Movie Review – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
by NIR SHALEV
Disney-owned Marvel Studios is on a roll with the success of Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), the financial success of The Incredible Hulk (2008), and the overall awesome nature of Thor (2011). They started slowly but have now introduced most characters from The Avengers team in their own, successful live-action films. Marvel’s roll continues with Captain America: The First Avenger.
The year is 1942 and America has joined WWII. In the great fight against Hitler and his crazy Nazi armies, propaganda films are shown and war bonds are sold wherever possible. Enter Steve Rogers (Chris Evans): a 90 pound weakling who has the stamina and mental fortitude of a lion. He’s tried to join the American army’s infantry division four times and was rejected all four times as 4F. Then German expatriate Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) takes notice of Rogers’ stubborn nature and undeniable bravery and allows him to pass the tests.
Even though he fails every physical test that is thrown at him, but maybe because he passes the intelligence and courage tests, Rogers is chosen as the prime candidate for a super soldier scientific experiment and the experiment works wonderfully. As a result, Rogers gains at least six inches of height and 100 pounds of muscle and looks like Chris Evans normally does, but bulked up even more.
Every protagonist (and especially in comic books) has an antagonist and Rogers’ eventual antagonist is Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), leader of The Red Skulls. The Red Skulls are a large army comprised of thousands of ex-Nazi soldiers who’d rather follow Schmidt than Adolf Hitler. Schmidt, after finding a magical type of blue energy in a tomb in Norway (an obvious nod to Thor) wants to destroy the world including all of Germany and its Third Reich. Now, Johann Schmidt is an evil man who not only believes in science and is a hard-core scientist but also believes in what most people refer to as magic. He believes the stories regarding the energy that he’s harnessing belonged to the Norse Gods and therefore, he is a god by association. Sounds crazy? Well, a bad guy needs to be very evil in order for the good guy to be very virtuous and Schmidt epitomizes evil as Rogers epitomizes good.
There is a lot of action in the film and a lot of it is computer generated. It’s always obvious but it never takes over the action nor does it get in its way; the characters create action sequences and the CG simply assists it. The most noticeable use of CG comes early in the film where it’s used to create an entirely CG version of Chris Evans shrunken down to a 90 pound weakling. However, his head is still a tad too large for his body making him slightly out of proportion; it’s like looking at Michelangelo’s statue of David at eye level. But that’s just nitpicking.
The supporting cast of the film contains relative newcomer Hayley Atwell as the recruiting officer; scene-stealing Tommy Lee Jones as the CO, and the best and funniest character in the film; Sebastian Stan as “Bucky” Barnes, Steve Rogers’ best friend; Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s father (yes Iron Man’s dad); Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola, Schmidt’s right hand man; and Neal McDonough as Tim “Dum Dum” Dugan, a fellow American soldier that never removes his bowler hat that has his rank sewn on it.
The main reason for the film’s success is that it’s a 1940s period piece that never references or mocks itself; it never cracks jokes about the past for our contemporary society to enjoy. It lives and breathes old school wartime America and in turn it might come off as overtly patriotic, but it’s not a patriotic film. Rather, it’s a film about an overtly patriotic time and place within a recognizable society showcasing a bygone era. This film showcases a similar yet alternate version of actual America in the 1940s where wartime propaganda was everywhere. WWII put the country into a huge deficit, somewhere in the high hundred millions or low billions, and there is a nice montage showcasing Steve Rogers as Captain America touring the country as a war bonds selling machine. It might seem comical to a younger audience but it’s not far from actual history. Hence, the film has great entertainment level for young and older audiences. Kids and teens will like the action scenes and violence and adults will enjoy the period references.
This is a well acted, beautifully shot, and well executed action-packed comic book-based film that delivered almost exactly what I was expecting it to because I had faith in its director, Joe Johnston. I liked his previous film The Wolfman (2010) and love The Rocketeer (1991), another alternate reality, 1940s Nazi invasion film that delivered what only comic books were able to deliver at the time of their release.
Lastly, don’t get my star rating wrong because I place this film on a pedestal equally with Thor; however, I had lower expectations for Thor and it far exceeded them. Captain America: The First Avenger delivered exactly what I was expecting and in this case, that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
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