Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011.
Directed by Joe Johnston.
Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan and Toby Jones.
After volunteering for a top secret military research programme, Steve Rogers is turned into the super soldier Captain America.
I’ve never really known much at all about the Captain America character, I’ve always assumed that he was conceived primarily as a tool for propaganda in the comic medium during World War 2. But in the wake of Iron Man 1 & 2, The Incredible Hulk and Thor and with the forthcoming Avengers film, the pressure of piecing these four seemingly divergent stories together hinges on Capt’s ‘mighty’ shield.
The film is set in a (Marvel tweaked) 1942/3 and Steve Rogers (Chis Evans) is a sickly, small guy that’s been bullied all of his life – which has cultivated an unyielding resolve in him to face his antagonists without ever taking a backward step. During his 5th attempt to get into the army he runs across German scientist, working for the Allies, Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who admires his ‘diamond in the rough’ inner value and selects him for their ‘super soldier’ program.
For me there was always going to be a roadblock with Captain America’s values because of the worse modern perceptions of America as gluttonous, greedy, apathetic, and backward. How would the audience be sold on a character build to portray American values? Well the writers and Johnston at the helm use a fantastic interlude where Cap is reduced to an interactive marketing identity for bond sales that mirrors political spin in modern society. Instead of Rogers portraying ideal American values it’s the title that hopes to associate itself with Rogers values.
Now although we’re in the World War 2 setting, Johnston and the writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) do a great side step and subvert the traditional USA verses the Nazis – instead the special army unit lead by Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones is) specifically hunting Red Skull’s (Hugo Weaving) breakaway faction ‘Hydra’ that now seeks to destroy their former Nazi allies. So Johnston afforded the great sepia hues of the 1940’s and the familiar European battlegrounds but with a very distinct Marvel universe twist. Johnston really does a great job directing the film, the performances are good, the action set pieces are iconic but also very true to the period that they are set in and with the pressure of making this final puzzle piece fit, he doesn’t collapse he really shines and I would say outside of Iron Man makes the best Marvel superhero film to date. I do want to give one big shout out once again to the writing because like Johnson the pressure is to make all these pieces fit and the did a great and accomplished job at following the tone of the previous Marvel films but because of the period giving themselves a very distinct voice.
The film incorporates as much of the other films universes as possible most notably the Stark family into story – using Tony Stark Senior (Dominic Cooper) [Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) father] as the constructor of the shield and the villain of the piece is the head of Hydra – Schmidt a.k.a Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is searching to harness the power of an energy cube once contained in Odin’s [Thor’s father (Anthony Hopkins)] throne room.
Johnston definitely went to the school of Chris Nolan and Batman Begins when casting Captain America: The First Avenger because not only are the integral parts with really phenomenal actors but throughout even the less significant roles there is a cache if brilliant performers.
The whole film really hinges on Evans’ performance as the weedy, skinny, sickly and short guy with a big heart – and he absolutely nails it. I’ve never really been a fan of Evans’ work but he is an endearing and charming underdog character that carries his underdog nature throughout the picture.
The antagonist of the piece Red skull (Hugo weaving) was assigned to Dr Erskine while he was still in Germany and still under orders from Hitler. Erkines super soldier serum is said to amplify pre existing qualities and unfortunately his first test subject was Red Skull, which mutated him into a demonic, power-hungry villain with an insatiable thirst to destroy the world. Weaving is effortless in a villains shoes (see The Matrix) and he perfects this really distinctive accent that really allows you to stop noticing that it Hugo Weaving at times in the film. Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine is really warm but also pained because his scientific advancement was used for the Nazi’s and he takes responsibility for Red Skull. Tucci kind of infuses himself with an Einstein-esque demeanour in this film and he’s what Rogers needs in order to believe that he is capable of taking on this power. Tommy Lee Jones can’t be bad of late and starring in a pulpy comic book film in the shoes of a ‘tough as nails’ army officer doesn’t weaken his impact. His role really is to doubt the success of the experiment and choosing Rogers. And there is a level of sincerity in every element of his performance that I don’t think many actors have the ability to portray.
Toby Jones is layered as Red Skull’s hesitant off-sider. Hayley Atwell is suitable as the tough “I may be a dame but I ain’t no damsel” love interest to Rogers who like Erskine sees the inner qualities of Rogers as his most valuable asset (that’s not to say that she isn’t notably impressed with his new incredible physique).
There is one unfortunate element for me and that’s the ending – it is a little too rushed and really just teases the beginning of the forthcoming Avengers film. And yes if you’re wondering whether I waited until the end credits, I did and yes I did see the tiny glimpse of the Avengers film that left Comic Con a flutter.
So really to some up, for me this isn’t the best Marvel film; that mantle stays with Iron Man, but it comes a close second with Ang Lee’s Hulk (that’s right I prefer Ang Lee’s film to the Lou Leterrier Xbox game). This was a great surprise and I would say totally worth some war bonds. Get along, and see why Bucky followed a skinny kid from Brooklyn.
Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com.
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