As the last summer blockbuster and superhero movie of this year, I can say that Captain America: The First Avenger lived up to most of the expectations I've placed on it since I became aware of the fact that Marvel was going to create it. After several attempts at making a movie based on the star spangled avenger decades earlier pretty much failed to impress audiences, the time was ripe enough to make something closer to the source material. After the success and impression Iron Man left, Marvel Studios went full speed ahead on their attempt to construct a singular universe wherein their films (and each one's respective events) would intersect and converse with one another, ultimately leading to the hype chain of a team movie that is The Avengers on 2012. Ambitious as it sounds, it's definitely happening folks, and I couldn't be any happier with the results I've seen so far from Marvel movies.
Back to the Cap film... Wow. I still find myself reeling from the experience of actually watching it. The fact that the character is one of my favorite heroes in the world of comics adds to that personal bias I mentioned earlier, and no doubt you'll be seeing thick layers of it run rampant throughout this review. While the previous Marvel films this year, namely Thor and X-Men First Class, put things off to a good and action packed start, Captain America has the luxury of ending things on a high and exciting note that will leave smiling after watching it and walking out of theaters. His symbolic and charismatic nature alone screams for attention, and like Thor's signature weapon Mjolnir, nobody can miss that distinguishable trademark piece of hardware that is his Vibranium mighty shield. Is it good? Unquestionably so. Is it better than the other superhero films? That's subject to extensive debate and preference. I will be tackling those points as I go through this review, so if you'd like to read about my opinion, you're welcome to go further down this review. SPOILERS will be present of course, so if you want to avoid them and watch the film with a clear conscience, best turn back now before the jump. Thanks again goes to Solar UIP and SM Cinema for the premiere invite!
Movie: Captain America: The First Avenger
Starring: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Shaw, Dominic Cooper
Directed By: Joe Johnston
With the amount of praise earlier films of this genre got (not to mention one slight speed bump and disappointment), it would be foolish to discount the fact that overwhelming pressure and expectation built up in the months before Captain America: The First Avenger's release. Thor proved to be strongly positive during its premiere earlier this year, and X-Men First Class squashed any detractor's comments because of its perfect casting and writing. So with all that to take in, as well as the underwhelming performance generated by Green Lantern in the box office, how would Captain America fit in and make itself relatable to its audience?
The simple answer: Tell a heroic tale about an underdog character who rises up to the challenge and becomes a symbol in his own right. It's a story element used time and again in films like Rocky and Spider-Man whom pretty much anyone can relate to.
Set in in early 1940's, Captain America: The First Avenger explores the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where World War II wages on and America and its allies fight the good fight to repel the evil forces of Nazi empire and its splintered shadow elite faction, HYDRA. Amidst all this, a young and frail man named Steve Rogers desperately tries to enlist himself in the army, only to be denied numerous times because of his skinny demeanor. Not one to give up and full of determination, Rogers is finally given his chance when he is chosen by one Dr. Abraham Erskine to be part of an experiment dubbed "Project: Rebirth". Chosen by the good doctor because of his courage, ingenuity, and compassion towards his fellowman, Steve is empowered by the process and turned into a muscular and very healthy physical specimen of a soldier. Unfortunately, HYDRA intercepts the process and assassinates Erskine, leaving Rogers the only successful product of the process. After overcoming some difficulties and proving himself in the battlefield, Steve was eventually given an identity and fought for the sake of his fellowman by inspiring others with his heroism and bravery. Wielding a shield and cladding himself in Red, White, and Blue, Steve Rogers became Captain America, and he lead the charge against HYDRA and their mysterious leader Johann Schmidt, aka The Red Skull. What makes this man unique among many is not his amazing strength, but his ability to temper that power because of his values and humility as a good person.
My initial exposure to Captain America started way back in the 80's courtesy of my brother, who remains a dedicated fan and follower of the character. Stories by the late Mark Gruenwald served as my entry point into the mythos, which explored darker plots and tales which saw the original Cap forced into retirement and his replacement recruited for political gain (secretly orchestrated and manipulated by his longtime foe, The Red Skull, from behind the scenes). However, Rogers still remained the charismatic and patriotic hero he was outside the Captain America identity, and continued the fight under the alias of "The Captain" instead. I could go on with my stories about the character, but I just wanted to point out the fact that I respected Cap not because he was America's Super Solider or the iconic leader of the Avengers. I respected him because he has proven time and again that he's something more than just a champion for America - He symbolized freedom and embodied the ideals and traits of a true patriot willing to fight the good fight even if it was on a global scale. That was the Captain America I remember growing up to, as well as that 1966 serial toon that ran alongside Hulk, Thor, Namor, and Iron Man.
