A part of Marvel’s world domination plans, or at least at the box office, this film is the last film of an Avengers foursome (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor) before the big shebang next year in the aptly named ‘The Avengers’. So to cap off the superhero films of the summer, they go back to the beginnings of the Marvel universe, where heroes were heroes and villains were villains, especially when they’re Hitler. Joe Johnston, director of The Rocketeer, takes aim at interpreting the Captain America saga on screen.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, from Fantastic Four, not Radio 2) is desperate to join the army, to fight against the Nazi menace that is taking over Europe, but there is a slight problem: while he has all the heart, he has none of the brawn. Overheard by Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist who has the solution for Rogers’ problem, makes Rogers into a super soldier to fight for freedom and the American way. Personified by Hydra, Captain America fight is with the deep science division of the Nazis led by Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), or should we say The Red Skull, for their plans of world domination.
Unlike many of these superhero films, this film is very simplistic in nature. No character arc where the character must find a way to channel his emotions (Daredevil), no socio-political subtexts (Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series), just pure pulpy adventure. While it seems like it is laden with special effects and same old origin story, Rogers is just normal guy who just wants to do right because it is right. For some, this might prove to be a problem, but for many of us it means we can revel in the discovery of this alternative 1940s, the transformation, as well as some post-modern references to Captain America’s propaganda past and defeats the potentially problematic jingoism, for just a purely fun time at the cinema.
The most revelatory aspect of the film is Chris Evans. Playing a very earnest character might make it difficult to make him interesting, as we have seen this character before and can prove to be the undoing of many an actor (Luke Skywalker isn’t as cool as Han Solo for example), but it just works. While the character doesn’t change, the way Evans controls his acting makes sure that he doesn’t change who the character is, but just make him a bit more powerful as he dons the costume.
The film does suffer in its second act, as it seems like the action sequences are just cut too short for overall impact, as well as Tommy Lee Jones doing his best Tommy Lee Jones. Worse still, when Schmidt reveals that he too is a superhuman but with a deformed red skull with eyes, it is incredibly cartoony and hammy, which sometimes distracts from the overall story.
While it is cheesy, the film decides to have fun with the material. From Hayley Atwell‘s role as the love interest Peggy Carter, and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man), to the uncredited witticisms of Joss Whedon adding a bit of punch to the dialogue. Best of all, the set design, 1940s Sky Captain-style revisionism, makes the images pop with excitement, with more invention than Marvel stablemate Iron Man 2, as Johnston keeps things moving in style and in the script, never being dull for even just a second.
Imperfect just like its character, but with some fun action sequences, a heartfelt main character and impeccable set design, it’s an engaging thrill-ride.
Good: Chris Evans’ acting and classical set design.
Bad: Weaker second half.