Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
If every single employee at Marvel Studios isn’t celebrating the massively successful summer that they have had at the movies, they should be. Captain America: The First Avenger is the third quality picture from the comic book factory that sparkles with vision, zippy action, gung-ho characters, and an innocent simplicity that all come together to provide an exhilarating summer escapist romp that will leave you hounding for more from this star spangled hero. Still, the WWII superhero is just a notch below the more socially relevant X-Men: First Class but out eye-candies the cosmic Thor. Bustling with an art deco aesthetic, you will find yourself falling head over heels with this nostalgic ode Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It truly is a relief that Marvel, who appeared at first to be forcing themselves too strongly onto audiences this year, pull off a triple threat of terrific with their three towering releases. I was worried that too many do-gooders trying to save planet earth in 3D would weigh down this summer. Yet Thor exceeded my extremely low expectations and the X-Men series received a much-needed shot of inspiration into a franchise of films that were becoming increasingly cheap and extremely frivolous, especially for one that began on a thought-provoking note. But X-Men: First Class was also not looking to tie in three other heroes and be the final step before the much anticipated Marvel mash-up The Avengers that is to come next summer. And with DC Comics barely making a ripple with The Green Lantern, they also found absolutely no competition (Well, maybe from a certain boy wizard) from their rivals. WithCaptain America being the one of the last major blockbusters of this sweltering summer, they end on a seriously cool note.
Captain America follows the attempts of the steadfast Steve Rogers (Played by a hulking Chris Evans), a weakling with asthma from the Bronx who relentlessly attempts to join the US Army and jet over to Europe so he can “kill Nazis.” Finally, with a little help from a German scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Played by a enthusiastic Stanley Tucci) and the gruff Col. Chester Phillips (Played by sleepy-eyed Tommy Lee Jones), he gets enlisted in a program that turns the not-so-manly-mans into manly-men super soldiers. They pick Rodgers “because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power.” Under the watchful eye of the machine-gun packing femme Peggy Carter (Played by a smoking hot Haley Atwell), Cap dons a blue get-up and brandishing a stars-and-stripes printed shield, he goes toe-to-toe with HYDRA, a Nazi weapons division lead by the sadistic Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull (Played with purring evil by Hugo Weaving) and the mousy scientist Dr. Arnim Zola (Played by the always-welcome Toby Jones).
Under the masterfully paced direction of Joe Johnston (The Wolfman), Captain America takes its time get to know its characters and dreamily gaze on their personalities. We can’t help but root for the morally responsible Cap as he always does the right thing. Chris Evans plays him as the all-American good old boy when he’s bulked up and a runt with a heart of gold when he’s shrunken down. In one scene, the runty Rogers throws himself onto a live grenade to protect his fellow hulking soldier, who all ran and hid themselves. It’s scenes like this the Rogers steals our hearts and allow us to root for him even when he’s in the stickiest of situations. His best friend, Bucky Barnes, who acts as the unwavering voice of support for his comrade, stands behind Cap every step of the way. Haley Atwell transcends the damsel in distress role and is instead is a pistol-packing hellion who can hold her own against Nazis and keep the Cap drooling in a little red dress. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is perhaps one of the more terrifying villains as he grapples for independence from the Third Reich and salivates over world domination. He and Cap have many show-stopping smack downs that will leave the audience cheering for the Cap to give Red Skull a good, old-fashioned ass whooping. Pitting the extreme good against an extreme evil is a bit obvious, but it works with Captain America lore, as Cap appeared in March of 1941 on a comic book delivering a lick to Uncle Adolph (America had not yet joined the war, which slathered on controversy at the time). The rest of the performances are fine, especially from Toby Jones, who appears to be channeling Ronald Lacye’s Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It should be noted that the retro Captain America is one of the more conservative superhero films to come down the tube. They are churned out at an alarming rate these days and they are coming in all shapes and sizes! But the Cap becomes the symbol for all that is morally and ethically right. It seems old fashioned and has a wide-eyed innocence that makes the film impossible to dislike. It’s good clean fun and takes very few risks. Even at the end when the US Army is plotting their final move on HYDRA, the Cap makes the simple suggestion of knocking on HYDRA’s front door. Why complicate the matter? The film is desperately avoiding any sort of complexity, whether it underlying or outright. There are no profound opinions or winking satire to the film. It just keeps everything simple and that is honestly it’s most alluring quality. It helps that the characters are so wonderfully illustrated and realized, which ultimately allows them to be more intriguing than when the Cap is wrecking havoc behind enemy lines. The film is also a rallying cry for the underdogs, which balances out the self-confidence that radiates from titans like Iron Man and Thor. Captain America isn’t looking to change the world, despite his worldwide battle, and I commend it for that. It’s just looking to thrill us the old-fashioned way, much like Super 8 so beautifully did. It’s just trying to cater to the child-like wonder in all of us, and the Cap beyond succeeds with that mission. Plain and simple, I loved everything about this movie. I loved the look, feel, the epic scope, the characters, their earnest interaction, and all the arresting action. Go see it.
Grade: A (Make it a double feature with Super 8)