Review – Captain America: The First Avenger

Forward planning is a beautiful thing; it reminds me of a quote an old boss of mine used to pull out when called into his office for the tenth time, “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” Marvel Studios had the brass to put a grand plan in motion back in 2008 when ‘Iron Man’ soared into cinemas.

On the surface it was a straight forward superhero film, but there was something bubbling away under the surface. You could sense it in every frame of the film, with little touches and references to the Marvel universe. It wasn’t until after the credits when Samuel L. Jackson showed up as Nick Fury and asked about the Avenger’s initiative, that the plan became clear. Hardcore fans heads were exploding with excitement, girlfriends were curious about the Avengers and web servers were melting as web forums went crazy with chatter.

As the years rolled by, pieces of the Avengers puzzle were revealed, one after the other. ‘The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Iron Man 2’, ‘Thor’ and the final piece has fallen into place with ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is keen to join the army to fight for his country during World War 2, but is deemed unfit for military service. After several rejections, he is given a chance after he volunteers for a top secret US Government project to test a super soldier serum. Soon after, Captain America is born and Rogers is tasked with taking down the scientific wing of the German army, Hydra, led by the megalomaniac Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving).

The last mile in the golden path to ‘The Avengers’, ‘Captain America’ is also one of the best action adventure films of 2011. ‘Captain America’ is a superhero film with a war time twist. In no way is it a war film – it retains its comic book style for most of the film and glosses over the serious side of World War 2.

Grounding the character in a reality outside of the comic book realm is hard because Captain America is essentially a walking piece of propaganda. Director Joe Johnston has cleverly found a way to make the character of Rogers relatable early in the film, with his desire to serve his country and be a power for good. This is balanced well between the emotions and explosions, with the character filling his potential and punching Nazis over football fields.

Johnston delivers the action in big, heavy, thrilling doses. A lot of action set pieces hark back to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and classic war films, such as the ‘Dirty Dozen’. Johnston is a great action director who has been waiting for his time in the sun after years of studios meddling with his films. Do yourself a favour and take a look at his previous films such as ‘Jumanji’, ‘October Sky’, ‘Jurassic Park 3’ and ‘The Rocketeer’, they are a real treat.

Every cast member fits their role perfectly; Evans brings a lot of heart and courage to Rogers, as well as a physicality that contrasts the frail character in the beginning. Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones and Neal McDonough shine during their small screen time, and Hayley Atwell brings strength and beauty to what could have been just a bland romantic interest role. Meanwhile, Hugo Weaving is a menacing villain but it’s not hard to come across that way when you’re playing a Nazi. I felt his character was a little underdeveloped and fell into the trap of being the bad guy that proves how bad he is by just shooting people when they least expect it. At times it felt like he was channeling a combination Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz from ‘Hogan’s Heroes’, I was waiting for him to loosen his collar and say ‘I know NOTHING!’

The World War 2 setting feels real thanks to brilliant set design and costuming. Audiences are used to seeing superheroes in a modern setting, so the idea of a 1940s superhero flick might seem a bit strange, but it works really well. All the vehicles, weapons and gadgets have a distinct personality and will have your inner child doing backflips over how cool everything looks. Adding to the film’s feel is an adrenaline-fueled patriotic score from Alan Silvestri and a great closing credits sequence that pays tribute to wartime posters.

I have only a few small gripes with this film, one being the reliance on weak special effects. If you’re going to set a film in the 1940s, any special effects are going to stand out like someone dressed as Hitler at a Jewish Halloween party. I don’t understand why they didn’t try for more of a practical approach.

Something you’ll have to take with a grain of salt is the blaring American patriotism that runs through the film. There is nothing I like more than people showing off a love for their country, but the cheese is layered on thick, and there is even a song a dance number to put bile in your mouth. You can’t expect anything less from a film called ‘Captain America’ but it’s a tad grating and I expected there to be a scene where the Captain shows off his new invention…the wheel.

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ will put a big dumb grin on your face for days, it’s so much fun. I love all of the Marvel Studios films equally and they’re starting to become like children – I can’t pick a favourite. Make sure you pay your dues and sit through the credits for a special treat that starts with ‘A’ and ends with ‘vengers’. I can’t stress more how important it is to stick around; it’s worth the admission alone.

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ opens in Australia, 28 July 2011

Paramount Pictures


The Popcorn Junkie