Captain America: The First Avenger Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Chris Evan, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones
Release Date: July 22, 2011
In 1992, 9-year-old me entered a video store and struck gold. Among the shelves and shelves of VHS tapes was a single copy of Captain America: The Movie. Already a comic (not to mention Captain America) fan, you can only imagine how excited I was to view what I assumed would be a masterpiece. The movie was anything but and left much to be desired, but 9-year-old me loved the hell out of it. Despite its shortcomings and flaws, watching Captain America throw his shield for the first time just blew my mind. Fast forward to nearly 20 years later, I wondered if the latest Marvel Studios movie, Captain America: The First Avenger would do the very same thing.
With America just stepping into World War II, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wanted nothing more than to serve his country. Despite being constantly rejected by recruitment agencies due to his meek size, Rogers’ unflagging persistence pays off and catches the attention of a scientist by the name of Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Erskine enlists him in a top secret super solider program. Injected with a Super-Soldier serum and bathed in “Vita Rays,” Rogers is transformed into a perfect human specimen. He becomes more than just a super soldier, but a symbol for America. He becomes Captain America.
Unlike the other Marvel movies before it, there is a little bit more riding on The First Avenger’s success. The movie not only has to appease the many comic book fans that will no doubt flock to the film, but it also needs to entertain casual fans so that they come back to see Marvel’s next movie, The Avengers. Captain America accomplishes both goals, thanks in part to the writing and the film’s lead actor.
When Chris Evans was announced as having nabbed the role of Cap, I was a bit on the fence about it. He is a likable actor sure, but could he pull role of an earnest, super soldier? Most, if not all his roles he’s had previously required him to be overtly funny or sarcastic and Captain America is neither of those things. Would Evan be able to carry a movie by himself?
Evans is nothing but superb in his role as Captain America. Much like Michael Keaton in Batman, Evans truly embodies all the characteristics of Captain America. From the overall look to demeanor, I couldn’t think of another person who could fill the shoes as well as he does. While his performance as Cap is impressive, it is his portrayal of Steve Rogers that pulls him over the top. Considering that the focus of the film is the man behind the shield, Steve Rogers is a huge presence and Evans plays it just like that. In every scene, whether in costume or out, you never lose sight of the fact that you are watching Steve Rogers, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and truly knows the value of strength.
Of course, a superhero is only as good as his super-villain and I can’t think of a more menacing villain than Johann Schmidt, aka the Red Skull (played impressively by Hugo Weaving). Weaving really is the actor’s actor. Whether it is playing an elf in a mythical fantasy world or a multiplying corporate suit in a digital one, he really loses himself in every role he takes and the Red Skull is no different. His overall presence is monstrous and gives Evans a run for his money. Plus, with his Red Skull makeup on, it feels as if the Red Skull character had jumped from the pages of the comic book onto the silver screen.
Evans is definitely the breadwinner of film, but his whole supporting cast is just as good. Hayley Hatwell, who plays Roger’s love interest and handler Peggy Carter, in particular deserves a lot of praise. As the lone female presence in the film, I don’t think I have ever seen an actress that radiated both sex appeal and overall badassness all at the same time. Plus, the chemistry she has with Evans is great. In the comic book, Steve Rogers’ current girlfriend is Sharon Carter, a spitting image of Peggy herself and while it may look a tad soap opera-esque to cast the same woman in two different roles, Hatwell’s performance should give producers a reason to consider it. Sebastian Stan plays James “Bucky” Barnes, Roger’s best friend and sidekick, to perfection. Bucky plays a huge role in the Captain America comic books and should this movie do well in the box office, hopefully we will see more of the character in future sequels. A tip of the hat also should go to Tommy Lee Jones for his portrayal of the gruff Colonel Chester Phillips. Yes, Jones could play a role like this in his sleep, but he does it with such grace it is hard not to like what you see.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely really deliver a pitch perfect script with just the right amount of human drama and big action set pieces. I also appreciated the small moments that defined the character of Steve Rogers. Everything from the capturing to the flag sequence to the live grenade scene, the writers really found great ways to define hero and make you root for him. As a comic fan, I also appreciated the tiny nods to the comic book like the appearance of The Howling Commandos and Armim Zola or Bucky holding the shield.
Director Joe Johnston couldn’t have been a more perfect fit for this movie. With his previous experience on movies with large set pieces (Jumanji) with an art deco sensibility (The Rocketeer), Captain America is right with in his wheelhouse. Hopefully, he will stick around for future sequels. I mean, who wouldn’t want to keep a guy who worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark?
My only complaints are minor. I really wished they showed more of Captain America’s battles during the war. Those pieces were pretty impressive. There were also a couple of slight comic book nerd quibbles I had (why is Nick Fury not with his Howling Commandos? Why is Bucky a Sergeant?), but those are few and minor.
Captain America: The First Avenger is one great superhero movie. It surpasses its predecessor by leaps and bounds, and does more than enough to set up Marvel’s next massive blockbuster. Do yourself a favor and watch this popcorn friendly film. And stick around after the end credits. It’s a doozy, True Believer.