Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

There’s this movie opening this weekend. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: The Avengers? It’s one of those big blockbuster-y superhero movies, you know, lots of costumes and explosions and all. Will make obscene amounts of money. I’ll probably go see it at some point. (I’M KIDDING YOU GUYS, SEEING IT SATURDAY, SO EXCITED!!!) Anyway, The Avengers differs from other big comic book movies in that it features not one, not two, but four bonafide superheroes, plus a few kick-ass associates. Starting with 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel has been building up to what will undoubtedly be this summer’s biggest hit with a steady stream of stand-alone “prequels,” each featuring a different superhero. 2008 also gave us “The Incredible Hulk,” which is apparently part of the canon despite swapping out Edward Norton for Mark Ruffalo, and 2011 introduced us to Thor and Captain America, thus rounding out the major cast of characters. I’ve been a little bit behind, and have to admit that I haven’t seen the 2008 “reboot” of The Hulk. But, I did just get around to Captain America, and so I am fully prepared to watch The Avengers assemble on Saturday.

As the title states, Captain America is the first Avenger. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the original 90 pound weakling, trying desperately to enlist in the US Army as America enters World War II. Thanks to his heroic spirit, he is eventually selected to take part in a scientific experiment which, if successful, will transform him from a walking liability into a super-soldier. Naturally, that’s where the fun starts. Following a brief stint as a poster boy for the Armed Services, “Captain America” gets his chance to prove his mettle, single-handedly freeing an entire regiment from the evil clutches of the Nazi spin-off organization known as HYDRA. Led by evil genius Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), HYDRA’s (predictable) plan is to destroy the world. Schmidt is the prototype to Captain America, having undergone the same transformation, but with nastier results. Naturally, Captain America will have to fight these evil forces in order to save the world. Since it’s a comic-book movie, I’ll leave the summary there. Feel free to draw your own conclusions. I’m sure you won’t be far off.

After the success of Iron Man, when it was announced that all these other movies would be made, culminating in The Avengers collective, I was extremely skeptical about the success of such a venture. I loved Iron Man, and thought Robert Downey, Jr. was amazing as Tony Stark, but I just couldn’t imagine that the other films would fare as well, particularly not when they cast relative unknown Chrises (Hemsworth as Thor, Evans as Cap) to take on the other leads. I’m happy to say that I think both movies have proved me wrong. I thought Thor was really entertaining, and while Captain America is notably different, it’s perfectly in keeping with both the overall vision and the characterization of the character himself. Chris Evans does an excellent job conveying the earnestness and heroism of Steve Rogers, a surprising turn-around from the more cocky characters he normally plays. While I found the CGI used to make him look puny seriously off-putting, he manages to make Steve, who’s kind of a goody-two-shoes, truly sympathetic, both before and after his transformation into Captain America.

The cinematography and feel of the movie also succeeds in capturing the excitement and G-rated entertainment of the 1940s. I don’t recall anything jumping out at me at being particularly anachronistic except for the technology being used, of course. The story line is pretty straightforward, and moves along at a good pace. The real strength of the movie, though, lies in the fabulous supporting cast. On the good-guy side, we have Stanley Tucci, rocking a German accent, as the kindly scientist who chooses Steve to be his masterpiece, and Tommy Lee Jones as a gruff, no-nonsense Army Colonel. Dominic Cooper is also worthy of mention as Howard Stark, Tony’s father. Cooper does a fabulous job of emulating Downey’s character in a younger, less modern form. I’m a little sorry we probably won’t see more of Howard. As for villains, well, the great Hugo Weaving, while a little disappointing, is still always enjoyable to watch, and is ably backed up by Toby Jones and Richard Armitage. And finally, we have Hayley Atwell as Cap’s love interest, Peggy. She seems to follow in the footsteps of other comic-book girlfriends, holding her own fairly well, but mostly there to look pretty and provide some emotion. I credit Tucci, Jones, and Cooper with really making the movie alongside Evans, but everyone does a fine job.

Captain America was definitely enjoyable and entertaining. The most impressive thing (to me) is how Marvel has truly managed to tailor each film to its lead character. Iron Man was flashy and impressive, Thor is a bit overblown and dramatic, Captain America was simple and heartfelt. More than Thor, I think Captain America feels like the introduction it is; truly a set-up for what comes after, but still solid on its own. It is certainly advisable to watch all of them in order to fully connect the dots, but I think each movie can exist independently of the others. I’m a little sorry it took me so long to get around to Captain America, but it definitely served as a tempting appetizer to the main attraction, and I’m glad to have a developed sense of who everyone is before I walk into the theater this weekend.

Are you excited about The Avengers? Do you plan to see it asap, or wait out the mad rush?

7 responses to “Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

  1. You’ve managed to sum up pretty much exactly how I felt about this movie. I just wish they’d stuck with the 1940’s leather-and-straps version of the Captain America costume, even though I know it’s completely out of touch with the modern superhero costuming idiom. It really lent a gritty feel to the parts of the movie in which it was used, which likely makes it entirely inappropriate for The Avengers, but it was still refreshing to see a bit of a change-up from the usual vinyl, metal, and plastic ensembles.

    SO excited to see The Avengers this weekend! 😀

  2. I’m thrilled to hear you enjoyed this Sam. I like The Rocketeer which was directed by Joe Johnson so I expected that he’d do a nice job w/ the vintage look and feel of the film. But the acting and story are both excellent, I was so sad to see Tucci go so soon, even though I enjoyed seeing my fave ‘obscure’ Brit Richard Armitage in a blink-but-you-missed it role as Hans Kruger. Jones was quite the scene stealer, I love that part when he said ‘well I ain’t kissin’ ya!’ Ha!

  3. I liked Captain America quite a bit. I liked having a film where the hero was actually a hero again.

  4. I can totally get that. I still believe that Steve Rogers throwing himself on that dud grenade is one of the most heroic things I think I’ve ever seen.

  5. Pingback: “The Avengers”: All about the superheroes « Radu presents: The Movie-Photo Blog

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