Monday, July 25, 2011
A Review of Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger, the last superhero movie for this summer season, made its box office debut last weekend. It was worth the wait, because it is hands down the best superhero movie of the summer, and a great way to keep Marvel fans in a state of eager anticipation for next summer's Avengers movie.
Like Thor before it, Captain America incorporates the title character's rich history of comic book tales into the movie's plot and visual design. Perhaps the most inspired creative decision behind this movie was not only to depict the origin story of one of Marvel's oldest characters but to also serve as a tribute to the Golden Age of superhero comics, an era where every superhero from that time (including Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman and Batman) was enlisted to fight the Nazi menace and sell war bonds as part of their comic book adventures. Read on for the complete review.
Captain America tells the story of how Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) went from being a determined and selfless young man whose poor health resulted in a series of rejections for his attempts to enlist in the army during World War II to becoming a scientifically created "super soldier" and later the stalwart symbol of America's fight in Europe. To stay true to Marvel's own fictitious history (and to avoid the marketing complications that would come from selling Nazi action figures), the movie largely avoids portraying the fight against Nazis in favor of the fight against Hydra, a "scientific research division" for the Nazis that has gone rogue under the leadership of Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a.k.a. The Red Skull. Nevertheless, Captain America remains firmly rooted in the patriotic fervor of the World War II era, and it deftly mixes the origin story of a superhero with the story of an idealistic army recruit's experiences on the battlefield, resulting in a pulp epic that is both old-fashioned and unique.
Another thing that keeps Captain America from descending into the standard superhero origin clichés is its focus on character. Rogers is firmly established as solid character before he assumes the alter ego of Captain America, and he never fades into the background once the star-spangled superheroics begins. Furthermore, the script and Evans' performance add a dose of humility and thoughtful self-reflection to Rogers' enthusiasm and determination, thus providing nuance to a character who could easily become too perfect and simple to be interesting.
Rogers is surrounded by a cast of equally engaging characters, including Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Rogers' tough-as-nails ally and budding love interest, and Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), the creator of the super soldier serum and surrogate father figure for Rogers. The relationship between Rogers and Dr. Erskine bears a passing similarity between that of Peter Parker and Uncle Ben in Spider-Man's corner of the Marvel universe, and this relationship adds heart to who and what Captain America is ultimately supposed to be.
If I had to pick a part of the film that's my favorite, it would be towards the middle of the film, just after Rogers is injected with the super soldier serum. A complication sets in that results in Rogers being the only super soldier created by Dr. Erskine, and the military doesn't want to lose their latest weapon on the battlefield. Thus, Rogers assumes the role of Captain America as part of a USO show that tours U.S. to drum up public support for the war effort. Not only does this allow the movie to explain where the name "Captain America" came from and why he wears a red, white and blue costume (as opposed to green combat gear), but it also allows director Joe Johnston to tip his hat to the Golden Age of superhero comics and Captain America's place in it. For example, a Captain America comic book is sold to kids as part of the USO tour, and this comic book has the same cover as the actual first issue of the Captain America comic that was published in 1941. We also briefly see Rogers shooting a scene for a Captain America movie serial, a nifty nod to the actual Captain America movie serial that was made in 1944.
Overall, Captain America is a treat for comic book fans of all stripes (no pun intended). It works both as a stand-alone, rip-roaring action movie and as a prequel for the Avengers film, which will arrive next summer. With Captain America wrapping up Marvel's prequel series of films on such a high note (the other prequels being The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor), I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us when the big screen Avengers assemble at last in 2012.