Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones
1942 and America has just entered World War 2. In Nazi Germany, the evil head of HYDRA [Hitler’s secret research department], the evil Johann Schmidt, is devising a super weapon. Meanwhile back in the United States, weak, sickly Steve Rogers is constantly rejected for military service until Dr. Erksine recruits him for the secret Project Rebirth. Using technology he stole from Schmidt when he once worked for him, he ensures that Rogers is transformed into an extremely strong man, but is shot by a Hydra agent. After Rogers avenges his death, he is in all the newspapers and is recruited to be a morale-boosting celebrity………
So we come to yet another superhero movie, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who is getting a little sick of them. Nonetheless, the character of Captain America, who first hit cinema screens in a ‘cliffhanger’ serial in 1944, has always been quite a popular one though I can’t really see the appeal of a guy with a shield for a weapon. Also, a person that was originally a symbol of American patriotism doesn’t seem so appealing to many these days, while the first actual ‘film’, the 1990 Captain America, was abysmal and not even that enjoyable in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way like the 1994 The Fantastic Four. Surprise surprise though, this Captain America is real good fun and easily the most enjoyable film of its’ kind this year [though I’d still probably say the last X-Men instalment was the best in terms of overall quality]. It keeps things straight forward and simple and is all the better for it. It doesn’t go especially dark, but it doesn’t turn into a campfest either, it just pitches itself exactly right, perhaps on a similar level to a very early Bond movie. It always gives the impression that it’s not entirely being taken seriously but it’s serious enough for you to care. It doesn’t really give you anything much that is new, but I was surprised how much I was involved with the movie and its’ characters.
The early scenes are rather distracting due to Chris Evans being digitally altered so he looks small and thin, the trouble being he just looks really wierd, though I don’t know how else they could have done it. Still, Tommy Lee Jones soon turns up, craggier than ever, saying things like: “Being nice doesn’t win wars, GUTS win wars”, and every now and again we cut to our wonderful Nazi villains in their dark castle, with Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones [who really looks like the perfect German mad scientist] often accompanied by maniacal laughter and titled camera angles. The first major action scene is rather too similar to the first major set piece in Spiderman for my liking, but just after that scene it occurred to me how brave it was to set almost all the film during the Second World War, especially as it asks the writers and director to tackle the patriotism element full on. There is a pleasing mocking element at times, especially when, just after that first action scene, there is a long section where Rogers is used as a symbol and appears on stage punching out fake Hitlers and is matted into war footage. After that though, where the rest of the film is basically all action, you’re totally behind Captain America as he wastes loads of Nazis [Nazis really are the best movie villains, aren’t they? ] and may even feel like cheering at times. As far as I am concerned they nailed the tone perfectly.
Sadly, despite the almost nonstop heroics, many scenes in the second half of the film don’t fulfil their potential and are too short, such as a potentially great train attack. There’s a montage that shows bits of various action scenes that you want to see properly and seem more interesting than the sequences we do see played out in full. Still, the climactic stuff, involving fights in aeroplanes, fights on aeroplanes, skydiving, etc, is really quite good. It may be stuff you’ve seen before in Bond movies, but it works and gives you a bit of that wonderful lift, that adrenalin rush, that you get from great action. It helps of course that you can usually see what’s going on, despite this being filmed in 3D, though I saw it in 2D and was perfectly satisfied with it. Then right at the end, there’s actually quite an emotional scene which rather moved me, reminded me of a particular scene in A Matter Of Life And Death and was almost as touching, though I’m not going to describe the scene as it’ll give too much away. I found this surprising since the obligatory romance isn’t scripted especially well, though I’ve certainly seen worse. Another thing I really did like was the whole look and design of the film. Shelley Johnson’s gorgeous cinematography gives many scenes a sepia quality without making them look dull, and the accurate looking period design is augmented by loads of fantastical weapons and aeroplanes, almost giving proceedings the air of a less stylised Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. Unsurprisingly most of the effects are done with CG but director Joe Johnston is usually fairly adept at not having the effects dominate the story, and the screenplay by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely keeps the characters important.
Chris Evans is not much of an actor but he has a pleasing personality and helps make Captain America the most likeable superhero so far this summer. Hayley Atwill does what she can with the love interest and I liked all the guys who become Cap’s mission buddies, though nobody is really given time to make an impression. Alan Silvestri provides an exciting full bodied score that has a wonderfully rousing main theme, though he doesn’t use it enough and it only really makes a major impression during the end credits, where for once I stayed to listen to the music [something I hardly ever do these days]. I really liked Captain America, it has a cheerful, innocent air to it, and I don’t really understand the ‘12’rating where ‘PG’ would have been fine. Then again, notice how virtually every film of this type gets a ‘12’, despite, for instance, X-Men:Origins being a far more brutal affair than, say, Thor. Odd. Now of course it’s no secret that this film is basically yet another set up for The Avengers film, and I wish these end scenes weren’t so much on the nose, but this one is nicely staged. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Cap in another solo adventure first though, perhaps still set during the Second World War, and I never thought I’d say that.