Captain America: The First Avenger Review

A lot has been riding on Marvel’s very own sentinel of liberty. Aside from being the final piece of a puzzle that’s been in assembly for close to four years, ‘Captain America’ also needed to represent the core of a super-hero team the likes of which Hollywood (and New York’s criminal underbelly) has never before seen– Steve Rogers is the ‘First Avenger’ after all.

Whether Cap could live up to the hype and deliver a swift shield to the jugular of expectation, or whether it would succumb to Avengers fever (here’s looking at you ‘Iron Man 2’) has been a question plaguing the minds of comic and movie fans alike – it was always going to be the riskiest adaption of them all.

After the runaway (and unprecedented) success of ‘Iron Man’ back in 2008, we’ve been treated to a serviceable take on the Hulk, and earlier this year we were given a fantastic take on Thor, taking the familiar Norse thunder god and throwing him into world of Shakespearean grandeur and sci-fi majesty. What was director Joe Johnston (1991’s The Rocketeer and more worryingly 2010’s The Wolfman reimagining) and Marvel Studios going to do with a guy who runs around draped in the American flag, equipped with an unbreakable shield, a winged helmet and an insatiable desire to uphold truth, justice and the American way?

They make it a World War II period piece and one hell of an explosively fun origin story; that’s what they do!

In case you’re unfamiliar with the basic concept, the film revolves around Steve Rogers (played by the incredibly likeable Chris Evans), a skinny well-meaning kid from Brooklyn who wants nothing more than to serve his country alongside his friends and brothers in arms. It’s a story that’s easily relatable; we aren’t trying to fill the shoes of a billionaire playboy or a mighty god of thunder – but simply that of the underdog. It’s this quality that makes Captain America: The First Avenger the most endearing of the bunch, as we follow this kid from his humble beginnings, to his empowerment via the Super Soldier serum and his eventual rise to glory. It’s a wonderful thing to watch and an even better thing to be part of.

First Avenger’s greatest strength is its tone, with Johnston having captured 1940’s America perfectly. He seamlessly bridges the gaps between war, superhero and period movies, while still injecting the core and campy elements of the comic’s lore into the mix. It’s weaved together masterfully. There are bits throughout First Avenger that will leave Cap fans grinning from ear to ear… though that’s not to say that there won’t be moments that’ll have you grimacing in your seat. It has instances of pure cheese, whether they are meant in a jesty ‘pre-war propaganda’ hat tip, or in an early 2000’s Spider-Man/X-Men manner. These few occasions pull you right out of the moment and back into your cinema seat looking awkwardly around at the other tight-lipped faces.

Marvel has never dropped the ball when it comes to casting, and this doesn’t disappoint. Chris Evans does a fantastic job as Steve Rogers, let down by some particularly cringe-worthy scripting, but he brings every element you could ever hope to find in a big screen version of Captain America. Hugo Weaving brought an air of Machiavellian madness to his portrayal as the villainous Red Skull, and it could be his best role yet! Tommy Lee Jones deserves a special mention, for he almost steals the entire show – outstanding stuff from the Oscar winning actor.

While this all sounds great, Johnston making a commendable effort in finding the perfect tone and cast, he sadly ran into some problems when it came to the pace of the story. The first and second chapters are an incredibly fun and powerful origin story for our First Avenger, but the inevitable ‘head-down-ballsy-rush’ towards The Avengers lets down the final moments of the film. Important story beats are glazed over with the wave of a hand, and when it comes to Peggy Carter’s (Hayley Atwell) role as the central love-interest, well it needn’t be present at all.

Another big issue came with the action, again I find it hard to sit here and gripe when so many other elements worked so well, but it became a familiar sight to see the backgrounds sit awkwardly behind the actors. Rushed post-production or mis-use of green screen/CGI could be to blame, but it’s jarring nonetheless. It’s disappointing the small amount of time we do actually get to see Captain America in action, for it’s handled very kinetically, but other elements out of the actors (and to an extent the director’s) control have played such a big role in holding this film back from challenging Iron Man for the crown of Marvel Studios.

We are reminded that in Marvel’s eyes, The Avengers end goal is more important than addressing some of the plot points relevant to this film’s title character. It’s a crying shame, because if we’d have been given the space to explore the elements presented to us in a sequel at least, then we could have had something very special on our hands.

Don’t hold any illusions; Captain America isn’t a perfect movie, nor is it the best from the current Marvel stable, but what it lacks in action and story direction, it makes up for with heaps of character, clarity and insane coolness. It captures the essence of the comics, origin story and the period in a way I never imagined possible from an adaption of Captain America. And really what more could any of us ever ask for from just a simple kid from Brooklyn?

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