Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

I’ve been a fan of Director Joe Johnston’s since he made one of my favourite comic book movies  back in 1991, The Rocketeer. Since then he’s gone on to helm such entertaining movies as Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and Hidalgo. While his last movie, The Wolfman, was at best a disappointment, I was glad to see he was tackling the final member of The Avengers’ origin stories, after all it was set around the same time as The Rocketeer, a movie which proved Johnston definitely has a feel for the period, and for treating a superhero character respectfully.

I could not have imagined how much better than that it would be.

Anyone who’s read my previous reviews for Marvel movies knows that I have a more than passing interest in the Marvel universe. With the build up to the avengers from Marvel Studio’s in-house series of movies (Titles such as X-Men and Spider-Man were made entirely by other studios who have licensed the titles), we’ve been treated to a series of movies introducing the members who would eventually make up the Avengers team including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and S.H.I.E.L.D agents Coulson, Black Widow, and Nick Fury. Captain America, while the final member to be introduced, as the title states, is also chronologically the first Avenger. His character arc going from Steve Rogers to Captain America was also going to be more difficult to bring to the screen than some of those we’ve already seen.

I watched the movie in 2D because, as previously stated on many occasions, I will not consider seeing a movie in 3D unless it was filmed  in 3D and not converted in post production.

BEWARE, there are SPOILERS for the first half of the movie in the following paragraphs.

The movie opens in present day, in a snowy blizzard, as men examine the remains of something found half buried in the ice of some un-named glacier. Sifting through the wreckage inside the craft, the uncover a red and blue coloured shield, recognisable to most of us who know it as Captain America’s shield. The movie then jumps back in time to 1942, where Nazi officer Johann Schmidt steals a mysterious artefact (The Cosmic Cube) that had been hidden at a castle in Norway, before killing the man guarding it.

In New York, Steve Rogers (A CGI shrunken Chris Evans) is unsuccessful after repeatedly attempting to pass a physical to join the armed forces and fight in the war. After visiting the Stark Expo (as seen in Iron Man 2) with his friend Bucky who is enlisted and due to ship out the following day, Rogers tries once again to pass a physical, against Bucky’s urging. Rogers insists that he has the right to do no less than the men who are laying down their lives, and is overheard by Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is with the government’s research division. Erskine questions Rogers’ motives for wanting to sign up, asking him if he wants to kill Nazis, but Rogers tells him he doesn’t want to kill anyone, and his application is accepted as a candidate for a super soldier experiment, Erskine saying he can only offer him ‘a chance’.

Rogers trains at a camp with other more physically suitable applicants, much to the disliking of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), but shows a knack for smart thinking and stronger heroic qualities than his competitors. Meanwhile, Schmidt works in a laboratory on harnessing the power of the cube to create new advanced weapons and technology. After Rogers successfully undergoes the super soldier experiment in a secret lab, Erskine is killed by a Nazi spy who Rogers, now super strong and with increased reflexes, pursues across the city and captures moments before he commits suicide.

With the last of Erskine’s formula destroyed, and after his pursuit and capture of a Nazi agent becomes front page news, the government decides that Rogers is more important to them as a symbol, he is sent on tour on the road, to boost morale and help raise funds for the war effort. When he is met with disdain by the remaining American infantry defeated by Schmidt in Italy, he discovers that Bucky is among the MIA soldiers and, against orders, sets out to rescue the soldiers. At Schmidt’s H.Y.D.R.A. base, after freeing the imprisoned soldiers and rescuing Bucky, Rogers comes face to face with Schmidt, discovering that there is more to the now ex-Nazi than he could have imagined.

As previously mentioned, the character of Captain America is one that I was not sure could be successfully brought to the screen, but Joe Johnston with the script by writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Who both worked on all three Narnia movies), has managed to condense a great deal of story and elements from the comic into the movie’s 124 minute running time. To do this there are a few montage sequences, showing Rogers as he performs on tour, or as he battles, but these serve their purpose, and don’t dwell too long on moments that otherwise would have been stretched out and slowed the pace of the movie. The mix of action, story, and character development are well-balanced throughout, ensuring that the pace never slows too much or races too fast, and they’ve managed to walk the fine line between comic book and reality well, allowing the occasional intentionally comedy moment, and avoid any unintentionally cheesy ones – no small thing.

The performances of the cast are solid from start to finish, Chris Evans is perfect in the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America, Hugo Weaving is great as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, with his German accent consistent throughout, and the supporting cast of Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, and Stanley Tucci, all bringing their A-game to their performances. It would be easy for them to have played this for laughs, especially Tommy Lee Jones’ character Colonel Chester Phillips, who dismisses Rogers’ upon his first viewing of him amongst the experiment candidates, then becomes frustrated when he realises Rogers will be the only super soldier, and eventually is won over by his courage and actions in the field. Likewise with Dominic Cooper, who plays the part of Howard Stark (Father of Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark), as a serious industrialist, when the same role under different circumstances could have been played as the mad inventor.

The special effects are impressive throughout, Evan’s early scenes being accomplished by head replacement (much better in the finished movie than the early unfinished footage showing the effect in trailers) which, like the many other special effects of the movie, are there to serve the story (TAKE NOTE, MICHAEL BAY!). With each release leading up to The Avengers I’m constantly impressed by how much Marvel have hit the nail right on the head by focusing on the story first, and Captain America is no exception.

Alan Silvestri composed the musical score for the movie. While I was concerned by this choice before seeing the movie (his more recent work on movies such as GI Joe, and The A-Team have been less than stellar and to be honest, poor), at no point did I find his score repetitive, out-of-place, or overpowering of the movie itself. It is by no means his best work, but suits and serves the movie well. Click the below video to listen to a sample of the score.

It was a smart move to have this as the final movie leading up to The Avengers, as the ending of the movie smartly brings things up to date ready for it next year, and brings Rogers to the same time/setting as the other characters. Be sure to stay till the very end of the credits not only for a short extra end sequence for the movie, but also for a teaser trailer for The Avengers, which had plenty of footage considering they are still currently shooting the movie. It’s more than enough to whet the appetite of anyone who has been following the series, though a shame that we’ll have to wait until May 2012 to see what director/writer Joss Whedon has come up with to top this.

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