Captain America: The First Avenger - Review

 

Captain America: The First Avenger is, in a nutshell, a fantastic summer movie. It‘s actually a great movie, period - it just happens that it’s coming out in the summer. (Specifically, this Friday - July 22) As a comics fan of well over three decades now - in particular Captain America and The Avengers - and a person who genuflects at a photograph of Werner Herzog before leaving the house, I don’t say such things lightly. However, from “fade in,” to “roll credits,” it’s one hell of a ride.

Hats off to the special effects company that made Chris Evans look like this

For those not familiar with the story, Captain America just might be the original tale of a 99 pound weakling turned muscle-bound crusader for truth, justice and… you know the story. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, in his second role as a Marvel superhero), an unremarkable yet altruistic Army private, is given an experimental drug - the “Super Soldier Serum”- which turns him into a one man army with super strength and agility, as well as an endurance level something akin to a Peterbilt. Like many superhero movies before it, …The First Avenger is a origin/nemesis story, so would-be world conqueror, the Red Skull (played by the always great Hugo Weaving) is on hand to make life more than rough for the Star-Spangled One.

The Red Skull: a guy so evil, he makes Hitler look like Will Rogers

I used to work in a comic shop, and every so often, the topic of discussion would roll around to how one could make a good Captain America movie. [For those not in the know, a big screen version of Captain America was attempted in the early 90’s, and the result was comically bad.] “It’s simple - Saving Private Ryan with super powers,” was my stock answer. To that end, Joe Johnston and Marvel Studios/Paramount boldly chose to make a period film, set in World War II.

I say “bold” because the prior to Captain America and X-Men: First Class, the predominant thinking in the studios producing superhero fare was that the stories should take place in the present for the sake of attracting a general audience. Since Marvel’s decision to become a full-fledged studio a couple years back and produce films based on the characters they hadn’t already licensed to other studios, the results have been mostly positive. Movies like Captain America and First Class also demonstrate a vote of confidence in the audience - people just want a good story, regardless of the period in which it’s set.

Chris Evans as the Star Spangled Avenger

For those who know nothing about Cap, or even casual fans, it’s a good introduction to the character, and simply put, a really great action picture. However, one of the things Johnston does incredibly well in this film is add plenty of dimension for observant super fans without ever getting heavy handed about it. I knew the project was in good hands when early on in the development process, he said that the second half of the movie would be an Invaders film. [The Invaders was a comic in the 70’s that made Marvel’s characters from the 40’s - Cap, Bucky, Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch - into a superhero team like The Avengers.] In terms of line-up, it’s more of a Captain America and the Howling Commandos movie (with a really cool nod to the original, android Human Torch, and an appearance by the non-costumed version of the Brit superhero, Union Jack), but in terms of the mission statement and spirit of The Invaders, as a fan of the somewhat obscure super team, I think he pulled it off quite well.

Long before Tony Stark, Iron Man, there was Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), super-genius

Unlike Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and the two Iron Man films before it, Captain America: The First Avenger doesn’t contain a lot of setup for other Marvel movies, or cameos from characters in related franchises (except for Samuel Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. director, Nick Fury). It is the last (related) Marvel superhero film before next summer’s mega-slugfest, The Avengers - and it’s a great lead in. If the five films that set it up are any indication, next summer is going to be insane.

Captain America: The First Avenger is playing in every theater, everywhere on the planet - except in select countries where it is merely called The First Avenger. Check local listings for show times.

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