4 Aug 2011

Screen Time: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

Cast: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci
Director: Joe Johnston
Runtime: 124 mins
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 29 July 2011

Matt C: The final piece of Marvel Studios’ pre-Avengers jigsaw puzzle slots firmly into place with Captain America: The First Avenger, revealing a movie that manages to carve out its own identity while also sitting comfortably in the shared universe the studio have been building since the release of Iron Man back in 2008. That film remains the pinnacle for me but this new entry, starring a character that first entered popular culture 70 years ago, come in as a close second. A zippy, retro thrill-ride, Captain America succeeds through some strong, heartfelt performances and a determination to capture the spirit of the Saturday morning serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s in the same way that the likes of the Indiana Jones movies did.

At its core is a somewhat revelatory turn from Chris Evans. Perhaps better known for tackling roles with a reliance on wisecracking, here he concentrates on making Steve Rogers a likable, relatable and commendable individual, no matter how skinny or pumped up he is. The basic story should be familiar to most by now: weakling Rogers wants to serve his country in WW2 but keeps getting turned down before finally signing up for an injection of super soldier serum. The serum’s creator, Abraham Erskine, is assassinated after the experiment proves to be a success, leaving Rogers as America’s first and only super solider, who goes on to battle his way through Europe under the moniker Captain America. There are tweaks to the origin template (or any retconned origin template) to make it more ‘believable’, relatively speaking, and they work, whether it’s Cap on the USO circuit (which provides the film with one of it’s highlights, a musical number!) or Bucky as an initially more able-bodied friend rather than a teenage sidekick on the frontlines. There is, of course, plenty of outlandish ideas on display too courtesy of the sci-fi weaponry powered by the Cosmic Cube (or, the Tesseract, as it’s referred to here) wielded by the film’s villain, the Red Skull (played with measured malevolence by Hugo Weaving) who even Hitler considers to be too insanely evil.

Alongside Evans and Weaving, the rest of the cast are uniformly excellent. Tommy Lee Jones is at his grizzled best as the colonel in charge of the super soldier program and Stanley Tucci beams as the scientist who knows that it takes more than chemical enhancement to make a hero. Hayley Atwell is plucky and beautiful as Peggy Carter while Dominic Cooper shows that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree as Howard Stark. Meanwhile, director Joe Johnston is in his element, packing his film with thundering action, clever homages, visual flourishes and nods aplenty for eagle-eyed Marvel fanboys. The production design is magnificent throughout and Alan Silvestri does his best John Williams impression with a frequently monumental score.

If there’s a criticism it’s that we’re rushed through Cap’s WWII exploits at a rather frenetic pace when there’s obviously plenty more fun to be had from this period. It’s part of the Marvel gameplan though, as they needed Cap to be ready for The Avengers next year, and who’s to say a sequel won’t thrust us back into the midst of WW2 once more (although I’m betting on a Winter Soldier storyline)? The ending is unexpectedly downbeat (and may raise a lot of questions amongst the uninitiated) but Marvel clearly know what they’re doing and I’m guessing we’ll get a lot more of the ‘man out of time’ angle in May 2012. For now though, if you were to measure a movie’s success by the size of your grin from ear to ear, Captain America: The First Avenger is a resounding winner. 9/10

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