Captain America: The First Avenger

© 2011 Ray Wong

When the productions of Captain America and The Avengers were announced, I wondered how they were going to include the Captain in a modern-time saga, since he exists mostly in the 1940s. Well, I now know.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny young man from Brooklyn who has huge courage and integrity, and his aspiration is to join the US military. Unfortunately, he is not physically fit and he has failed five times to enlist. A chance meeting, however, draws Dr. Abraham Erskine's (Stanley Tucci) attention, who believes Rogers is the best candidate for his latest project.

Turns out Dr. Erksine has developed a serum and the technologies surrounding it to make normal men super soldiers. Eager to join the army and serve the country, Rogers willingly accepts the opportunity to be the guinea pig. The test is a success, and Rogers is transformed into a muscular man with superhuman powers. Unfortunately, a spy infiltrates the group, kills Dr. Erskine, and destroys the last bit of serum. Without the serum and the doctor, Rogers becomes the only super soldier. Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) doesn't know what to do with him. Instead, Rogers becomes Captain America, a propaganda mascot for recruitment.

While Captain America enjoys his fame and popularity, he is moving further and further away from his destiny: to serve and protect the country. Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) convinces him what he must do. When a platoon of soldiers including his best friend, James "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan), are captured by Nazi commander Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), Captain America defies the colonel's order and carry out a mission to save his fellow servicemen.

Chris Evans (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is no stranger to sci-fi and comic book hero movies: Fantastic Four, Push, Sunshine, to name a few. As Steve Rogers, his head is digitally put on the body of a scrawny actor, and the transformation is astounding. Through his acting and the CG special effects, we come to believe Evans is the skinny dude with a big heart. As Captain America, however, Evans is all brawn and brain, and he pulls it off beautifully. Great job.

As his cohort and love interest, Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) is also great. She is beautiful but not fragile. She is strong but not bitchy. She is capable but not arrogant. She is the kind of heroine we'd love to love. Plus she has good chemistry with Evans. Meanwhile, Hugo Weaving (The Wolfman) has a good time playing the super villain. Still, I see Agent Smith every time he arches his brows and twists his lips. I hope he can break out of that mold soon.

The supporting cast is excellent. Sebastian Stan (Black Swan) is ernest as Rogers' best friend Bucky. Tommy Lee Jones (The Company Man) is fully engaged as Colonel Phillips, and not without a good dose of humor. Dominic Cooper (An Education) walks in the shoes of Howard Stark (yes, Tony Stark's father) beautifully. Toby Jones (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) is perfect as Dr. Zola, and Stanley Tucci (Burlesque) is sympathetic and lovable as Dr. Erskine.

Written by Christopher Markus (The Chronicles of Narnia) and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia), the screenplay combines the "origin" story with a new plot to draw us in. Set in 1942-43 during WWII, the rich history gives the story some depth and resonance. The "alternate history" part, especially in the context of comic book super heroes and villains, works mostly. There is a bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark that is somewhat hokey and over the top. But by and large the plot is well grounded in reality (relatively speaking), buoyed by Chris Evan's boy-next-door, no-frill performance in the title role.

The mix of comic book fantasy and historical backdrops works very well here. It reminds me of another "captain" movie, Sky Captain, which was rather badly written. One can only appreciate more the thoughts and rich history behind this Marvel comic. The screenplay has humor, action, fantasy and heart. It's everything a popcorn movie could hope for, and then some.

Director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman) is no stranger to action-adventure sci-fi movies either. This reminds me of The Rocketeer, which he directed in 1991. I enjoyed that film very much as well. He has, however, grown as a director. The pacing is great, and the plot flows well. The action sequences are well done. The special effects compliment the story, and not the other way around. In particular, transforming the buff Evans into a short, scrawny guy is a wonder in itself. The effects are seamless and believable. They've taken what was possible for Benjamin Button and gone even beyond that. The production is handsome, and the score, by Alan Silvestri, is wonderful, including a show-stopping musical number written by Alan Menken.

As a popcorn movie, you can't go wrong with Captain America. But more impressively, it has substance and makes us care about the characters. It has real heart. It has action. It has patriotism. It has humor. It has musical numbers. You can't get more American than that.

Stars: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones
Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (based on comic books series Captain America)
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequence of sci-fi violence and action
Running Time: 125 minutes


Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total – 8.0 out of 10

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