Captain America: The First Avenger, the third Marvel Comics film of blockbuster season, bathes in nostalgia for the black-and-white clarity of the battle against Nazism. Its hero, created during World War 2, is a relic of the days when people knew who the bad guys were and where to find them.
Unlike the more flawed characters that Marvel created in the morally hazier 1960s, the square-jawed patriot is an emblem of courage and moral certainty. Iron Man had his battle with the bottle and the Hulk has anger management issues, but the First Avenger’s enemies in Captain America are all external.
Even the Captain’s powers — super strength, quick healing, a good shield-tossing arm — are rather humdrum compared to those of some of Marvel’s more outlandish creations. Despite the fact that the Captain is one of the less complex and interesting characters in the Marvel universe, director Joe Johnston has fashioned a rollicking, pulpy action film from his origin story.
The film shows how a weedy, asthmatic kid from Brooklyn is turned into a super-soldier with a serum developed by a German scientist working for the American army. Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) is chosen to be the guinea pig for the serum because of the extraordinary heart he displays despite his frailty.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the supervillain Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) has broken ranks with the Nazis to work on his own plans for world domination as the leader of the organisation Hydra. Of course, Captain America is only one who can stop him. Two hours of derring-do ensues.
Johnston’s film owes a great deal to retro-futuristic films such as Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow and his own movie The Rocketeer as well as the Nazi occult trappings of Indiana Jones and Hellboy. He doesn’t add much that is new or original to the sub-genre, but he executes it with a great deal of flair.
The special effects aren’t always convincing — there are moments where one can’t help thinking more visceral real-life stunt work would have worked better than CGI — but the film’s artistic design does a wonderful job of capturing a comic book history where Nazis have created high-tech weapons from occult artefacts.
The Captain’s fans will probably care most about whether the film gets the way he throws his shield just right. To an untrained eye, the answer is yes. And you can almost visualise the “Biff! Pow! Thunk!” comic book bubbles on screen as Captain America brawls his way through the neverending waves of Hydra operatives.
Chris Evans — no stronger to the superhero genre — sells himself surprisingly well as the plucky but puny kid who never backs down from a beating. Evans is aided by some CGI that makes him look like a 60kg weakling. He is in his natural element as the blue-eyed champion for truth, justice and the American way.
As for the rest of the cast, they play their roles as breezily and camply as the script demands. Stanley Tucci as ze German doctor that invented the serum hams it up with his accent, outdone only by the exaggerated Teutonic inflection Weaving adds to his cold, flinty Agent Smith voice for the Red Skull.
The gruff Tommy Lee Jones is the gruff Tommy Lee Jones while Hayley Atwell’s frightfully posh British accent and classic Hollywood beauty make for a good love interest for the Captain.
Captain America: The First Avenger trailer (via YouTube):
Captain America follows hard on the heels of X-Men: First Class and Thor, and it’s almost as good as the former and a little better than the latter. Though none of these films is as ambitious as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, they’re all superb entertainment which neither takes itself too seriously nor insults the viewer’s intelligence too much.
Captain America is the last piece of the puzzle Marvel needed to put in place before uniting him with the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man for The Avengers in 2012. Marvel has finally cracked the code for bringing its characters to the big screen in a consistent manner, so there is plenty of reason to look forward to that ensemble film. — Lance Harris, TechCentral