Captain America – The First Avenger (Film Review)


Marvel has a plethora of comic book icons of which we have those regularly translated to the big screen like Superman, Spiderman, X-Men and more, then we have the great but haven’t really had a film deserving of their story and history, such as the incredible hulk. Lastly we have had the comic book heroes that should never see the light of the silver screen. We have already had one of the latter in 2011 with Thor, a comic book film about the god of thunder. Yet this was a film that defied the expectations of many critics, a film that was as close to pure fun that you are likely to see this year.

The second film of the year is Captain America, an adaptation that nobody expected to see or wanted. The problem with Captain America is how to you make a superhero steeped in propaganda and pro-Americana relevant to a modern audience? A modern audience that isn’t as open to the more brazenly American products of culture as it once was. The answer to that question is simple; give it to Joe Johnston, a man who has a genuine affection for the 1940s, the era which Captain America called home.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is an enfeebled man, small, weak and with many ailments and illnesses of which one is enough to keep him from the army. That’s not going to stop him though; he has tried in five different cities with 5 different monikers. Luckily for Steve, the sixth attempt is the one for him as he sparks the interest of German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who defected to the USA to develop and perfect his super soldier programme. Steve becomes the one and only super soldier who is the lead tool in the fight against the Nazi Army’s red Skull division, led by Johann Schmidt. A man so dastardly and evil, he invades Norway on his own and breaks free to pursue his own conquests away from the Nazi scourge.

The immediate issue that anybody would have with Captain America is how do you get around Captain America, a super hero so patriotic his costume is the American flag? I’m not a fan of the comic books so I am not sure whether this is from them or the imaginations of the scriptwriting team is to have Captain America is a figure of fun before he becomes the superhero. Steve is the star of promotional films and USO style stage shows before becoming the perfect human specimen and athlete and hero. It’s in this section that the detail considered in creating 1940s society comes into the foreground thanks to the brilliant soundtrack by Alan Silvestri. Joe Johnston has a true affection for the era and this comes across in the set design, fashion and music, his flair for the era which was displayed in The Rocketeer. Collectively this gives the film an identity unique to Captain America in a sea of comic book films with very little in means of differentiation.

This brings to mind some comments that have seen the light of the day, these two comments are that this is a generic comic book movie and that it plays fast and loose with history. If you are expecting historic accuracy from this film then you are in the wrong place, this is a fantasy film, a film that wants you to get lost in your imagination. Secondly the comment about this being a generic comic book film is something that conjures up two different responses. The first is that this is a film of a very distinct type, most examples from this genre follow the same typical narrative progression – normality, meet girl, evil reveals itself, conflict with evil, evil slain, hero wins over girl. To that end the formula isn’t strayed from very far in any comic book film. I believe that people have been spoiled by Nolan’s Batman franchise. People expect each new marvel or DC film to re-invent the wheel, having such lofty expectations is unreasonable. Nevertheless this is a film that references Indiana Jones, A Matter of Life and Death and Return of the Jedi as well as many other classic films, there is plenty here to keep your attention within the confines of this well constructed wheel.

My expectations where much less elevated, all I expected was a good film. My expectations were smashed, Captain America is a brilliant film up there with the best films of the year and I am saying that without a hint of irony. Johnston has a brilliant cast on the top of the game with the highest plaudits belonging to Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Hayley Atwell. They really sell the film as the great piece of cinema that it is. The script is equal turns funny, exiting and constantly engaging thanks to the pace being perfectly considered. It might not re-invent the wheel that is the comic book film but it does everything you expect such a film to do well. When all the parts of a machine and flow well you have an end product that is far superior than the sum of its parts making Captain America the surprise hit of the summer by being the best film of this most lucrative of periods.

The one thing I didn’t like was the continuity to the forthcoming Avengers film. Although it’s not as boldly and badly done as Iron Man 2, there were plenty of references to the forthcoming film which could have been a little better hidden for my liking. That is hardly Captain America’s fault. Such a petty complaint really does paint a vivid picture of my enjoyment of director Joe Johnston’s latest.

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