Posted July 27, 2011 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in Movies/TV

FILM REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA: The First Avenger (No Major Spoilers)

FILM REVIEW – Captain America: The First Avenger (No Major Spoilers)

It’s not the size of the man in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the man.

When Captain America: The First Avenger was first announced, a lot of people weren’t enthusiastic to see it. Some, who were probably unfamiliar with the source material, thought that it would be a 210-minute pro-American propaganda flick. Others could not see how the Captain’s star-spangled costume could possibly be translated effectively into film. (It didn’t help that previous attempts to make Captain America movies produced less-than-stellar, direct-to-video results.)

Still, others were not convinced about the man Marvel chose to portray the shield-slinger: Chris Evans, an actor noted for less serious roles and whose most famous foray into the comic book movie world was as the Human Torch from Fantastic Four. People thought it was odd for Marvel to choose someone identified with one of their less successful movie franchises to portray one of their flagship characters (pun intended). Some even brought up the issue of how the movie would be marketed overseas, specifically to countries who had issues with the USA.

Fortunately, Captain America: The First Avenger succeeds on many levels; as a solid interpretation of a comic book icon, as a film worthy of the attention of even non-comic fans, and as another prequel to one of the most anticipated comic book films of 2012, The Avengers.

Directed by Joe Johnston, Captain America tells the story of scrawny Steven Grant Rogers, the very definition of a willing spirit within weak flesh. The film takes us through World War II, showing the crucial role he played in eventually winning the war, and setting the stage for the Marvel Movieverse’s present state. Joining Chris Evans are Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt, the villainous Red Skull, Hayley Atwell as Cap’s flame Peggy Carter, and Sebastian Stan as Cap’s partner and best friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. Reprising his role as everyone’s favorite creepy one-eyed big brother is Samuel L. Jackson as Nicholas Joseph Fury. Also in the film are Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Phillips, Dominic Cooper as engineering pioneer Howard Stark, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan of the Howling Commandos, and Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola.

Evans does not disappoint as Steve Rogers. Believe it or not, the movie effectively erases any memory of his being Johnny Storm in the FF movies. Evans was well-prepared – physically, mentally and acting-wise. Weaving did not portray the Red Skull with typical over-the-top villainy, and while this for some may have made him less menacing, I found it appropriate for a sinister and intelligent leader of a terrorist organization (HYDRA), focused on his vision to dominate the world. Atwell provided just the right amount of emotional depth, although there were times when I found her presence lacking. Cooper was effective in the sense that you could really the similarities and differences between him and his yet-to-be-born son (the other, more popular Stark).

Stan as Bucky worked well for me – the idea of a kid tagging along Cap’s adventures is admittedly ridiculous, and the only reason why Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Bucky way back in 1941’s Captain America Comics #1 was to have someone that younger readers could identify with in an adult superhero-oriented market that was two decades away from the rise of the first teenaged superhero lead (a certain wall-crawling arachnid wonder). The other actors fit well into their roles, especially Jones as Col. Phillips, who had the best humorous lines in the film.

The story and plot were solid. This is one of the few instances in comic book movies wherein the liberties the movie took from the source material actually improved upon the mythos. I won’t go into detail here, but I’ll say this: especially for fans of the source material, the course of events in the film truly made sense. Worth noting is the timing of the death of a certain character, which happened earlier than expected. At first I thought it was a missed opportunity to stay true to the source material; I eventually realized that it was done in order to provide a longer grieving period for the character, and to establish how, in colloquial terms, “shit just got real”.

One of the biggest strengths of the film was the amount of “geek” references in it. Eagle-eyed comic book readers would be able to appreciate, among other easter eggs, the brief appearance of one of the stars of 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, as well as the inclusion of Cap’s first, triangular shield. The scene where Arnim Zola is introduced was a clever nod to the comics, and references to the previous Marvel Studios films helped build upon the feeling of a shared movieverse. Significant scenes and covers from the comics were present in the film as well. Even Bucky picking up Cap’s shield at one point was a wink-wink for readers who currently follow the comics. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a special cameo!

Ironically, the way the film was constructed made it feel like it had surpassed the stigma of “superhero movie” successfully. In fact, take away the colorful costumes and it would have worked as a regular Hollywood blockbuster. The film is self-aware and brings up its own pro-American campiness in a way that remains both respectful to the original story and relevant to modern times. The film also delivers excitement and action in gratuitous amounts; fans of both action films and war films will definitely be satisfied.

A minor gripe about the film, however – it seems to feel rushed towards the end, especially during the scenes set in the present day. We see very little emotion from the Captain in the final scenes – hardly what I would expect from a film featuring a literal “man out of time” who had just woken up from an almost 70-year comma and found that the world has moved on without him. I expect this to be addressed in The Avengers, though, so I’ll reserve judgment about this until that movie comes out. The special effects were somewhat disappointing as well, most notably during scenes with explosions.

Despite these issues, Captain America: The First Avenger is perhaps the best Marvel movie to date, and one of the best movies of the year so far. More than anything, Johnston has succeeded in proving that it IS possible to create a masterpiece of a film with a character essentially wearing a flag, without venturing into hammy, over-patriotic territory. Possible anti-US sentiment notwithstanding, go do yourself a favor and watch this movie: remember that Steve Rogers, and even the Captain America identity, is a symbol not of blatant Americanism, but of being human and doing the right thing – a symbol of heroism.

Even if you had to face the might of a thousand well-armed men…

…and even if all you had to defend yourself with was a glorified Frisbee.

P.S. Stay until after the credits!

Mikael Angelo Francisco