Many will think that this is exactly what we have seen a number of times this summer, and that this film, like Thor and like Iron Man 2 before it, have been built on a production line solely to exist as lengthy prequels for The Avengers in 2012. They would be right. But I think Captain America exists as a uniquely interesting character, and this is undeniably an entertaining film. It is fun and light-hearted when it needs to be, it doesn’t get bogged by trying to squeeze in unnecessary characters and it weaves a genuinely good and concise story that not only deftly handles the limitations of its protagonist as a ‘super-hero’ but plays with it and twists it to create drama and emotion.
I’m not going to dwell on plot here, even though the storytelling is quite strong, because it essentially rests on the forces of good vs. evil. In this case World War II hinges in the balance of two rival scientists who possess the abilities to change the tide of the war. We have Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi whose ambitions even outweigh those of his Fuhrer. Having formulated a cult known as HYDRA and acquiring and harnessing a powerful cube (referred to as 'the Jewell of Odin’s Treasure Room'), he is beset on world domination. The other is Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who has formulated a powerful serum, when mixed with ‘vita-rays’, that will build a super-soldier, a hero capable of mustering the strength of their superior enemy.
The man they choose, Brooklyn Native Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is a man not unused to bullying and rejection. Early sequences depict Rogers’ countless failed attempts to enlist for World War II military duty on the grounds that he has several ailments (including asthma) and that he lacks the physical capabilities required. What he does possess though, is courage, determination and heart, which are the attributes recognized by Erskine and the reason he encourages Colonel Lester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and SSR Officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to volunteer Rogers for the experiment. With the assistance of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Rogers becomes Captain America, the super-soldier, the reluctant icon, and the war hero he always aspired to be.
While the first half of the film is very strong, the post-production 3D does look terrible. Unfortunately, the second half, which features a lot more action, does throw in some gimmicky features to ‘enhance’ the 3D experience too. I would recommend checking out this film in 2D. Wait, when don’t I recommend that? The 3D is certainly the primary weakness of this film, but there are also some editing decisions in the first half that I think weakened the suspense a little bit surrounding Schmidt’s character. There were also some strange plot conveniences that make little sense and one particular disastrously constructed montage. Following this, Johnston gets it back on track, creating several spectacular actions sequences. Cap's pursuit of a Nazi spy through the streets of Brooklyn is eye-catchingly good and the conclusion is engaging, heartfelt and satisfying.
What I did like about this film was the classical look the film adopted, and the sense of nostalgia (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark were films that came to mind) that effortlessly came with the story. I thought it was also well paced, taking the time to adequately introduce both Schmidt and Rogers, without jumping around all over the place and throwing in too many characters. I thought they did a great job recreating Brooklyn and the photography and production design were exceptional. Another feature I liked was the fact that Johnston really knew the sort of film he was making and understood and embraced just how different Captain America is to the other members of The Avengers. Conceived at the time of WWII, he captured the imaginations of young Americans, who idolized the rise of the pushed aside ‘little guy’ to aid the war effort. It’s hard not to endow a film with Patriotism when your hero has a costume that bears an American flag motif. But it’s never preachy, just unashamed and genuinely inspiring. Typical superhero tropes like the female love interest, the corny one-liners and the inevitable kiss in the heat of battle are all playfully handled.
But what I think makes this film really enjoyable is the casting. Evans, and it is recognisable immediately, is perfectly cast. You can't help but like the guy. Too are Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones (who looked like he was having a great time) and the gorgeous (and busty!) Brit Hayley Atwell. The film does a great job tying in Howard Stark (Iron Man's father) and by framing the story with one set in the present; with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) making his usual appearance to recruit for The Avengers. Oh, if you want to see a teaser for the 2012 release, stick around after the credits. Captain America: The First Avenger has something that 80% of wide releases have lacked in the last three months. Fun. Not since Iron Man, have I had such a great time watching a superhero in the theatre.
My Rating: 4 Stars (B-)