Captain America: The First Avenger

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Captain America: The First Avenger is the best film of the summer. It is the best of the Avenger lead-ins. It may be the best super hero franchise film not made by Christopher Nolan. Yes, I realize that is high praise and I fully expect to like the movie more than most audiences, but it is as complete a super hero film as I’ve seen in a long, long time. This is easily my biggest surprise of the year and seems like it’ll be around my top ten for the year.

So what’s to like? While there are a lot of little touches in the film that I really love, Captain America does a lot of the big things right, too. First and foremost, it bucks the trend of similar super hero films and has an accessible story that reaches for more than the simple origin story trappings. In a lot of ways, the film feels like it doesn’t really care that it’s a super hero film. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, because there is plenty of camp to go around, but its backdrop of a fictionalized World War II adds an impressive amount of depth and story. Everything that may be a cliched super hero film trope is able to get a different perspective — from a sense of duty and responsibility to the showdown with the big-bad villain.

Captain America is one of the only super hero films that come to mind that has its own distinguishable style. Ever since Iron Man, and maybe earlier, a specific tone was expected out of super hero films, so films like Thor, Green Lantern, etc. play like the dull blockbusters that they are. Joe Johnston’s Captain more closely recalls his previous work and it shows his expertise for designing an aesthetic from the golden age of Hollywood. Some of my favorite moments of the film aren’t built around super-hero action, but set-pieces that (go figure) build character through this aesthetic. One highlight is an old-school montage set around Cap selling war bonds that feels as authentic as a newsreel.

Speaking of action, most of the criticism of the film is that is exactly what the film lacks, which I don’t disagree with. In other words, the action isn’t going to blow anyone away. I’m willing to excuse this because the lack of big booms helps keep its bearings as a period piece. The film also exchanges action in the first half of the film with character building, which helps build Steve Rogers into someone you will care about.

For anyone who was concerned that Chris Evans wouldn’t be able to fulfill the duties as the leader of the Avengers, you have nothing to worry about. Evans is an actor that I’ve liked in small roles, but didn’t know if he would be able to hold down a film on his own, let alone what may be the biggest franchise series we’ll ever see (I believe he’s signed for 7 films). Thinking about past roles that he is good in, he elicits a smarmy and cocky attitude, but he expertly reins it in as a believable “good guy.” His transformation from a skinny weakling into the First Avenger also works surprisingly well. The special effects aren’t perfect, but Evans’ performance does enough to compensate — he has strong character while he is physically weak, so when he adds just a little charisma after the muscles come in, you completely buy him as a leader and a hero. It doesn’t hurt that he is surrounded with a great supporting cast, including Tommy Lee Jones, who is a perfect fit for his character, and Hugo Weaving, an obvious choice for Red Skull.

Captain America: The First Avenger is the perfect final building block for The Avengers next summer. After a summer that has given ua a very good, a decent and a bad super hero film already, this film differentiates itself from its predecessors well enough to feel incredibly fresh. We have to wait and see if Marvel can pull off the incredible feat of pulling all these distinct films into one great masterpiece — The Avengers — but Captain America a giant leap in the right direction.

tags: Captain America: The First Avenger, chris evans, hayley atwell, hugo weaving, joe johnston, tommy lee jones

  • Anonymous

    My favorite part about this review is how you point out the action scenes aren’t overdone and seem organic to the time period being portrayed. I agree with that, and it’s an excellent point. I actually thought the action was more visceral and exciting here than in many other superhero films. I also liked the brief glimpses (mostly through Red Skull) of that big, cosmic world of superheroes… it was cool that of all the characters in the film, only he really lived in that world (going so far as to recap Thor’s mythology for us in his opening scene). Everyone else felt fairly grounded. 

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