Captain America: The First Avenger

Reviewed By Daniel Kelly
Posted 07/30/11 05:22:34

"He’s probably better than Captain Canada."
3 stars (Average)

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is the last piece in “The Avengers” puzzle, meaning Marvel are now sufficiently prepared to unleash their potential magnum opus next summer. Thankfully “Captain America” doesn’t play out as an elongated advertisement, the film finding its own identity and at least making an admirable effort to operate as its own contained story. There are problems, namely that the first half far outclasses the second, but “Captain America” is none the less an enjoyable dollop of sugary summer confection. The movie has fun playing with its 1940s setting, ultimately emerging as a traditional but generally entertaining action romp.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is determined to represent his country in the fight against Hitler, but due to his diminutive stature and poor medical record Uncle Sam won’t have him. When a German doctor (Stanley Tucci) witnesses Steve’s courage firsthand, he offers the young man a chance to partake in an experiment that could potentially morph the tenacious weakling into a super soldier. Steve emerges from the transformative process much stronger, capable of mighty physical feats and with an arsenal of impressive weaponry at his disposal. After a brief stint on the entertainment circuit, Steve is drafted in to help battle Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a devious Nazi who has managed to attain a powerful supernatural tool. With the help of spunky British operative Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and a team of willing underlings, Steve prepares to take the war into his own hands, using his Captain America guise to strike fear into the hearts of the nation’s foes.

Chris Evans assumes leading man duties competently here, turning the potentially one note title figure into a semi-interesting screen presence. There’s limited space for character development with the “Captain America” brand, the hero essentially just a well intentioned pipsqueak endowed with superhuman powers. Evans convinces as the courageous Rogers, and what’s more neglects to adopt the tortured mentality that seems to have become trendy amongst comic book protagonists. It’s refreshing to have a hero contented with his lot in life, striving to fight for a cause rather than brood aimlessly. His relationship with Hayley Atwell is pleasant, the British actress handing in an appealingly steely and sexy performance. They share a believable chemistry, whilst the screenplay allows their relationship time to flourish organically. “Captain America” probably handles its human elements more convincingly than it does the mega-budgeted action beats.

The story isn’t always as comprehensible as it should be, particularly during the cluttered climax. The opening half of “Captain America” is richly photographed and thematically engaging; it’s much more enjoyable watching Rogers struggle for his chance to fight than to observe the rather ordinary final pay-off. Similarly the early sequences with Schmidt are easily the strongest, Weaving chewing into the material with malice and even a hint of subtlety. That all goes out the window when he later turns into a full blown megalomaniac , the actor pretty much making the conversion from unsettlingly wicked to outright cartoon. The creative juices flow much more readily in the first and second acts, director Joe Johnston lavishing loving detail on the period setting and even finding time to unleash a catchy musical number. When “Captain America” strives to be innovative the results are excellent, however too often during its latter stages the filmmakers opt for pedestrian montages and predictable jingoism. It’s hardly offensive, but it certainly disappoints when contrasted with the picture’s stronger facets.

The FX work used to turn Evans from hero to zero is superlative, but some of the other CGI and green screen methods implemented are less awe-inspiring. An assault on a train is particularly beleaguered by subpar digitals, although the film’s standout action sequence, involving Rogers rescuing a selection of captured comrades, is executed slickly and believably. Johnston has a steady hand, framing the action coherently and atmospherically, even if the actual sequences themselves feel somewhat unremarkable. The musical score by Alan Silvestri also adds positively to the throwback mood Johnston cultivates, the composer concocting some pretty nifty tunes to spur the flick forward.

“Captain America” is definitely an above average blockbuster, largely because it at least treats its source with care and the audience with respect. It’s unapologetically old-fashioned and suffers from numerous faults (both in the screenplay and set-piece departments), but on the whole the movie scratches its genre itch efficiently. At this juncture it feels pointless to weigh the various “Avengers” tie-ins against each other, such comparisons being crude at the best of times. Instead I suggest you tackle “Captain America: The First Avenger” as the most gratifying homework assignment you’ve ever had, and hopefully Marvel won’t underwhelm us when it all comes full circle next year.

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