Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston.

CAST: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Richard Armitage, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, JJ Feild, Lex Shrapnel, Samuel L. Jackson.

SYNOPSIS: With World War II forcing America into action, Steve Rogers (Evans) is desperate to be drafted for military service. Sickly and rather on the small side, he receives knock back after knock back until his path crosses Dr. Erskine (Tucci) who is recruiting for the very hushed Project Rebirth. Being accepted due to his incredible courage, his body is enhanced to its maximum potential and Captain America is born. However, Johann Schmidt (Weaving) has plans to use the same technology to progress the Nazi’s secret organisation, HYDRA.

Holy smokes. Joe Johnston’s made something that’s more than just a ‘good’ film. In fact, he’s made a bloody great film that can easily boast of standing alongside Marvel’s best. Captain America is one of those rare comic book adaptations that has more on offer than just a glossy surface. It lacks an overly camp villain, manages to avoid glaringly cheesy one-liners from its star and has a female love interest who has more than a couple of brain cells (and who earns extra brownie points for being a Brit). The ending is one that will more than satisfy the Marvel diehards, but will undoubtedly confuse the hell out of those who have merely popped along to see that-film-that’s-going-to-shove-American-patriotism-down-my-throat – which it surprisingly doesn’t, actually. Of course, you’re not a real Marvel fan unless you stay until the end of the credits and this time the payoff is unbelievably sweet.

Starting small, the film appears set to be a complete disappointment, slow and unexciting, but very quickly we realise how this technique will pay off to the film’s advantage, the pace mimicking the ever expanding Steve Rogers. And what of Rogers? Well, he’s pretty much perfect. Yes, we know Chris Evans has already played one Marvel character in Johnny Storm/Human Torch, but that’s never what he’s going to be remembered for, is it. This is the film that can honestly be said to have turned Evans into a superstar and the fan base owe him a lot for not turning the superhero into a pouting, posing, one note bore. In fact, it makes watching his performance as Lucas Lee in Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim even more tongue-in-cheek as that superstar does everything Steve Rogers could have so easily become.

The film’s many montages and fight sequences are a massive strength, with incredibly slick editing and well-choreographed set pieces emphasising Johnston’s ability to helm such an important Marvel origins story. And though it may be an origins story, one thing this film does not dwell on is back-story. By following Steve’s transformation in real time and without the usual flashbacks we are subject to in these films, we can fully understand his journey without the pace or action being hindered. Evans’ Rogers is easy to sympathise with, fun to be around and somebody we generally give a damn about. Previous to release, many people thought the film would not be accessible to many countries outside America, but Evans gives us a universal hero and with the script coming from the writers of the Narnia film adaptations, it would have been surprising had this film not been universally accessible.

Where recent Marvel outings have jam-packed themselves with in-jokes, cameos (hello Stan Lee) and too many villains, having The Avengers now in sight they feel completely necessary. Of course, not everybody will get them, but you’d hope by now that most people are on this Marvel express train. Lessons also seem to have been learned from Spider-Man 3 and a one-villain film now seems to be the safe bet..! Johnston’s choice of simply focusing on Johann Schmidt stops the film from overcomplicating itself and Hugo Weaving creates an unusually naturalistic villain in Schmidt’s Red Skull. Yes, there’s Nazi’s lurking about, but we never get too wrapped up in Hitler’s motives and the audience are treated as intelligent by not having to recap the events that started the Second World War. Weaving’s talent for accents is once again showcased and he genuinely is an intimidating and impressive menace, complimented by the ever-reliable Toby Jones’ Dr. Zola.

Hayley Atwell is a match for the men as love interest Peggy Carter, initially putting the troops through their paces alongside Tommy Lee Jones’ stern but fair Colonel Phillips and proving that she is no wilting flower. Her and Jones play very well together, proving that the actress is made for far bigger things than TV mini-series and that Hollywood is waking up to the fact that not everybody wants to see girls without curves on their screens. The support is rounded off with Sebastian Stan’s Bucky and Howard Stark played by Dominic Cooper. Richard Armitage and Stanley Tucci also have very effective roles, but have far too little screen time. Stan will do well from this, with Bucky definitely being a more manly role than that in Gossip Girl, but it is Cooper who stands out, full of wit and charisma as Iron Man’s Dad and the brains behind the operation. A pleasure to watch, he really is a showman as displayed in his other current picture, The Devil’s Double.

