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.
During World War II, Steve Rogers is turned into the heroic super-soldier Captain America.
In a summer schedule which has been jam-packed full of sequels, reboots, animation, and comic book tales, some films just blend into one another and you forget them as soon as the credits roll. After the lacklustre Thor and the diabolical Green Lantern you may be forgiven in thinking that the latest Marvel hero to come to our screens, Captain America, will suffer the same fate.
It doesn’t. In fact, it’s one of the year’s best.
We all know the story by now, but in case you aren’t familiar with Captain America’s origins and how he fits in with the other recent Marvel films, here is a quick recap:
Summer 2008 saw the release of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk; both very average films but Iron Man was a box-office smash. This led to the terrible Iron Man 2 in 2010 which, with no degree of subtlety, introduced the Black Widow character. Earlier this year saw the release of Thor which also shoehorned in the first appearance of Hawkeye. So, all that’s left is Captain America, and he, along with the aforementioned Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, make up The Avengers – to be released May 2012.
Anyway, back to 2011 and it’s Captain America’s turn to deliver his origin story, and it’s by far the best of any of The Avengers’ outings so far. All the problems I had with the other films, I didn’t have with Cap A. There wasn’t any slapstick or terrible jokes (Iron Man 2), sub-par CGI (The Incredible Hulk), nonsensical other-worldly plot lines (Thor), nor does it try to cram in every character under the sun and end up with a lot of nothing (Iron Man 2 again).
What is does do well is several things. Firstly, the back story unfolds naturally in that we see the young skinny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) transform into the heroic Captain America at a steady pace, never rushing toward the next set-piece just for the sake of pleasing the audience but allowing us the time to understand who he is and the relationships he has with his friends and war buddies.
The film, set in 1942 during the Second World War, looks as good as any comic book film I’ve seen, notably because it doesn’t shove the art direction in your face but looks as if it were filmed on location on the streets of New York in 1942; the sepia tone is a joy to look at. Like any $140 million production, a lot of work will have gone in to every scene and detail, but Captain America: The First Avenger never feels the need to point it out and show off. Moreover, the CGI of the skinny Steve Rogers, where they’ve put the face of Chris Evans on another body, is a prime example of how CGI should be used. There is no other way to do it, but it never looks like an effect and you believe you are looking at a 90 lbs man. Truly superb. Also, I was so relieved to see the effects of the Red Skull were also seamless – the mask he wears is a prosthetic work of art and puts Two-Face in The Dark Knight to shame.
I also loved the homage to the character’s costume evolution over the years in the comic books and the decision to do the same in the film. It is touches like this which give the film its heart, and none more so than the musical montage where Cap A sells war bonds. Brilliant in its nostalgia, but important for the character. He doesn’t just ‘become’ a one man army over night, but he must evolve from who he was to who he can be. By the film’s end, he still isn’t the finished article and that’s something else I very much liked.
Indeed, the final scene is really quite sad for a comic book tale. I won’t spoil the end, but I will say it’s not typical of the genre.
Unlike some other high profile cast ensembles (Iron Man 2, I point at you again), this film uses all of its talent to full effect. Tommy Lee Jones provides the majority of the film’s laughs is terrific and reliable as always as the craggy Col. Chester Phillips; Dominic Cooper, as Howard Stark (Iron Man’s father) is less annoying than Robert Downey Jr but just as smarmy; Stanley Tucci is given a small, but pivotal role which he handles with ease. A special mention must go to Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull – he makes a potentially ridiculous villain very believable and very menacing.
The key to Captain America: The First Avenger’s success, for me, is that it feels and looks like a comic book adaptation, not merely just another big budget summer flick. Director Joe Johnston (who made the still-sublime The Rocketeer back in 1991) captures the essence of the hero in a way other directors have not. It may be because Captain America doesn’t have the special powers and technologies of the other superheroes, but he is the definition of a hero in a way that Iron Man, Hulk, Thor etc. are not and this comes across throughout the film and is never lost, even in the action scenes. He is essentially just a ‘good man’ who has been given a chance to do greatness for his country and he takes that opportunity and never looks back. Some superheroes get powers they didn’t ask for, but Steve Rogers wants nothing more than to become Captain America.
I’m not saying the film is perfect and not without its flaws, but with the 2 hour running time just tearing by, you are having too much fun to even notice or, most importantly, care.
I’m not sure how Captain America will fit into The Avengers film next year with the likes of Thor and Iron Man and Hulk doing what they do. On the strength of his first outing, I’m much more excited about a sequel than a collaboration. For me, The First Avenger is the best Avenger.
VERDICT – 8 OUT OF 10
P.S – I’ve seen the film twice now, once in 3D and once in good old fashioned 2D. See it in 2D, the 3D makes no difference to the film or your enjoyment of it.
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