Fast forward to the present, and now we have an actual Captain America movie made, one that closely follows the source material it was based on. Joe Johnston delivers a credible product fans would be proud of, and if there's one aspect I personally enjoyed about his take on Captain America, it's that he was able to nail the character's personality right down to a tee. Every single moment of this picture has you looking at the rise of Steve Rogers from skinny kid to super-powered man, and the director of "The Rocketeer" and "The Wolfman" channels a lot of that emotion effortlessly and meshes it with spectacular action flair he sets up well in his films. This one in particular he drew inspiration from Steven Spielberg's own Indiana Jones series, particularly that of the first film of the series "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Johnston admitted that film served as a huge inspiration to his Captain America film, and upon seeing the results for myself, I can honestly agree with that assessment.
Casting wise, I'm happy to say that Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios pretty much have a solid running going when it comes to choosing their actors for their movies. I was a bit skeptical at first when Chris Evans, who played Johnny Storm/ The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, was signed in to play Steve Rogers/ Captain America, since I pretty much got to know the actor for his brash and arrogant roles in movies. Playing the part of Cap was the complete opposite of what he's usually accustomed to, and despite being a natural blonde haired guy, he wasn't necessarily the person I envisioned for the role. However, after seeing Evans in character through the trailers and eventually in this movie, I can honestly say that I'm happy that I my skepticism was unfounded and that the filmmakers did right by choosing for the part of Cap. Chris can channel that 1940's personality and charm a guy like Steve Rogers has quite well, and he looks very impressive and kick ass in costume as well. Wielding the shield alone is a big deal for me when it comes to someone playing Captain America, and Chris Evans does it so effortlessly that he looks born to play this role. Speaking of the costume, I can the necessity in altering the original design of the Cap outfit and making it more "realistic", conforming its properties to the materials of that time and adding a layer of armor mesh and battle gear to its look. However fans of the old school costume, fret not. The movie also pays tribute to the original look of Cap in a rather humorous light. I won't spoil what happens in that sequence, but rest assured it'll make you glad that the new Cap costume was chosen.
Do I have to go and describe how perfect and badass Hugo Weaving was as Johann Schmidt/ The Red Skull? Any villainous role you slap that Australian actor with is bound to be badass no matter what, and he completely owned the maniacal leader of HYDRA. With and without his signature red face, he was a dominant evil force that proved to be the polar opposite of Cap's heroism, and despite the fact that they tweaked his origin story, he still remains The Red Skull comic book fans know and love personality wise. The rest of the cast were also in tune with their assigned roles. Tommy Lee Jones cracked me up with his performance as Rogers' superior officer Colonel Chester Phillips; Hayley Atwell personified the typical love interest role as Peggy Carter; Sebastian Stan proved to be Cap's best friend to the end in his role as Bucky Barnes; and even Dominic Cooper strutted his acting stuff by playing the role of young Howard Stark, assistant of Dr. Erskine and unique inventor who eventually fathers the future Iron Man/ Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr. Heck, even the Howling Commandos lend their support to Cap here, and they look just as they did in the comics (minus Nick Fury's presence of course for obvious reasons)!
Everything falls into place pretty well with Captain America: The First Avenger, and as a fan of the comics and character, I would be hard pressed to say that it wasn't faithful to the source material, because it certainly lived up to expectations and recreated the universe from which the hero was born from. If you're the diehard fan who knows his Marvel universe inside out, then you'll certainly be amused at the lengths Marvel Entertainment has gone through to place some nods to their other films and the comics by laying out some easter eggs the common eye may or may not notice immediately. Either way, this product was good mix of superhero fun and action, and I haven't felt this way since the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man film, X2, and Iron Man. It'll be unfair to compare Cap to any of those films or the other 2011 Marvel flicks. Each stands out in their own right, but this film certainly takes the cake for being the best in terms of laying down a cohesive flashback origin story. Bottomline, whether you grew up with the original Earth-616 Cap or the Ultimate universe version, this one remains a good balance between the two. For all the accolades and honors the character has earned over the years, I'm damn proud to say this movie kicked ass. Thumbs up soldiers, now go and watch it!
Rating - 5/5