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Friday, July 22, 2011

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) on the battlefield
in Captain America: The First Avenger.

3 Stars

Captain America: The First Avenger, the final Marvel origin story before The Avengers next May, is a blast from start to finish. Chris Evans equips himself well as the "star-spangled man with a plan," and Joe Johnston proves himself more than capable of delivering when it comes to solid superhero action. Hugo Weaving's Red Skull is the best Marvel villain to date, and unlike most superhero movies, the romantic subplot actually worked. The film is a breath of fresh air and a perfect lead-in to The Avengers. It's also one of the few times I've had no—OK, very few—complaints about a summer movie in 2011.

It's the 1940s, and poor Steve Rogers (Evans) wants nothing more than to serve his country. The scrawny little guy from Brooklyn lived his whole life getting picked on by bully after bully, and when the opportunity comes to fight the baddest bully of them all—Hitler—he's rejected. And rejected. And rejected. And rejected. Four times he tries to enlist, and four times he's told he's too small and too weak for combat. It's not until he meets Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), an ex-German scientist, that he's given chance. Erskine is heading up a top-secret government project, designed to build "super-soldiers," men with bigger muscles, faster legs, and keener senses than anyone else on the battlefield. The transformation goes off without a hitch, and just like that, Rogers is jacked. But Erskine gets killed, and the project is scrapped.

No one wants to let Rogers' new abilities go to waste, however. He's turned into Captain America and asked to tour the country, urging men and women to buy bonds and support the troops. But when he finds himself in Europe, and learns his best friend has been captured by a German mad man (Weaving's Red Skull), Rogers finally gets to see some action. And a national hero is born.

The origin part of the story takes up a lot of time. The pacing of the whole film feels a little off as a result. It's the only real objection I had with the film, that because we spend so much time setting things up, we have to transition very suddenly to the meat of the story. One thing I did appreciate, however, is that the studio pretty much left this product alone. In other words, the SHIELD material is kept to a minimum, and Captain America is allowed to exist on its own. That's not to say there aren't some fun easter eggs for Marvel fans, but they don't play such a vital role in the story like they did in Thor or Iron Man 2.

I bemoaned the casting of Chris Evans, as well as the choice of Joe Johnston as director, when this project was announced, but both proved to be major assets to the film. Evans (with the help of some tremendous special effects) totally sells himself as a scrawny underdog, which makes his persona later in the film relatable and easy to root for. He's not as funny or naturally charming as Chris Hemsworth in Thor, but I felt a lot more emotionally connected to Captain America.

Johnston, meanwhile, delivers some of the better combat fight scenes I've seen in a while. There's something old-fashioned and pure about a shield being Captain America's weapon of choice, and though some of that purity is wiped away by Red Skull's weapon of choice being a gun that vaporizes people, I didn't enjoy their battles any less.

Almost every superhero movie must contain a romantic element. Sometimes, it works (see the iconic Superman and Lois Lane pairing). Other times (see Thor or Green Lantern), it's totally forgettable. I don't think the romance in Captain America was even close to the level of Superman and Lois Lane, but it's better than average. Agent Peggy Lane, played by Hayley Atwell, is a no-nonsense operative who sets her sights on Steve Rogers and doesn't let go. His awkwardness around people in general, but specifically women, makes their pairing a surprise. But it fits in well with the film overall. It doesn't really feel forced, and the two actors have great chemistry.

I should note that I saw the film in 3D. It was not filmed that way, however, and it shows. The picture is dark, and a lot of the action—particularly any explosions—showed some blurriness. Thankfully, none of that really detracted from the overall experience. I loved this movie and the Captain America character, and can't wait to see him team up with Thor, Tony Stark, and Bruce Banner next year.


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