July 24, 2011
Marvel has done it once again, delivering a fun, earnest, action-packed superhero movie with filled with heart and rich, rewarding characters. Captain America: The First Avenger is a terrific companion to Marvel’s Iron Man and Thor and sits somewhere between the two. While it doesn’t capture the sense of wonder and astonishment that Iron Man excelled at, it triumphs with a strong lead character and actor, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, and a victorious supporting cast including Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell and Hugo Weaving. The story is well paced and keeps the events light and entertaining full of creative and exciting action scenes. Every hero is defined by his villains and the Red Skull is featured in all his HYDRA glory, providing Captain America with foe of equal strength and intelligence but opposing views and beliefs. Post converted to 3D, the results are a mixed bag showing how the process is maturing but still has trouble with action sequences and maintaining depth in close quarters that may not be framed for the best results. The director, Joe Johnston, wraps the film in a comic book version of the 1940’s in a convincing and rewarding fashion, creating yet another successful and highly entertaining entry into the Marvel superhero cinematic universe – one step closer to the upcoming Avengers film.
When Chris Evans was first cast as Steve Rogers, general reaction was one of concern. Previously best known to comic book movies fans as Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four films, he seemed too skinny and too funny for the role. Since then, Evans has beefed up considerably and has honed his acting skills in further roles in other comic book related movies: The Losers and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. As it turns out, Evans light hearted delivery and earnest good looks combine to make a perfect Steve Rogers – at least for this film version of Captain America. The first portions of this movie, Evan’s face is placed over a thin, frail build which somehow works marvelously regardless of how creepy the effect remains. He exercises plenty of opportunity to generate sympathy from the audience. A terrific moment defines the heart of the character when asked by Dr. Erskine Roger – who is volunteering for the Army for the fifth time – “Do you want to kill Nazis?,” Rogers responds, “I don’t want to kill anybody. I just don’t like bullies.” It’s moments like this, with the help from director Joe Johnston and co-star Stanley Tucci, that Steve Rogers is established with a strong will and a big heart; so, when he is transformed into the buff Captain America, these affective qualities are maintained and remain the bases for his personality. It’s a winning combination. Evans is able to keep Steve Rogers awkward and innocent around women yet strong and commanding as a soldier and a hero.
On the flip side, Hugo Weaving is deliciously evil as Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull. He is not afforded the same breadth of character as Evans has with Rogers, but he does the most creating a memorable and menacing villain. He is also a fun villain as well with his arrogance, icy disposition and attraction to outrageous devices, accessories, and weapons. If nothing else, he has great taste in automobiles driving a jacked-up Hydromobile. Awesome! Weaving embodies the character with a distinctive vocal and physical performance – just the way he stands illustrates his imposing bravado and self-importance. If anything, his character is not given enough screen time or growth, but the Red Skull still proves to be a formidable foe for the heroic Captain America. And he drives a cool car!
Captain America has a lot going for it including a terrific supporting cast. Along with Peggy Carter and Dr. Erskine, this film has a ton of Marvel characters throughout the story: Bucky Barnes, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), the Howling Commandos and Nick Fury. Sebastian Stan delivers a great performance as Steve Rogers best friend, but is less convincing as Bucky Barnes. His character provides Rogers with motivation and illustrates – in an amusing scene between Rogers, Barnes, and Peggy Carter – how things have changed for Rogers even though he doesn’t really recognize those changes himself. Hayley Atwell is Peggy Carter, bringing the character a strength and confidence not necessarily common for roles during this era. Through her and Dr. Erskine, the audience is able to see the potential, innocence and principles that define Steve Rogers. Stanley Tucci is Dr. Abraham Erskine who, more than anyone, understands Steve Rogers and believes in him when, literally, no one else does. He sees the hero inside. Tommy Lee Jones is the highlight of all the supporting cast, bringing a sense of humor to his scenes that permeates the entire film. Both authoritative and humorous, Jones’ Colonel Chester Phillips nearly steals the movie. Of all the Howling Commandos, Neal McDonough makes the strongest impression bringing “Dum Dum” Dugan to glorious cinematic life. Together with Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, Bruno Ricci, and J.J. Feild – the rest of the Howling Commandos – they make a great addition to the film and their scenes with Captain America are standouts.
The film spends a good amount of time building Steve Rogers and setting up the conflict between Captain America and the Red Skull. The balance between the two is nearly perfect. The beginning is funny, light and eventful full of character moments, keeping the story moving along as we follow the frail Rogers attempting to join the Army to his finally getting accepted and through his training. Every scene has purpose and builds not only the character but the story as well. Along the way, the Red Skull’s threat grows and grows to the point he becomes more threatening than the entire Third Reich. After a short, but no less entertaining, interlude where the Government uses Captain America as propaganda instead of a soldier, Steve Rogers decides to embrace the Captain America persona and races to save his best friend, Bucky Barnes, from Hydra’s clutches. At this point, the action kicks into high gear and never lets up. By the time the Howling Commandos team up with Captain America, the movie transforms completely into a fast-paced, rip-roaring action-packed good time. The fights are well choreographed and the battles are well staged. The action scenes are never confusing and their flow is natural for the story. Most all the story elements tie up together by the conclusion featuring a promised Captain America versus The Red Skull fisticuffs.
The 3D seems unnecessary at times; but, for the most part, the addition is a perfectly acceptable and a respectable conversion to 3D process. There are times when it is extraordinary but not as many times needed to warrant the conversion. There are many scenes where the action creates a blur or the 3D remains flat, especially during the beginning when Evan’s face is supplanted onto the frail body frame. There are a few memorable elements, however. Whenever Cap throws his shield, the 3D works extraordinarily well with the shape and the bright colors on the shield; when the Red Skull’s car first drives into frame, it drives up to a close up on the Hydra shaped hood ornament; and the interior battles with explosion flaring off in the background place the characters dangerously in visual peril. There are also a number of character moments when the 3D accentuates their reveal: Captain America and the Howling Commandos; Dr. Arlim Zola peering into his device; the Red Skull standing menacingly above the frame; and the final character reveal that ties the movie to the upcoming Avengers film. One particular scene where the Commandos are preparing to zip line across a deep ravine to board a speeding train is quite effective and the 3D gives the scene a wonderful sense of scale and depth; however, the film doesn’t do much with it beyond the initial moment. The 3D runs into too many moments where the action overrides the 3D, creating a blurry effect, than it contains moments of 3D glory to justify its existence as a whole – but, there are a number of moments that are excellent that make it enjoyable regardless.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid superhero film that embraces its four-color origins and brings a heroic and endearing character to the screen. Not a flag-waving as one might think, the movie delivers a Captain America that stands more for beliefs, morals, principals and justice than democracy or politics. It’s about standing up for the little guy and not being pushed around by bullies. The result is a character most everyone can relate to, an ideal that most every can stand behind; this translates wonderfully onto the screen. Chris Evans turns in a terrific performance as Steve Rogers – and later Captain America – first by having his features transfixed over a frail frame that is simultaneously effective and creepy and then by maintaining the innocence and heart of the character after becoming the hero dressed in red, white and blue. Evans is surrounded by a wonderful cast each of which help define Captain America and are equally affected by Steve Rogers. It’s that symmetry that envelopes Captain America: The First Avenger crafting possibly the most successful hero in a cinematic superhero film. That and a lot of action – fun, exciting, energetic, well-filmed set pieces featuring heart-pounding fist fights, gun-blazing battles, and shield-slinging excitement.