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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

July 22, 2011

 

 

written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

produced by: Kevin Feige

directed by: Joe Johnston
rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action)
125 min. 
U.S. release date: June 22, 2011

 

 

There’s a pivotal scene in “Captain America: The First Avenger” that is, in my opinion, critical to both the filmmakers and the audience really getting who Steve Rogers is. It involves one single question and takes place in 1942 when, after four attempts to enlist in the Army, this 90 pound asthmatic blonde from Brooklyn is seen enlisting yet again. It doesn’t occur at a recruiting office, but rather at a dazzling Art deco Expo where Rogers and his best bud and recent recruit, Jimmy “Bucky” Barnes are taking in the Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibit. But in his single-minded determination, Rogers is more allured by an enlistment tent than a new flying car from Stark Industries. Which brings us back to a question Rogers is asked by a curious German expat doctor,“Do you vant to kill Nazis?”

Viewers in the theater answer this question internally (or out loud as was the case at my screening), and most likely, knowing what we know, the answer will be “yes”.  Yet Steve Rogers (a superbly cast Chris Evans) does not answer quickly. Instead, he simply replies that he doesn’twant to kill anyone but opposes any type of bully. 

And with that reply, we see how Rogers is different than many of us and many other enlisted men of that time. We also see two other things: how true to the famous origin tale (created over 70 years by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) this first live-action adaptation will be, and how this is a different Chris Evans than we are used to seeing. Not changing who Steve Rogers is was crucial in making the character believable and seeing Evans in something other than a young, hot, and cocky role is just as necessary to sell the role. And to that, True Believers, I say, “yes” and “thank you”. 

I was hesitant when I heard that a Captain America movie would be made. Unsure just how believable or true-to-the-source it would be, but being so consistently satisfied with Marvel Studios films so far and their world-building, I remained optimistic. That may not be the case for every moviegoer, especially with this being the fourth superhero movie of the summer, but this is quite likely the first time you’ve seen a superhero movie taking place during WWII. It could’ve been cheesy or campy (some may feel that at times, it is), but director Joe Johnston delivers a film that never loses its roots, embracing the “aw shucks” tone of the era he so greatly displayed in “The Rocketeer”, making this a thoroughly entertaining and spirited movie (especially for those who grew up on the character)! 



CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER Chris Evans



To truly understand and get behind who Captain America is, the story had to take place in the 40s.  If it was any other way, I wasn’t having it. Not just because that’s when Cap’s origin occurred, but because we could believe that a character with such pure decency and kindness could come from such an era.  It doesn’t take a bully to fight a bully, but one who’s been bullied and is willing to stand up, with compassion intact, and fight. In short, it takes  “a good man” as the aforementioned doctor, Abraham Erskine (a wonderful Stanley Tucci) acknowledges. Which is why he sees Rogers as a perfect candidate for a top-secret experiment and authorizes his entry into the Armed Forces. 

We soon learn that Rogers’ stand-up moral fiber isn’t his only quality. The little guy (that’s a shrunken Evans by way of some impressive CGI) can think outside the box (in a great capture-the-flag moment) and is willing to literally lay himself on the line for his fellow soldiers at Camp Lehigh. As surprised as they are, it’s hard for both Col. Philips (a wry and often hilarious, Tommy Lee Jones) and tough-as-nails Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, breaking female stereotypes in superhero movies) , not to see how Rogers is indeed a step above any other. That’s right, even before Rogers gets injected with the Vita-Rays of the blue Super Soldier serum that enhances his physique, it is quite clear this is a super man.

But even after they see Rogers immediately spring into action, Col. Phillips still isn’t convinced that he has what it takes to go off to war. Next thing he knows, Rogers is swept up by Senator Brandt (Richard Armitage), outfitted with a silly red, white, and blue costume and given the name “Captain America”, he’s sent on a U.S. tour to promote war bonds, complete with a catchy Alan Menken-written entitled “Star-Spangled Man”. But this isn’t what Rogers signed up for, especially with Bucky (Sebastian Stanseeing action overseas. Carter knows this, so with her help as well as wealthy weapons engineer/designer, Howard Stark (a suave and funny Dominic Cooper), Rogers is able to embark on a solo rescue mission across enemy lines. 

The mission is a success and Rogers is recognized as a legitimate soldier by Col. Philips and celebrated by everyone as Captain America. The adventure also is his first encounter with the real enemy, Johann Schmidt (the appropriately cast, Hugo Weaving), a twisted megalomaniac and head of Hitler’s special weapons division. Known by Der Führer as The Red Skull, due to his ties to Eskine’s experiment, Schmidt has distanced himself from the Nazis agenda to form his own terrorist organization called HYRDA. With the help of biochemist Arnim Zola (a weasely nebbish, Toby Jones, who has a great scene with Jones), Schmidt harnesses a newly acquired cosmic tesseract (if you were paying attention in “Thor”, or are familiar with the comics lore, you already know what it is) that will provide unlimited destructive power that’s quite capable of destroying the world.  

With the support of Carter, Phillips, and Bucky, as well as an international elite squad of soldiers (known to fans as The Howling Commandos), Captain America takes the fight directly to Skull and his army of HYDRA goons. Equipped with a specialized shield made by Stark, and a new suit he designed himself, Rogers moves forward, living out the dream he has long desired, backed by those who have faith in him, determined to take down evil at any cost. 
 


CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER Red Skull



Many times throughout this movie, I caught myself grinning. It was a knowing grin, acknowledging that they got it all right and also a geeky feel-good grin. There were also more than a couple times I found myself uttering out loud words like “Wow” or “Whoa” as some unbelievable action took place. That kind of response just doesn’t always happen, but this movie earned it. Just the Art direction and Production design alone is commendably top-notch. The overall tone throughout the film is an absorbing blend of pulp, retro sci-fi and serialized adventure. 

All that comes as no surprise with Johnston at the helm. Serving as a visual effects artist in the late 70s/early 80s, Johnston obviously learned a lot about pacing and staging action from his work on the original Star Wars trilogy and “Raider of the Lost Ark”. Despite releasing a dud (“The Wolfman”) last year, Johnston has delivered fun family movies (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and “Jumanji), a franchise thriller (“Jurassic Park III”), and a moving drama (“October Sky”). He seems to bring all of that here with “The First Avenger”, along with some great satirical nods. 

It’s nice to see Johnston, Evans and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the “Narnia” movies), dive in to this material, despite how the stars and stripes of America may be frowned upon in some countries. I would be shocked to learn that someone from another country couldn’t get behind or at least respect the story told here. The stubborn weakling, defying odds and pursuing what he believes to be right, that’s a timeless and globally told tale in any era. 



CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER Hayley Atwell



Now, I may have some gripes with the movie here and there, but at no point did anything take me out of the movie or keep me from having a good time. While it would’ve been great to see a younger Bucky (in the comic he was Cap’s kid sidekick), I did like how they reworked the role. It was great that they wrote him in as Steve’s loyal friend before and after he went all Super. Also, compared to how many WWII adventures he had in the comic, it felt like Cap’s time fighting for freedom was cut too short on the big-screen. I did like the present-day opening and ending (even though it faded somewhat abruptly) though, which makes me anticipate “The Avengers” (stay for the end credit scene) movie next year, all the more. 

As I mentioned, this is unlike any performance by Chris Evans you’ve seen before. Known for cocky and borderline annoying characters, I was afraid that Evans couldn’t tap in to Rogers purity and genuine goodness. Or even worse, that the screenwriters would cater to what audiences already know Evans to be, instead of honing in on who this transformed hero is. Evans, in either physical form, is surprisingly solid casting. Of course, so is Weaving, but we expect him to be a convincing bad guy, able to spout typical villainous tirades. He brought some nice physical ticks to the role though (other than his Werner Herzog-like accent), that made the character all his own. Weaving comfortably gave into the unsettling role, making this the second accurately portrayed Marvel on-screen villain this year. 

From the old school newsreels to the blue laser weaponry, “Captain America” had me immediately and effortlessly. I didn’t even mind the 3D (maybe that’s the little fanboy kid in me geeking out) and thought there were moments, especially how light and shadow was used, that the third dimension was utilized quite well. Of course, seeing an iconic shield hurling at your head is pretty cool too. That being said, I will be checking it out in 2D as well. Not to get the difference, but just to experience it again. 

Some may feel like this movie is corny or is a blatant set-up for next year’s Marvel movie. And to that I say “So what?” Marvel Studios is successfully making an unprecedented effort to build and expand a cinematic universe with each film. Sign me up.  It may be corny because Captain America isn’t dispensing quippy one-liners, nor is he sarcastic or is he crippled with emotional baggage. Steve Rogers is an altruistic Boy Scout, and  a man who maintains who he is despite any hard times or challenges and that’s a great man to follow.

 

 

RATING: ****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Tairy Greene permalink
    July 24, 2011 6:52 pm

    This was a great film. Easily one of my favorite superhero movies of the year.CGI of scrawny steve was amazing.
    With all these amazing characters competing for screen time in the Avengers movie, I hope the plot wont suffer.

  2. windi noel permalink
    July 25, 2011 8:58 am

    Ahh…makes me want to go see it as soon as possible! I am not a comic book geek at all, and honestly have never even read any of the comics, but I remember the characters from cartoons and such over the years. I have been enjoying the recent movies quite a lot, for the same reason you were mentioning here in the review. I remember the cheesy, silly cartoons, and seeing the characters brought to life and given real depth and seriousness is very cool. I have attempted to read comics, but something about the combination of the drawn story and the written story–where you have to read some and then look at the pictures to fill in the rest of the story just does not work in my head at all! It confuses my brain! hahaha It’s weird, I know!

    Like Tairy, I am excited and a little scared about Avengers! So many great characters coming together for this movie, I worry that it’ll be kind of like the one X-men movie, where there were so many characters you couldn’t follow the plot at all. Do you think they will do more than one Avengers movie so we can get the real story? I hope so!

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      July 25, 2011 4:51 pm

      In regards to reading comics: I think it has to start at a young age. Once you become used to the medium early on, it’s easy. But, you’re not alone….my wife says she has the same problem. I dunno what the answer is, exept to just keep trying. There are great stories (in all genres, not just superheroes) told in graphic sequential form. As for “The Avengers”, I understand the concern for characters to get lost in the mix in a group ensemble, but if anyone can do it, writer/director Joss Whedon can. With his work on “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” and “Serenity”, he’s proven that he can handle on ensemble and make sure there’s enough room for several characters. I look at it this way, Iron Man and Thor have already had their movie (so they may not get “as much” focus) and now we will see Cap integrated into modern-day. We will also see how they will “handle” a new Hulk and S.H.I.E.L.D. in action for the first time, complete with the return of Black Widow and Hawkeye. We’ll have to wait till next may though. Still, it’s exciting because this is the first time anything like this has been done.

      it was announced that “Iron Man 3” would be released on May 3, 2013 with “Thor 2” coming out July 26, 2013.

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