Captain America – The First Avenger

Another comic book adaptation. Another reboot, if you count the universally mauled, and rarely seen, 1990 effort. This vastly improved 2011 version directed by George Lucas stalwart, Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park III), benefits from the popularity of comic book adaptations in recent years and also today’s modern CGI technology. You will marvel (no pun intended true believers!) at the transformation of tall, hunky and masculine Chris Evans into a digitally scrawny and considerably shorter Steve Rogers, only to be transformed again into a buffed up, yet very real, Chris Evans as the titular Captain America.

1942. Steve Rogers is rejected constantly as he tries to enlist in the US army to fight in the war against Germany. He’s too small, too puny and too unfit for the job. After a fateful meeting with prominent scientist Abraham Erskine, played by Stanley Tucci, who overhears his latest rejection at an army recruitment centre, Steve is drafted by the good doctor and chosen to undergo a selection process for a super-soldier experiment. Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) has his doubts about the fragile trainee who can hardly keep up with basic army training and would rather one of the other soldiers short listed for the experiment be put forward as they have more brawn. Erskine would rather have brains over brawn and wants Steve, who he learns has been bullied for most of his life, as his test subject. He knows that Steve won’t abuse the power if he is given it and will still fight for people, whom Steve describes as “the little man”. With a nod to Jon Faverau’s Iron Man films, Tony Stark’s father and part-funder of the project, industrialist Howard (Dominic Cooper) flicks a switch in a secret lab and thus the First Avenger, Captain America, is born.

After a test of his abilities in a well-executed chase scene pursuing a would-be assassin, Steve’s use of his powers are surprisingly relinquished by the Army and he is relegated to tour the nation promoting war bonds. This is not what he expected and he yearns to serve his country in a more beneficial manner. Going against orders, and with the help of SSR Officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Steve goes over enemy lines for a solo rescue mission in search of his best friend Sgt James ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Barnes) and his captured platoon. This leads him to the base of HYDRA, a terrorist organisation commissioned by the Germans to develop high-tech weapons in order to win the war and lead the Fuhrer into victory. They are lead by Johann Schmidt, aka the villain of the movie, The Red Skull. HYDRA are so bad and evil that they themselves want to thwart the Third Reich for their own goal of world domination. An exciting battle ensues and after rescuing his fallen comrades, Steve is deemed an Army icon and an All-American hero. He then continues his search for the elusive Red Skull and his minions in an effort to thwart their plans to obliterate the lands of the free.

Despite an element of jingoism, the film is not as in-your-face patriotic compared to other action films such as Armageddon with it’s All-American heroes and ‘Hell Yeah!’ bravado.

“Do you want to kill Nazis?” a soldier asks of Captain America.

“I want to stop bullies” is the reply.

It doesn’t matter who the protagonists are. Captain America wants justice to prevail and to fight for those oppressed by any threat. This is a film about honour and standing up for what is right, even though they may be an incredibly powerful adversary, be it a Nazi or a schoolyard jock.

The film has several tender moments, including a pre-Captain America Steve and his angst at his failed attempts to join the army and his relationship with Peggy after he’s made his superhuman transformation. He’s never been with a woman properly before and, despite his chiselled good looks as Captain America, is still uncomfortable when it comes to dames.

Like Johnston’s 1930’s The Rocketeer, this film is a fine romp with nods and homage’s to the period in which it is set. There is a wonderful, not out of place, musical number that will have comic fans salivating at the original comic book character’s costume. Tommy Lee Jones is at his laconic best as stone-cold Colonel Chester Phillips. Hugo Weaving has one of the most convincing German accents heard in years and is terrific, under a sea of fantastic prosthetic make up, as the Red Skull and his performance never strays into pantomime villain. The rest of the supporting cast are great too, with appearances from Toby Jones, Michael Brandon and Neal McDonough. But it’s Chris Evans that holds his own as an actor, transforming into an extremely likeable and affable leading man, not unlike his screen alter ego.

Outstanding credit goes to visual effects company LOLA who have managed to create an entirely believable and photo-realistic digitally shrunk and skinny Chris Evans in the film’s earlier scenes. It is refreshing to see a film where technology has been used to enhance the story rather than upstage it. The rousing score by Alan Silvestri complements the pomp and romp of the proceedings.

This film is released in Real 3D (as opposed to pretend 3D?), as well as the conventional 2D format, and this reviewer found that the images were often too dark on screen with 3D glasses and would therefore recommend viewing in 2D.

As with most recent Marvel comics adaptations, make sure you stay behind after the end credits for the obligatory teaser that will lead into next year’s mega superhero collective epic, The Avengers.

Captain America: The First Avenger opens nationally on 28th July 2011.


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