Superhero fatigue has definitely spread through out the cinephile community. Where once the mere appearance of popped claws, x-ray vision and gargantuan muscles was ample enough for filmgoers, wariness spreads. It takes more than a guy wielding a big hammer or a green ring to wow an audience; actual filmmaking is necessary. Thankfully there is a hero for bored masses still itching for a big of action theatrics in tights. Its name is Captain America: The First Avenger.
Based on the Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Marvel Comics character that first appeared in 1941, Captain America is an entertaining, lighthearted romp about a young, scrawny man named Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). It is 1942 and all Steve wants to do is his part, which he believes is more than collecting scrap metal; he wants to fight. Problem is, at not a shade over 90 pounds, Steve’s been rejected from the military repeatedly. Luckily, a military scientist (played by the perfectly cast Stanley Tucci) overhears Steve’s desires and believes despite his current tiny frame, perhaps something can made of this miniscule man.
Steve is recruited into the Super Soldier program, where the best of America’s youth has been gathered, trained and studied. The finest of this batch will be given a serum that will transform its recipient into the ultimate human specimen. A tough-talking Colonel (the equally superb Tommy Lee Jones) moans about the inclusion of Steve to Tucci’s scientist. His wariness is soon subdued when he sees Steve as the sole individual diving onto a, unbeknownst to them, dummy grenade to save his fellow men. Injections, flashing lights and a metal coffin looking device are used to make Steve the titular captain; now sporting bulging muscles, abs of adamantium and an extra foot in height. Now the pinnacle of masculinity, Cap’s off to Germany to punch some Nazis in the face and defeat a baddie named Red Skull (Hugo Weaving channeling his inner Christoph Waltz) and save the day.
What could easily come off as hoakey, and likely will to some, stands as honestly charming under the direction of Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer). Working from a script by the writing tandum of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia series), Johnston crafts a movie that brings to mind the breezy joys of the Indiana Jones franchise, where dames, monocles and slugging an enemy in the face is the pinnacle of fun. The appeal is simple and stems from two core parts; the ensemble and their ability to recite a one-liner with precision.
The aforementioned Tucci and Jones are spectacular, the former smiling happily to himself about getting an extra shot of alcohol and the other harrumphing with the best of them. Hayley Atwell is wonderful as a British officer and love-interest, sharp with her words and dangerous with a pistol. Then there is the glue of it all, Evans as our superhero. At first glance, Evans looks like he may not be doing much, an inward soul with few zingers (though he delivers his malaise over an inability to get drunk anymore with brilliant annoyance). He is doing something very difficult though. Evans is playing a good person, plain and simple. There are no past tragedies to mope about or dark feelings to wrestle. Steve Rogers is an honest man longing to help others and Evans pulls off that elegant integrity with ease. One doesn’t get a sense this is some cool kid puffing his chest and speaking about his love of country. Watching Evans as Captain America is believing in his every word.
A few things hold Captain America back from joining the pantheon of great superhero outings. Johnston’s action scenes leave something to be desired. There are clumsily used computer effects, especially in one sequence where Cap’s chasing a car that is extremely awkward looking. Backgrounds often look entirely blue-screened, taking one right out of the experience. Other than the clang of Steve’s shield thudding into an enemy’s skull, the fight choreography is routine. Additionally, Red Skull’s villainy is a bit bland, lacking the cackling viciousness of his comic counterpart and instead coming off like a nemesis from a weak James Bond picture. Due to this, the conclusion doesn’t ramp to an exciting culmination, instead merely appearing as “the final showdown.”
Captain America: The First Avengers opens wide all across Seattle today.