One of the great things about superhero comics is that while they’re all part of the same larger genre, there are countless variations within it. A dark gritty Batman comic is wildly different from the scientific utopianism of a Fantastic Four book, which is different from both the crime noir stylings of Daredevil and the classic heroism of a Superman title.
Captain America: The First Avenger, however, is something completely different, as it’s not only a superhero movie, but also a war film and a period piece. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and director Joe Johnston clearly understood this going into the film, as it never forgets itself or falls into spandex-draped cliché. In fact, it feels more like a World War II movie with a superhero running around it than the alternative.
The story goes like this : Steve Rogers (Evans) is a skinny asthmatic weakling with the heart of a patriotic lion. Steve wants more than anything to serve his country in the war against Hitler, but the enormity of his spirit simply isn’t enough to overcome the limitations of his frail body. Steve’s big heart catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist working to create a new breed of genetically-enhanced super-soldiers, who will turn the tide of the war in The Allies’ favor. Along with his collaborator Howard Stark (a.k.a. Daddy Stark played by Dominic Cooper), Erskine successfully transforms Steve into a specimen of human perfection. At first used as a propaganda symbol, Steve yearns to put his newfound power to actual good use, as the hero Captain America. He partners with a pretty Allied Forces agent named Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and gathers an international team of special-op soldiers – including his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – to help combat evil.
Enter Hydra, a Nazi advanced weaponry division led by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). When Schmidt discovers a long-lost mythological artifact of immense power, he unwittingly sets Captain America on his most important mission yet – one which will ultimately give birth to an age of Marvels.
Its classic and yet timeless. The movie does many things correctly, character, tone, acting, action – and yet, it somehow comes off as being very good, rather than amazing without appearing to be an insult. The historical set pieces all feel authentic, while the more fantastical comic book elements, although pulpy, still fit with the bygone era. This includes the advanced technology developed by The Allied Forces and Hydra, as well as the “magical artifact” at the center of the film, which has ties to the more mythological elements of the Marvel movie universe.
Johnston avoids the current trend of “shaky cam action” by staging competent action sequences shot at wide angles. So action fans may take a breather. It is refreshing to be able to actually see every punch or kick Cap throws, and we do indeed get some nice shield-tossing moments. While the action is competent, it never achieves jaw-dropping amazement in the way a Michael Bay action sequence does – but that’s OK, since Johnston and Co. have the much more valuable elements of story and character pinned down. Indeed screenwriters do a terrific job shaping the story of Steve Rogers’ transformation into America’s icon. The pace of The First Avenger is tight, and there are some genuinely moving moments in the film.(Ironic enough the best moment come when before Rogers dons the outfit)
Origin stories are always tough, as a superhero movie’s core demographic is usually intimately familiar with every facet of the legend after decades of iconic tales. Captain America: The First Avenger skirts this problem by fully investing the audience in Steve Rogers back when he was nothing more than a 90-pound weakling. For long-time fans of Captain America and those of us who just can’t wait for the Avengers movie, Captain America: The First Avenger is loaded up with Easter eggs, cameos, references and foreshadowing. Viewers with absolutely no history with the material will never be lost during the movie and might find themselves heading down to their local comic shop the next day in search of some Captain America books (acc. to reliable sources Ed Brubaker's run would be a good place to start).
Captain America has been an icon for so many decades because of who he is, rather than the feats he performs as a superhero. The film wisely invests ample time into firmly establishing the character, and then, keeps his good nature and strong spirit as the central theme of the story. The other trick the screenwriters pull off is weaving the many threads of the larger Marvel universe into the most cohesive standalone story since Iron Man. The First Avenger has the fortune of being a prequel to the events of the modern-era Marvel movies, which allows the filmmakers to dive fully into the telling of their own story. The movie is also fortunate enough to have an all-round cast to date.
Chris Evans has successfully left his role as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four behind by owning the role of Steve Rogers. He’s particularly fantastic as that frail boy from Brooklyn – an idealist who is selfless and brave and doesn’t see any irony at all in the dichotomy between his outward appearance and inner strength. As Cap, Evans looks the part of a hero and handles the action scenes well enough – but it’s definitely in the dramatic moments where he really makes the character resonate. The supporting cast of the film couldn’t have been better. Hugo Weaving adds another great villain to his filmography as The Red Skull – a menacing and maniacal villain, who stays grounded enough as to not be cartoonish (extra hard to do when you’re slathered in red makeup). Hayley Atwell shines equally bright as Agent Carter, a tough-as-nails Allied operative who still manages to be distinctly modern and feminine (read: hot). She and Evans do a great job managing the understated chemistry between Steve and Peggy – a true romance that has no real chance in the midst of wartime.
Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci bring needed authority and weight to their respective roles as the Colonel and scientist who give birth to Captain America. While young up-and-comers Sebastian Stan and Dominic Cooper garner some well-deserved attention as Cap’s best friend Bucky and Iron Man’s daddy, Howard Stark, respectively. Cooper manages to capture that Stark-brand swagger that’s both an imitation and expansion of what we saw in the Iron Man films, while Stan does enough development of Bucky to generate interest about the character’s possible future in the Marvel movie universe.
With all so may good things to back it up, it does have a minus point - there are no particularly spectacular blockbuster action moments. While the middle of the film doesn’t exactly drag, the flurried montages of Cap’s feats during the war (while necessary to create room for sequels) likely won’t blow anyone’s mind. The final battle between Cap and the Red Skull is well-executed – but as has been par for the Marvel movie course, the need to tell a bigger story limits the possibilities of what this one film can deliver.
Still at the end of the day the Cap gets his due and if you all who still haven't seen it and are worn out on the marvel superhero front should definitely take the time to go and watch Captain America: The First Avenger. Your in for a treat!