Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

People keep saying that Captain America is good, although old-fashioned, fun, as if being old fashioned is something the film succeeds in spite of being. This is wrongheaded thinking. Captain America is a wonderful superhero movie, Marvel Studio’s best alongside Iron Man, precisely because it captures the old-fashioned spirit of American war films, superhero comics, and a heroism that no longer exists in our modern era. Of course, this sort of straight-laced tone wouldn’t be appropriate for every superhero movie. It specifically takes Captain America and his Boy Scout, by-the-book goodness to make it really sing. The story follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 90-pound asthmatic who lacks the physique to fulfill his dream of serving his country, as he signs up for a secret government program that turns him into the super-soldier, Captain America. As Captain America, Rogers enlists a crack team of American commandos and endeavours to destroy the Nazi deep research division, Hydra, led by monstrous super-soldier, Johann Schmidt a.k.a. the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). It’s a pulpy story with a morally pure hero, a ramshackle adventure full of pseudoscience and mythical powers, and Nazis for villains!

Director Joe Johnston worked on a similar pulpy adventure film back in 1991when he made The Rocketeer, and that film works as a warm-up of sorts for Captain America. Johnston, a protégé of Spielberg’s, is a hit and miss director. When he’s on the mark, his films seem influenced by the best aspects of the Spielberg school of filmmaking: crisp visuals, energetic and coherent action sequences and conventionally emotional storytelling. When’s he’s not on the mark, his films are little more than good-looking turkeys.

Luckily with Captain America Johnston has made his best film. Taking more than one nod from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Captain America’s visuals are impressive, its action sequences are thrilling and well choreographed, and its pace moves with enough briskness and good humor to make the two hours go by quickly. It’s a good fit for Johnston’s traditional style of filmmaking, with his love of conventional story arcs and morally clear protagonists.

Speaking of the protagonist, Evans proves himself more than adequately in the title role, dismissing any of the negative talk that preceded the film when it was heard that Johnny Storm from Fantastic Four would also be playing Captain America. Besides his boyish good looks and impressive physique, Evans does well humanizing this nationalistic hero.

Evans’ Rogers isn’t a blank-slate do-gooder and war symbol, but an ordinary Brooklyn kid who has always wanted a chance to prove himself. Even after he’s turned into Captain America, he remains the little man struggling against bullies and doing what's right regardless of the opposition. He’s a genuinely good person who always challenges himself because he knows it’s the right thing to do. As I’ve said, such a morally good hero is a rare thing in movies nowadays, so it’s refreshing to have a truly honest and forthright hero who lives up to his ideals.

Captain America may be Marvel Studio’s best film. As they did with Iron Man, they boiled down the essence of one of their most popular heroes, cast the right actor to play him, and matched the story and tone of the film to the feel of the classic comic books. Yes, Captain America occasionally feels corny, but like with Superman, Captain America demands such a gung-ho Boy Scout tone. Marvel Studios has really proved that they’re committed to getting their characters right and making great entertainment to boot. If next year’s The Avengers can match Iron Man or Captain America, the movie-going public is in for a real treat.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Directed by Joe Johnston; written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely based on the comic books by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, and Hugo Weaving.

8 out of 10