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REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America The First AvengerDirected by: Joe Johnston
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Robert Dalva
Cinematography by: Shelly Johnson
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Starring: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, JJ Field, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Leander Deeny
Based on the Marvel comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Year: 2011

 

Believe it or not, at one time, this was the movie I was most worried about during the first phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The director, Joe Johnston, didn’t have the best track record as a director, and the main star of the movie, Chris Evans, was someone who had already played a superhero in a movie series that was pretty garbage, Fox’s pre-reboot Fantastic Four movies. Rumors of the film also having a random musical number was also cause for concern, and Hugo Weaving was also revealed to be playing yet another intense villain role. Also, this was a film set before all the other films, being set during World War II. Period films were fine, but a period superhero film? C’mon, Marvel! Surely you must be crazy! No way could this live up to Iron Man and Thor, which at least had respected actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh at the helm, right!?

Oh, please. You know I was wrong on this on all accounts.

Captain America: The First Avenger - Chris Evans

Captain America: The First Avenger immediately became one of my favorite films within the MCU and remains so to this day. All those elements that had me worried before wound up being assets to the film’s success. Johnston’s keen sensibilities for ‘40s-style adventure pulp, previously on display in The Rocketeer, still has the film standing apart from its peers in terms of aesthetics and the generally joyous tone. Chris Evans, too, brought an unexpectedly endearing earnestness to Steve Rogers that was as far from the cocky Johnny Storm as can be. Hugo Weaving certainly does his villain schtick, but there’s a reason he was cast as the Red Skull – he can take a ridiculous character like this and make him a credible threat who is also pretty entertaining to watch because of his strange nature. Heck, even that musical number ended up being one of my favorite scenes, with Cap finding himself confined to the less than dignified job of touring as a USO entertainer and mascot for war bonds. Plus, the film has the distinction of introducing by far one of Marvel’s best unsung heroines, Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell, who here plays the role as much more than a mere love interest and was so likeable here that she would go on to get her own miniseries and make appearances in future movies.

Captain America: The First Avenger

As with all superhero films, you get the fun action scenes you would expect, but perhaps the best part of this film is that there’s just so much heart present throughout the film. I love the emphasis placed on why the formerly puny Steve Rogers was chosen for the Super Soldier program, particularly because the film doesn’t just exposit the reasons away – it shows why Steve was always a hero. Seriously, try not to get a bit misty-eyed at the grenade scene. I dare you. I also loved the line spoken by Stanley Tucci’s character, Dr. Abraham Erskine, a German scientist and expat who fled to America and the man behind the Super Soldier project: “So many people forget that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own.” I’m sure it’s derived from elsewhere, but I honestly can’t find any other origin for that exact quote, and so I’m going to credit the film for that line, which remains as relevant as ever and, sadly, likely will continue to be.

Captain America: The First Avenger

The film has its faults, of course. Some of the effects are spectacular, particularly most of the shots of Steve prior to his transformation, but it does sometimes look a bit strange in subtle and uncanny ways. Backgrounds are also frequently obviously digital, which may be Johnston intending to mimic the look of old painted matte and projected backgrounds, but here they’re just too glossy to have that same kind of charm in this film, and so it comes out resembling the Star Wars prequels or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which has the effect of making the scene feel smaller scale than it should be. I also could’ve used more character development for both the Red Skull and Steve’s friend Bucky. They’re fine as is, but I feel as though, as interesting and engaging as they are, they don’t make nearly as much of an impact as they could have, at least here.

Captain America The First Avenger - Chris Evans, suit.jpg

But all of that is still pretty minor compared to everything that this film does so well. There’s a reason why Captain America is now one of Marvel’s most beloved characters by the masses and has risen to Iron Man-levels of popularity so quickly. The character may not be as in-your-face entertaining as the other guy, but Marvel has managed to make him the consummate hero everyone can root for, without resorting to being preachy and jingoistic, and all while simultaneously keeping the character interesting and loveable, too, which seems to be a hard thing to do when it comes to idealized characters. Of course, all of that wonderful characterization that would carry on elsewhere was first perfected here in what is still one of the studio’s best films.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5

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  1. June 6, 2017 at 1:33 am

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