline.

The post-credits sequence for this movie was not a scene to set up The Avengers but in fact a trailer for it. This was the first time we saw what Joss Whedon and Marvel had been working on and it was a magical experience to see these characters on screen together for the first time. Perhaps a simple scene with all the characters on set for the first time would have been more impressive, but the trailer worked perfectly fine to get us all excited.

While many feel that these five movies have been nothing more than expensive trailers for the cross-over movie, I think Marvel did a wonderful job of bringing these characters to the screen, establishing them with audiences and building up the excitement for The Avengers. It’s been a long ride, but we’re finally here. On April 26th, the wait is finally over.

Tomorrow: The Avengers

Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.

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