Captain America: The First Avenger

Cast:
Chris Evans as Captain America / Steve Rogers
Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter
Sebastian Stan as James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes
Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips
Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt / Red Skull
Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark
Richard Armitage as Heinz Kruger
Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine
Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola
Neal McDonough as Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan
Derek Luke as Gabe Jones
Kenneth Choi as Jim Morita
JJ Feild as James Montgomery Falsworth
Bruno Ricci as Jacques Dernier
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Directed by Joe Johnston

Story:
After being turned down by the army to fight in Europe due to his diminutive size, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is given an opportunity to take part in an experimental program that turns him into a “Super Soldier” with extraordinary strength and speed. Renamed Captain America, he soon finds himself on the frontlines facing the megalomaniacal Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his army of HYDRA agents who are equipped with high-tech energy weapons.

Analysis:
One can view Marvel Studios’ fourth effort at bringing one of their comic book mainstays to the big screen as a straight-ahead summer action movie or as a WWII war movie–which it really is more than anything else–but it’s impossible to ignore the original source material being that Captain America is one of Marvel’s oldest superheroes with 70 years of history in comic book continuity. The results generally works well within the parameters of two out of the three of those at any given time, offering many of the elements that have made the Marvel-produced movies better than the ones attempted by other studios, but some decisions don’t work and the film feels uneven at times.

Before we meet Steve Rogers, we’re given a present-day tease of soldiers in the Arctic finding Cap’s shield frozen inside a large ship, then we’re transported back to 1942 as Nazi officer Johann Schmidt, played by Hugo Weaving, has found an incredible power source that will help him set plans on a global scale in motion that go against the Fuhrer’s orders. Back in America, a wimpy young man from Brooklyn named Steve Rogers is committed to fighting for his country in Europe, but he can’t pass the physical examination. A Captain America movie wouldn’t work if Chris Evans weren’t so likeable in the role of Steven Rogers, though it takes some time to get used to hearing his voice out of such a panty-waist. If you’ve read the comics (or the plot summary above), you already know the rest of Captain America’s origin story and once he gets his powers, we get to watch him go through the USA circuit as an agent for government wartime propaganda before going off on his own to become the hero we know.

The romance between Cap and British actress Haley Atwell as his love interest Peggy Carter seems forced, maybe because it’s not that plausible an MI6 agent, a woman no less, would double as a drill sergeant and be allowed to go to the warfront with American soldiers. The two actors certainly aren’t bad together, but for some reason, the relationship never really connects so the emotional moments between them later in the movie feel hollow.

Most will already know how well Hugo Weaving can do menacing villainy from the “Matrix” movies, and he’s just as good here with a satisfactory split between him in disguise as Johann Schmidt and nary missing a beat while in full make-up as the Red Skull. It is a bit jarring to hear Werner Herzog’s voice coming out of his mouth, though. They’ve figured out a clever way of not having the problematic issue of having Nazis as bad guys by having the Red Skull lead a rogue group called HYDRA.

Captain America’s ties to the existing Marvel Movie Universe comes with the presence of Tony Stark’s father Howard, here played by Dominic Cooper, who has much of the same charm and swagger as Downey, allowing for fun scenes with Evans and a sly nod to a scene in “Iron Man 2.” Even so, it’s Tommy Lee Jones who steals every scene as Captain America’s commanding officer with every wry one-liner.

Joe Johnston has made a damn good-looking movie even if the 3D is entirely unnecessary compared to “Thor,” which had environments that thrived in the format. Johnston borrows quite liberally from populist summer movies like “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” to create a similar feel, though the pacing lags in the first half, which is full of dialogue and “Hurray America!” speeches to pander to American patriotism with only a few scattered action scenes. Alan Silvestri’s score is happy enough to indulge in further manipulating the emotions. What tends to save the film any time it may drag is the perfectly-choreographed action set pieces, combining incredible stuntwork with massive explosions in a way that feels natural, unencumbered by CG and unlike anything we’ve seen before.

So far, Marvel has done a great job creating realism around their movie heroes–it’s what makes it easier to accept superheroes as reality–and while Johnston does a good job with the period, it’s pretty obvious this isn’t the WII most will know from history books or other movies, and that’s partially why “Captain America” doesn’t work as well as previous efforts. First of all, you have all these HYDRA soldiers wielding high-tech energy weapons, which would be impressive if they showed up on the battlefield today, let alone in 1942. No one even blinks an eye when faced with weapons that vaporize anyone shot with them, yet Captain America’s vibranium shield seems to be impervious despite having noticeable bullet marks in it. Things like that don’t make sense either in context of the story or the era and they become compounded over time. It’s also a shame the Cosmic Cube, one of the most powerful artifacts in the Marvel Universe is essentially used as a power source for HYDRA weapons and only hints at greater power.

Fans of the comics may be most disappointed with the handling of “Bucky” Barnes, Captain America’s young sidekick in the comics, here replaced by Sebastian Stan as an army sergeant roughly the same age as Steve Rogers who befriends him before he becomes Cap. Not having Bucky as a child who Cap feels the need to protect takes away from why he plays such an important role in Captain America’s origin, so a pivotal moment in his arc doesn’t have nearly the impact it should have. It has almost no impact in fact, because by then, Bucky has already taken a backseat to “Dum Dum” Dugan and the Howling Commandos, characters who aren’t even introduced by name before they’re off fighting HYDRA alongside Cap.

What really makes Captain America unique as a superhero unto himself is the way he became a man-out-of-time, a soldier from WWII brought into present day, but despite the intro, that aspect of the character is barely touched upon until the last five minutes leaving a fairly major gap in the character. It’s doubtful they’ll be able to spend much time on that in the next movie “The Avengers,” which apparently has a substantial tease after the credits, although for whatever reason, they chose not to show it to critics.

The Bottom Line:
Casual moviegoers and those who haven’t spent their entire lives following the adventures of Captain America will be perfectly fine with the way the character is introduced through a mix of sci-fi-tinged wartime thrills. The perfect casting of Evans and some of the side characters as well as the original approach to the action ultimately makes up for some of the annoying changes from the source material and decisions that take away from the credibility.

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