Marvels newest superhero movie wins with old-fashioned action and heart
Published: July 22, 2011
As much as Captain America: The First Avenger wants to look like old fashioned cinema, complete with a clean-cut, “aw shucks” hero going up against a dastardly villain, it eventually proves to be far from the traditional movies it emulates. Most films have a beginning, a middle, and an end (what screenwriters will sometimes refer to as a “story”), and while Captain America successfully begins and middles, the rest of it spins off into something equal parts exciting and frustrating.
But let’s start at the top first. World War II rages in Europe, and slight, sickly orphan Steve Rogers (Evans) is repeatedly rejected for military service due to a weak heart. Rogers makes one last-ditch effort to enlist, catching the eye of Dr. Erskine (Tucci), a German scientist who defected to the U.S. after a run-in with Nazi psychopath Johann Schmidtt/Red Skull (Weaving), disfigured leader of the evil HYDRA organization and the first recipient of Erskine’s “super soldier” formula. Rogers is chosen to be the second, and with the help of a young Howard Stark (Cooper) — who fans of the Iron Man series will recognize as Tony Stark’s dad-to-be — Rogers is transformed from a 98-pound waif to a 220-pound red-white-and-blue badass. (His cat allergy was probably cured, too. Lucky.)
After a brief stint as a costumed mascot selling war bonds, Cap soon takes the fight straight to the Red Skull and HYDRA with the help of formidable, intelligent (but totally pin-up-able) Peggy Carter (Atwell), the gruff Col. Phillips (Jones), his best friend Sgt. Bucky Barnes (Stan), and his international team of (mostly anonymous) Howling Commandos. Lots of shield-throwing and explosions ensue.
Captain America should satisfy the average moviegoer’s desire to see stuff blow up (doubly satisfying when it’s Nazi stuff), but where it really succeeds is capturing the tone of the classic pulp films and comics it borrows from. Director Joe Johnston — who worked on designs and effects for the Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and directed my personal childhood favorite The Rocketeer — totally nails the period while injecting it with just the right amount of comic-book campiness. HYDRA soldiers look like early Imperial Stormtroopers and pilot war machines that look like Panzer tanks crossed with AT-ATs. A motorcycle battle instantly recalled the Endor forest speeder chase in Return of the Jedi. (I even counted at least two Wilhelm Screams.) While the action gets a little repetitive, the movie thankfully takes time-outs from the spectacle to make Rogers a believable, sympathetic character. Evans nails both the soft-spoken, pre-serum Rogers as well as the larger-than-life Cap, and the chaste romance between Rogers and Carter is — unlike most comic-book movies — actually convincing. You will want to root for this guy, and he deserves it.
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