A few weeks late to the party, I’m afraid, but here are my thoughts on the second Marvel Studios release of the summer, Joe Johnson’s “Captain America – The First Avenger”.
Marvel have had a lot of success with their superhero adaptations – “Iron Man” and it’s sequel, “The Incredible Hulk”, the “Spider-Man” series, the “X-Men” series, the two “Fantastic Four” movies and this summer’s “Thor” – and that winning streak continues with “Captain America – The First Avenger”. In many ways, this is the best Marvel film yet.
Chris Evans stars as the titular character, an archetypal 90 pound weakling whose attempts to join the US Army during the latter part of the second world war are thwarted until he meets Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), whose experimental growth serum is being tested by the military to create a war-winning strain of super soldier.
So far, so Marvel. Sensibly, Marvel have resisted the urge to update the character and pitch him straight into the same contemporary landscape occupied by Tony Stark and Dr Bruce Banner – this is, for the most part, a period-set tale of derring do, irredeemable Nazi bad guys and a world torn asunder by conflict on a massive scale.
As with his previous comic book adaptation, “The Rocketeer”, Joe Johnson displays a deft grasp of historical setting, stages large-scale action set-pieces which don’t dissolve into a morass of fast cuts and is seemingly as interested in his actors as he is in getting the cool alternate technology and gadgets right. He’s aided by a tight, funny and – whisper it – smart script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, which mixes up mythology, history, comic book canon, pacy plotting and laughs in a hard-to-resist package.
Much less so than, say, “Iron Man 2″, this is a summer adventure which isn’t hamstrung by having to set up aspects of next summer’s “The Avengers”. The inter-universe continuity in recent Marvel flicks is here – the Cosmic Cube from “Thor” shows up and a certain, eye-patched gentleman appears towards the end of the film but the heavy lifting has already been done. We all know that there’s an Avengers movie coming, so it’s refreshing to not have to navigate a primer in Marvel Mythology when we could be having a superhero knock-down, drag-out action sequence to justify the increasingly hilariously over-inflated price of cinema tickets.
For the record, I saw a 2D print of “Captain America” and firmly avoided the post-converted 3D effort also doing the rounds – I couldn’t see many examples of cinematography, setting or action which would benefit from the process, honestly.
Chris Evans is excellent in the lead – he’s far from being a cocky, know-it-all, take charge douche and surprisingly easy to relate to. His Steve Rogers doesn’t give up in the face of insurmountable odds and leads from the front – an entertaining section of the film sees Rogers sidelined by bond-selling, USO show-appearing, conflict-avoiding duties on the home front as his friends are pitched head-first into the horrors of the European theatre.
Equally reliable are Hugo Weaving, as villain The Red Skull, whose horrific, red-skinned countenance probably accounts for much of the film’s 12-A rating. He’s got the standard villain’s modus operandi – world enslavement, troubling obsession with occult arcana and weapons of mass destruction are all accounted for – but there’s a fun parallel to be drawn between the Skull’s search for occult objects to fuel the weapons used in his diabolical schemes and the ostensible good guys that we’re rooting for who…use occult objects the fuel weapons to assist their somewhat more benevolent schemes.
Tommy Lee Jones pops up, doing a masterclass in gruff paterfamilias leadership as Colonel Phillips and he’s as economic, laconic and splendid as you might hope. My favourite character, though, is Peggy Carter, Cap’s UK contact, love interest and awesome 40’s dame. She single-handedly erases the bad taste left by “Iron Man 2″, which saw fit to turn Gwyneth Paltrow’s previously competent, business-like Pepper Potts into a screeching ninny – there’s never any sense that Peggy can’t handle herself and essentially kicks more Hydra (the Red Skull’s deep science, Nazi off-shoot army) ass than the Cap does.
Summing up – well worth seeing, possibly just a bit more fun than “Thor” (though make no mistake, I fricking loved Kenneth Branagh’s superhero adventure) and it brilliantly does the job of making you pine for what nerd godhead Joss Whedon will come up with for 2012’s “The Avengers”.