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Captain America: The First Avenger (Review)

Captain America: The First Avenger (Review)

Roger that!
By Alastair Collins
Aug 1, 2011
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Captain America: The First Avenger
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi Release Date: 28/07/2011 Runtime: 124 minutes Country: USA


Director:  Joe Johnston Writer(s): 
Christopher Markus

Stephen McFeely

Joe Simon

Jack Kirby

Cast: Chris Evans, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones
Captain America: The First Avenger (Review), reviewed by Alastair Collins on 2011-08-01T17:54:44+00:00 rating 3.5 out of5

Captain America: The First Avenger, contrary to what the title suggests, is actually the fifth and final film to be released in the lead up to next year’s Marvel superhero mash-up The Avengers. To recap, three of the previous films – Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Thor – have told the origin story of the titular superhero, whereas Iron Man 2 lamentably scarified its status as a standalone film in order to lay down the foundation for The Avengers. There was justifiable concern, then, that the big-screen adaptation of Captain America would also be too busy setting up next year’s blockbuster to tell its own story, particularly with a tacked-on subtitle like ‘The First Avenger’. Thankfully that’s not the case; Captain America is an enjoyable popcorn blockbuster that, despite being a precursor for what’s to come, still manages to stand on its own two feet.

Set during the Second World War, the film tells the tale of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans; The Losers), a patriotic young American with a burning desire to join the army and fight against the Axis alliance. Unfortunately for Steve, he’s a scrawny “90-pound asthmatic” who’s not exactly cut out for combat despite his willing and selfless nature. To director Joe Johnston’s credit, he doesn’t try to demonise the recruiting officers at this point, as a lot of filmmakers would be tempted to do. There are no preachy subtexts here; Johnson is all about delivering old-fashioned fun, and for the most part, he succeeds.

Whilst attending a technology fair – where the father of Iron Man himself, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper; An Education), is showing off his latest invention – expatriate scientist Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci; Burlesque) observes Rogers’ eagerness to fight and recruits his as a potential candidate for a top-secret military experiment. Despite scepticism from the cranky military Colonel Chester Phillips (who else but Tommy Lee Jones; The Company Men), Rogers is inevitably chosen for Erskine’s super soldier experiment, transforming his weedy frame into immaculately-chiseled hunk of a man, primed and ready for combat.

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Well, sorta. Unwilling to risk their prized guinea pig being killed in combat, the military cajoles Rogers into a demeaning job as a propaganda puppet for the US army – a novel way of providing the kind of wry patriotic cynicism a movie entitled Captain America requires if it wants to sell internationally (which it certainly does). Before long, however, the Captain makes his way to the battlefields of Europe, squatting Nazi’s like flies with his iconic red, white and blue shield. It’s thanks to Chris Evan’s assured, affable performance that Rogers, despite his extreme makeover, remains true to his humble nature from first reel to last.

On the other side of the line, Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is scheming dastardly things as the head of Hydra, the Nazi Super Science program. Empowered by a godly blue energy source, Schmidt has decided that Hitler isn’t evil on a big enough scale, so he’s going to just do his own thing. The Red Skull doesn’t see much screen time — this is Captain America’s origin story after all — but Weaving makes use of his time to really radiate a true-to-the-source feel to his character. Unfortunately, if you’re not familiar with Red Skull prior to seeing the movie, you may feel slightly underwhelmed with him as a villain; it’s the difference between Weaving’s red skeletal prosthetics being either horribly menacing, or horribly goofy.

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After a strong start, the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely begins to sag in the middle, degenerating into a giant montage of ‘Captain America doing manly things’. Sure, it fits the 1940s pulp-esque feel of the film, but it also drains the tried-and-true narrative of suspense. On top of the unnecessary implementation of post-production 3D, the visual effects are also highly uneven. For every scene with the stunningly-good ‘skinny Steve’ effect, there’s a horrible Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow green screen section – a sure sign of rushed or outsourced FX work. I wouldn’t have minded if the entire film maintained the same aesthetic, but as it stands, the visual inconsistency breaks the illusion far more than an impenetrable, vibration-absorbing shield that can bounce.

Another step towards The Avengers and certainly a solid film in its own right, Captain America: The First Avenger does still suffer fatigue from being yet another origin film about a superhero most audiences outside the U.S. will have little affinity for. This is one you’ll revisit down the road and enjoy more in your own time, but that shouldn’t stop you from going to see it now.

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