Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

4 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is the last piece of the superhero puzzle to give the general public yet another superhero to join as part of the Avengers. Knowing the Avengers from the comic book series, it was inevitable that a “Captain America” film had to be released among the two “Iron Man” movies, “The Incredible Hulk,” and “Thor.” After that, we would have to wait for “The Avengers.” So, it would seem like this would be more of a bland requirement than a real movie. But having different people work on these films works as an advantage.

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is a real movie. It has setups, payoffs, action, adventure, characters, and another superhero origin story. Yes, it has a great share of CGI action sequences and it can get pretty silly at times, but it’s far from an incomprehensible mess. It has real production value, a nice weight to the story, and a hero we care about and root for.

The reason the film is subtitled “The First Avenger,” even though it’s the last entry before “The Avengers,” is because its main story occurs during World War II. How Captain America is brought to life in the modern-day is comic-book logic (obviously not a spoiler), but as long as I don’t get to see that annoying eyepatch-sporting Samuel L. Jackson character giving yet another ominous warning of something big to come, I’m fine. (By the way, I truly hate to dis Jackson, one of my favorite actors, for this.)

The story centers around a 90-pound, five-foot-nothing weakling named Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, much more appealing here than he was as one of the Fantastic Four). He’s a stubborn kid with a can-do attitude, but a tendency to get himself beat upon by bullies because he doesn’t run away from a fight. He gets rejected by the US Army, but after trying and trying, he eventually makes it into basic training. He’s usually the one slowing down from everyone else, but he seems like the perfect choice for the testing of a scientific experiment, supervised by a scientist (Stanley Tucci with a German accent) and Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, playing the always-welcome role of…Tommy Lee Jones), that will apparently enhance a weakling’s physical strength.

Admittedly, this experiment is pretty silly, as it’s described as making it so that your nature will come through to your physicality, so that if you have a good mind, you become great. Courageous Steve goes into the machine and becomes a strong supersoldier. He’s a foot taller, is very muscular, and is faster than most men alive. The Army gives him a silly costume, though a cool-looking shield, and markets him as Captain America, the great American hero.

The first half of the movie is pretty strong, as we get the origin story of Steve Rogers becoming Captain America. It’s nicely-paced, well-developed, and with some pretty darn convincing effects—the effects that make Chris Evans into a short, wimpy dwarf are incredibly seamless. The character is quite likable and his early dilemmas are engaging. He wants to do right, even if he doesn’t have the physical strength, and has a can-do attitude with the courage to go for it. When he becomes Captain America, there’s a nice sendup to the ‘40s war-time relief in which Captain America makes public appearances, complete with a cheesy song and female dancers. Other good things about the first half—Steve has a nice relationship with the sultry Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell); there’s a manufacturer character named Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), whom we all know is Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s grandfather; and there are some pretty exciting action sequences, particularly one in which Captain America sneaks into enemy territory to break out prisoners of war.

The second half of the movie is exciting, yes. But it’s somewhat ordinary. We know the drill—more action sequences (though some good ones) and a final showdown between the hero and the villain. And that’s another problem with the movie—the villain. Honestly, I don’t remember much about him, nor did I care for what he was after. Give the over-the-top Loki in “Thor” some credit for being deliciously (and needlessly) evil. I’m not sure what Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) had in mind. I guess he had this secret society that was planning to use this McGuffin to rule the world, but nothing is as clear as we’d like it to be in our superhero movies. Also, this is where the pacing starts to become inconsistent—for a film with two hours of running time, there are many parts that felt rushed.

However, “Captain America: The First Avenger” has more pleasures than flawed faults. Comic book readers will be pleased and those who love superhero movies will find enjoyment from this. Director Joe Johnston (directing his first superhero movie since 1991’s “The Rocketeer”) creates a broad narrative that entertains and has waiting for more adventures of Captain America. And be honest—you’re even more excited when you stick around after the end credits and see another foreword about “The Avengers.”

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