Retro Captain America a Red, White and Blue Sensation
Primarily set in the waning days of WWII, Marvelís Captain America: The First Avenger is the best film the studio has made as part of this ongoing franchise and as a lead-up to next Mayís The Avengers. Better than either Iron Man flick. Better than The Incredible Hulk. Heck, itís even better than Thor, a movie I came away happily impressed with just two short months ago. Director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (You Kill Me) have done a splendid job bringing this star-spangled superhero to life, delivering an entertaining high-flying frolic that held me merrily spellbound for most of its 125-minute running time.
Chris Evans (center) in Captain America: The First Avenger
© Paramount Pictures
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a 98-pound scrub from Brooklyn who wants to go fight Nazis. Heís asthmatic. Has multiple health issues. Can barely do a single push-up. Yet he also has the heart of a lion, refuses to back down, uses his brains over his underdeveloped brawn and wants to fight for his country not to kill but because itís the right thing to do.
Enter government scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Heís impressed with Rogersí fortitude and spirit, sees something that could potentially make him perfect for a project heís been working on for years. Even though the Colonel in charge, the iron-willed Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), doesnít quite agree with the choice, even though British secret agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is for some strange reasons worried for the young wannabe soldierís well being, Erskine knows heís picked the right man, sure Rogers is the one who will do his experimental ideas proud.
Heís right, of course, mainly because if he wasnít decades of Marvel comic book lore would have to be thrown out the window and I wouldnít have a movie to talk about. But all that being as it may, whoíd have thought an old school unabashedly patriotic (some might even say jingoistic, but I canít go that far) action film would be quite this wonderful? Itís like an Indiana Jones spectacle but with a shield-throwing superhero clad in red, white and blue at its center instead of a fedora wearing archeologist. Itís like Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare but focused on a genetically engineered Ďsuper soldierí instead of a team of hardened roughnecks led by the likes of Gregory Peck, Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.
And thatís all well to the good if you ask me, Johnston finally delivering on the promise hinted at in The Rocketeer and nearly realized with October Sky. Heís managed to craft a retro 1940ís style WWII potboiler yet one still colored with the pyrotechnic razzle-dazzle of this still young century. Heís captured an ethos and a style few modern filmmakers have been able to rekindle (Steven Spielberg being the obvious example with Raiders of the Lost Ark), and heís done so in a way thatís so appealing it would take a hardened heart made out of stone to admit to not being moved by even a single solitary second of it.
So the basics, like most comic book movies, can get a little silly, and for as much as actor Hugo Weaving throws himself into making central baddie Johann Schmidt a.k.a. ĎThe Red Skullí a memorable villainous presence the script never quite gives him enough to do to make him as formidable an opponent as say Loki was in Thor or Dr. Octopus was in Spider-Man 2. Iíll also so the present day bookends of the film arenít particularly worthwhile, both only reminding the audience that as enjoyable as what theyíve been watching is the whole thing has really been nothing more than a feature-length commercial for The Avengers.
But I say so what to all that and stand firm that Captain America: The First Avenger gets the job done. Evans is perfectly cast as our stalwart hero, Tucci steals the show during the first half and the luminous Atwell is a delectable delight as the female lead. Johnston paces things to perfection, stripping the fat away from the narrativeís bones and assembling a mostly lean and joyfully mean thrill ride holding more than its fair share of surprises. The movie is an engaging sensation I didnít want to see end, and when the Avengers do finally assemble summer 2012 hereís hoping theyíre initial engagement is half as thrilling a spectacle as this one proved to be.
- Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)