The perfect penultimate piece to the Marvel cinematic universe, and a rousing adventure story. A timely reminder of why we love comic book heroes, and one of the best superhero films of the year.
With 2008’s Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Comics began a cinematic journey unlike any other. Where other studios were scrambling to find the “next big thing” from decades-old superheroes, Marvel Studios self-produced their own characters as part of cinematic universe establishing all the major players in their tent-pole 2012 release The Avengers. Following the success of last year’s Iron Man 2, and this year’s Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger is the last piece in not only the cinematic puzzle Marvel has been forming, but the most crucial element in the success of next year’s unprecedented box office drawcard.
In the present day, scientists discover a large craft in the Arctic and a mysterious red, white and blue object buried deep inside it. Flash back to 1942, and scientist Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) leads the Nazi science division HYDRA in an assault to recover a mysterious and powerful object that he believes possesses the power of the gods. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the frail Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) is rejected from military service for the fifth time, but the scrappy and honest citizen is spotted by expatriate German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Burlesque) as a potential candidate for the US super soldier program. Undergoing a radical experiment, Rogers is transformed into the super-human Captain America, and becomes a powerful weapon in the US arsenal under Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, In the Electric Mist) and SSR officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, The Duchess) in the fight against HYDRA and the Red Skull.
The international appeal of a character named Captain America was always going to be a dicey prospect, as the man is quite literally a human flag. In the world of Marvel Comics, he is their Superman: the symbol of all things truth and justicey, quite literally born of the Second World War in a 1941 comic that depicted him punching out Adolf Hitler, an act parodied in Captain America: The First Avenger. The film treads a thin line between being an overtly jingoistic and mass-appeal action film, and in many ways the film has to have elements of the former in order to stay true to the character. Like this year’s X-Men: First Class, much of the pull of this outing is in the retro chic of the character. Like X-Men, this film functions principally as a period piece, recreating both the battlefields of the 1940s and the sentiment on the home front. Some of the most appealing scenes come in the USO performances that the Cap is drafted to perform initially, reminding us that a very different relationship existed between the American people and their government prior to the Vietnam War.
When Rogers takes to the field in full uniform, the film takes on a different shape entirely, becoming the boys-own Dubya-Dubya-Two adventure that we secretly hoped it would be. Clichéd to be sure, but it is a spectacular one, with the historically uneven director Joe Johnston (who was last seen on The Wolfman) handling both the action sequences and the dramatic elements with equal confidence. Using the contrivance of the high-tech weaponry powered by the otherworldly energy of Odin’s realm (in a nice nod to Thor), audiences get the best of both worlds in period thrills and modern-day cataclysmic explosions in one neat package. Evans, no stranger to super-powered beings after two stints as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films, brings equal parts earnestness and bravado to the iconic character. Weaving delights in chewing his way through the scenery and almost stealing them away from the hero in a pitch-perfect performance, while Tommy Lee Jones brings the considerable weight of his established persona to an integral role. Haley Atwell will undoubtedly break some hearts during the film, with the (largely) television actress set to go on to big things after this star-making and fiery performance.
It is only in the final reels of the film that Captain American: The First Avenger falters for the first time, struggling to find the right way to reach its predetermined conclusion. This is, after all, the last film by which audiences will measure their expectations of The Avengers team-up, and it needs to tie up a certain number of threads in preparation for that monolith. Filled with knowing references to the films that have come before (including Dominic Cooper as a young Howard Stark, father of future Iron Man Tony Stark) and sly winks at the audience hinting at what is to come, and you really need to stick around for the end credits this time. Captain America:The First Avenger provides viewers with a timely reminder of why these comics were so integral to the American psyche for so many years, and why (despite repeated attempts on page and screen) they will never die.
Captain America: The First Avenger is released in Australia on 28 July 2011 from Paramount.