Cinematographer Shelly Johnson is a favourite of Joe Johnston and his work here is extremely effective, ageing the film perfectly when needed and at times making the city streets look like they belong in Superman’s Metropolis. Captain America isn’t afraid to be retro and the 1940s feel effortless here, with the World Expo they visit impressive, colourful and completely convincing. The wonderful and authentic vintage glaze makes the end scene all the most abruptly shocking and important, but there’ll be no spoilers here. Adding to this, Alan Silvestri’s score gives the Captain a theme and bizarrely brings a feeling of the fun of Johnston’s earlier films, notably Jumanji, to the forefront – even when it was actually scored by James Horner. But this is all credit to Johnston who has obviously found his stride in a medium he really loves. He somehow makes it possible to long for a return to a carefree childhood whilst watching a film about a bulked up superhero.

A few parts of the film jar a little, with the 2D viewing having some very obvious moments that were made specifically for 3D (and it is one of the better 3D viewings of recent times) that do take you out of the film for a split-second or two, but it’s in no way a major problem. The impressive effects used for little, weedy Steve at the beginning of the film were a slight distraction, but only because I was so curious as to how they’d managed to digitally ‘attach’ Chris Evans’ head onto a body double. Having not known about the technology, I would have happily accepted it was filmed before Evans bulked up (and was a foot or so smaller..?!), but personally there were times when he seemed to lose his chin and was a little out of proportion. But hey, maybe that’s just me being a little nitpicky on a film that I find extremely hard to be negative about.

With multiple viewings definitely in the pipeline for me, it is so refreshing to be treated as an intelligent audience and not feel that it’s only Christopher Nolan who can appreciate his audience’s I.Q. when working within the superhero realm. Johnston has created a fun and intelligent movie with characters that are easy to like and connect to and a storyline that isn’t hard to follow. He’s also left us with one very clear realisation after watching Captain America – The Avengers is now beautifully tangible. And I’ve never been more excited.

VERDICT: 4/5

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11 responses to “Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

  1. No clever messages here, just bang-on romance and action, with another fresh twist on 20th-century history woven in for the kids to dive into after the credits have rolled. Good Review!

  2. Sarah Clutterbuck

    I watched this one on Saturday in my cinema double fixture with Transformers.
    I absolutely loved this film, thoroughly enjoyed and with only about ten people in the cinema it was even more enjoyable.
    Transformers was awesom too
    S x

    • Glad you got to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Sarah! I know you were desperate!! Only ten people?! It’s been mental at our local cinema – but when it’s sunny it’s never quite as busy. Thank you so much for reading 🙂

  3. Sarah Clutterbuck

    Yeah finally I got to see it…bloody made me cry…more than once!!!

    But Captain America was brilliant, I hear you got to see the midnight screening. I reckon you got a dream job there my dear. :o)

    S x

  4. Sarah Clutterbuck

    Always stay for the end of a Marvel :o)…a little exciting I have to admit!!!!!!!

    Are they remaking Spider Man to coinside with The Avengers?

    Off for dinner with Daddy dearest now

    S x

    • Your Dad or my Dad?! That confused me a little as I know my Dad’s at the office. Enjoy either way..!! And no, Spider-Man isn’t in The Avengers. The plans for Spidey 4 with Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi were scrapped in favour of a new version. I have a lot of love for Andrew Garfield, but do find it pretty funny that casting directors thought he looked like he was still in school. But I have a pretty good feeling about it at present – we’ll see what happens.

  5. Sarah Clutterbuck

    Your Dad…

    Tobey Maguire was starting to irritate me a little and I am not a great fan of Spider-Man 3. Anyway I digress…

    Its July 2012 for The Avengers isnt it…I dont know if I can wait that long!!!

    Right back to work with Daddy Dearest…I shall catch up with what you are watching in August in my lunch break hopefully :o)

    S x

  6. Sarah Clutterbuck

    I am more than sure he will…the trailer did look good even if it didnt give too much away.
    S x

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