Film in Review — Captain America: The First Avenger

Film & Animation / July 22, 2011

Well, we’ve essentially reached the humpday of the summer blockbuster season.

We’ve survived the childhood-crushing effect of Harry’s last patronus charm in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, the seething sociopolitical promiscuity of X-Men: First Class, the CGI-driven fiasco that was Green Lantern, and just barely the destructive testosterone-addled Michael Bayhem of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

On the heels of some of the summer’s biggest and most anticipated (and as such, disappointing) films, comes Captain America: The First Avenger.

Personally, I’ll admit that in terms of superhero mythology, Captain America’s is perhaps the least appealing. His superhuman abilities seem mild and unspectacular compared to his other Marvel Comics counterparts, and  his jingoistic image is such that evokes a negative connotation of misplaced nationalism.

Call me jaded, but it would seem less likely that Captain America would become a successful superhero franchise than it would a popular Chevy pick-up truck back window decal in most states south of the Mississippi. Yet, with Captain America: The First Avenger, director Joe Johnston handles these reserved judgements with the utmost consideration and delivers a thoughtful, stylish, and unabashedly fun film.

The film stars Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, The Losers, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) as Steve Rogers, a scrappy “kid from Brooklyn” whose parents both perished in the first World War, and wants nothing more than to serve his country in the current war in Europe. Repeatedly rejected from enlisting due to his especially petite frame and numerous physical ailments, Rogers is approached by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German expat scientist working with the American military on a special serum that would create an army of “super-soldiers”, consequently winning the war against the Nazis.

Sure enough, Dr. Erskine senses something in Rogers that he feels makes him the perfect prototype for the “super soldier” serum. After persuading project heads Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, whose character also happens to be the film’s love interest), Rogers is strapped, injected and transformed from scrawny pint-sized Steve Rogers to the tall, brawny Captain America.

As Captain America, Rogers leads a elite, handpicked group of soldiers to track and take down Hydra, a new Nazi-separatist group led by Johann Schmidt (played perfectly by the always efficient Hugo Weaving), who is hell bent on destroying the entire free world with the power of a supernatural artifact.

What works so well for Captain America: The First Avenger is the adeptly light-hearted approach Johnston tackles the tone of the film with. The film is funny when it needs to be, dramatic when it’s appropriate, and handles its characters with the subtle, nuanced development that has become such a trademark of Marvel’s films ever since 2008’s Iron Man.

Like most of Marvel’s films, Captain America is a story about characters. Rogers is the embodiment of the archetypal American Hero, and I mean that in the least chauvinistic way possible. He’s loyal, passionate, idealistic, humble, selfless and most importantly charismatic, even before he becomes the Captain. His sense of duty and motivation isn’t to serve his country and fight for America, it’s because simply, he feels it’s the right thing to do. If at all the wrongdoings were at the hands of the American government, he’d take them on–solely on the grounds of moral verisimilitude, he’s that type of hero. Like a character from a children’s book, it’s endearing in the most fundamental sense.

Like Johnston’s previous efforts in The Rocketeer and October Sky, he manages to capture a hyper-vintage style in the film’s cinematography, and it works perfectly with the laid back, fantastical tone of the film. Most importantly, Johnston takes on the story and action sequences with high-flying gusto, and it works wonders. At its best, Captain America is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the other Indiana Jones films, at its worst, the film plays off as some of the forgotten early 90’s superhero action-adventures like The Phantom and The Shadow, which isn’t all that bad.

If you share any of the preconceptions that I had before going into Captain America: The First Avenger, don’t be a jaded fool like me. The film is decidedly self-aware of what it is and what it’s supposed to do, and it uses that self-reflexive nature to create a stylish, nostalgic, action-adventure that blends its elements seamlessly. With Captain America: The First Avenger we have the summer blockbuster that we’ve been waiting for.

Side-note: At this point it seems to go without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: do not see it in 3D. In fact I’ll just lay this out now so I don’t ever need to mention it anymore: do not see any film in 3D.

Captain America: The First Avenger is now playing in theaters nationwide. For a list of show times, click here.


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Matt Cohen
Matt Cohen
Matt is currently obsessed with Rap Snacks, post-hardcore, pizza parties, and Carl Sagan's Cosmos.




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