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Thursday, July 28, 2011



Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun, thrilling boy’s own adventure that capably delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Captain America origin story. Not a bit more, not a bit less. It’s the 80% student of comic book films – the kid that just coasts on his natural intelligence and charisma without going the extra mile.

This ‘origin’ film tells a story that most Cap fans will be familiar with and the uninitiated will pick up pretty easily. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the skinny kid from Brooklyn who can’t get into the army. He volunteers for the Army’s Super Soldier program and soon has to match wits and muscles with the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Bookended by codas that set things up for films to come, Captain America is pretty fun, pretty thrilling and pretty satisfying.

The First Avenger’s biggest asset is undoubtedly its cast. Chris Evans is fantastic as both skinny Steve and super Steve, never any less than likeable, charming and passionate – though it feels like the script and suit might just be holding his full range of charisma back. Hugo Weaving gives Loki a run for his money as my favourite Marvel movie villain to date and Hayley Atwell sells the toughness of Agent Peggy Carter beautifully. Having the most fun, though, are Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones as two of Rogers mentors. Everyone in this film is great, kicking ass and all with just enough of a twinkle in their collective eye.

My main concern going in was director Joe Johnston, who forced out ‘The Wolfman” last year and watched it die both critically and at the box office like the half-formed mutt it was. Would the man behind Jurassic Park 3 turn his recent cold streak around and do justice to the Cap? For the most part, he absolutely does. The film looks great with a nostalgic sheen, great action and beautiful make up and costumes. He doesn’t waste time with two many extraneous characters like the later X-Men films or Spider-man 3 and most of all, focuses clearly on one hero and one villain. This is all good, solid directing that ensures Cap a strong critical and commercial ride.

Here’s my one complaint, though, and it’s not so much a complaint as it is wishful thinking. I feel like Captain America had the opportunity to be truly great but Johnston plays it a little too safe. Considering Captain America’s straight-laced nature, there’s an opportunity to play his adherence to rules and dedication to what’s right a little more for real comedy. There’s an opportunity to really have his romance with Peggy Carter make us feel something, but again Johnston holds back, instead choosing to create false tension with random side characters.  Hugo Weaving always feels like he could really go into memorable evil psychopath mode but again, the movie holds back, not wanting to err on the side of being too cartoonish. I would venture that nothing in this film is truly bad, a rare feat, but nothing in this film is truly great, either – and that’s fine. Better the movie pass the commercial and critical tests and set up a sequel rather than go the way of Green Lantern. Maybe those opportunities for greatness will be seized in the sequels now the character has been established, and fans of the comic books will certainly recognize where the groundwork is being laid.
There are some concerns that the film won’t do well overseas because the American patriotism won’t play, and that’s certainly an unavoidable consequence of having a superhero called Captain America. The word of mouth should spread, though, that this is just an old-fashioned good vs. evil movie, and the fact the Americans are the good and the Nazis are the bad doesn’t really come into play. We’re more looking at two divisions of those armies going to head-to-head and Evans is a charming enough lead to make you forget about the more patriotic aspects of the story. It certainly didn’t bother me – I only had one real problem with Captain America and that was the baffling-for-the-uninitiated cosmic cube stuff. Marvel need to release a pamphlet or something on what’s going on there.

Captain America also features a great musical sequence from the deservedly prolific Alan Menken, some nice character work, lots of shout-outs to fan boys and in my screening, a post-credits sequence and trailer for a certain Marvel team-up. While the Avengers trailer only disappointed mildly due to its brevity and short cuts, I would say that the post-credits sequence is not worth hanging around for at all. If your bladder is bursting, just go. It’s not worth the damage.

Captain America: The First Avenger is on par with Thor as far as Marvel’s harder-to-sell heroes go and Johnston and his actors have done a more than credible job. For me, the whole movie was even with Thor on pretty much every level. It’s a really good comic book movie that sets up the mythology with style and has an above-average cast.

I wouldn’t dream of asking more than that.

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