How else could I start this review than with that video? You know that there was a video just like that done for the 1990 Captain America film but that trailer one just goes together so much better. Anyway, I went to see Captain America: the First Avenger tonight. It had pictures (most of which moved) words, things and stuff. Pretty much all you can hope for from a movie. Overall I’d say that …. Oh… You want a little more info? OK, I guess. Click the jump to see me spoil large quantities of the film for you!
Well I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers but if you’ve read my other reviews you’ll know I’m not great at that. I’ll start with one major spoiler though. Captain America features the character of Captain America from the Marvel comic book series of the same name. I guess you’d say the spoiler is in the title but there’s more to it than that. This is the first feature length film of Captain America (There’s been a couple) that actually has the Cap we all know and love in it. Chris Evans really does manage to embody every aspect of the character. There’s no transparent plastic shields and 70s disco music. There’s no stealing peoples cars with the “I’m gonna be sick” routine. This is straight up weak dude becomes a strong dude and then inspires heroism. That’s the core of Captain America. An origin film about him needs to feature a physically weak person who’s brave and determined who gains power and has the inner strength to not only avoid being corrupted by it but to also use it for good. That’s the leader of the Marvel universe’s Avengers that needs to be established.
They manage this pretty well, especially in the first half of the film where we spend a lot of time with Steve Rogers. We learn his past, what drives him, what kind of a man he is and what others think of him. When he is put through the super soldier process he wastes little time becoming a hero. At this point though the film doesn’t just go jumping into a string of action sequences. Cap get’s given two choices. Either be a guinea pig for the army, as he is the only one of his kind on the US side, or become the poster boy for the US army. He chooses the latter. We’re treated here to quite a cool montage set to a very traditional 40s USO show style tune called Star Spangled Man. It’s not the only montage in the film though. There’s at least 3 and it can feel like a bit of a device to move the story along quicker. They’re a sloppy addition to the film but the alternative, in the case of the missions Cap has to take part in, would have been a series of identical raids on Red Skulls (Hugo Weaving) various bases.
The second half of the film is a string of action sequences though with very little else. Rather than stick to focusing on the character development Caps mission neutralise the Red Skull takes over. that’s not to say character elements are left behind. There is still some progression, mostly with his relationship to Peggy Carter (portrayed by Hayley Atwell and her hair spray) and there’s a little of his inspiration to his fellow troops. What is lacking is a truly defining Captain America speech. He’s famed for these moments in the comics where, in whoever he’s saving this weeks darkest hour, he finds exactly the words to not only inspire the people but to remind the viewer of just what he stands for. We do get an action sequence where he frees nearly 400 prisoners single handedly which helps but it doesn’t directly show the inspirational powers he has over people.
This switch in tempo isn’t uncommon to super hero movies though. This is largely because the writers want to get you to the point where the hero is in full control of his powers so they can get to doing a few super powered action scenes. I do feel though that what would have made for better pacing would have been for the freeing of all the prisoners to be the films climax. Have only one secret base for The Red Skull and spend the rest of the time building the relationships. This would allow more time for Caps sidekick Bucky to appear in the earlier stages of the film and help create a stronger character out of him and the other soldiers. Speaking of the soldiers, Cap forms a team that he says he chose but as far as I can tell they were all diversity hires. They have a black guy, a French guy, an English fopp and even an Asian American who quickly informs you that he is from America just so you don’t question why Cap doesn’t slap him like Superman would have. Honestly, Google Superman slap a jap and be stunned.
Visually and musically the film is very good. There’s no shaky cam distracting your eyes during the most mundane of scenes and everything is shot with a very traditional set up. The 3D is practically non-existent though so I’d suggest not bothering with that. Special effects are strong, especially on the weakling Steve Rogers who appears to have been played by a 12 year old with Chris Evans head digitally added on. A few of the action scenes are very much shot on green screen with CGI backgrounds which is a shame for a film that pays a lot of respect to pulpy adventure films of the era. The score is pretty excellent, very much in the adventurous tones of say Indiana Jones of The Rocketeer. Caps iconic suit goes through 2 distinct phases during the film, first as a Jack Kirby era spandex suit for his USO show appearances and later the more serious, round shield wielding, style that’s more in line with the modern suit.
Overall the film is very enjoyable but has some pacing and story issues in the second half. because of the onslaught of successful attacks on Red Skull the villain kind of loses a bit of his threat. There is a pretty cool finale action scene though so it all pays off. I would have preferred a film that kept the pacing of the first half but no doubt that would have bored the idiots in the crowd. An audience that appears to be growing based on the intelligence level of this years summer movies. I wouldn’t worry about that though. Before too long people will tire and we’ll have ourselves a quality renaissance in the world of cinema. The film does everything it needs to to establish Captain America as a hero to root for in next years Avengers movie, a trailer for which is shown after this films credits. I’d recommend this for any fans of comic book hero films and it’s one of the best of the year. Not as good as X-Men First Class but easily on par with Thor. Certainly better than Green Lantern. Hopefully next year we’ll have a big comic book movie with at least a little content to chew on. Dark Knight Rises, I’m looking at you.