Friday, 29 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

It’s the 1940s, America’s at war with the Nazis and Steve Rogers is a puny, 90-pound weakling desperate to sign up for the Army. However, he meets constant rejection. After fortuitously meeting a scientist, he ends up in a secret program to create the first super soldier. His bravery and fortitude see him chosen for the experiment, and he is transformed into a tall, muscular super solider. Unfortunately, the program dies, and he’s left to go on tour dressed as Captain America, promoting war bonds. However, when he performs a show in Italy and hears his best friend has been captured, he defies orders and goes behind enemy lines to rescue him, where he runs into the sinister Red Skull...

Marvel have had a very good 2011 so far. Thor, which no-one expected to succeed, went down well with critics and fans and made huge bank at the box office. Then, no less than a month later, the newest X-Men film came out, and again, it went down well with everybody (though not with this critic) and did well at the box office, if not as well as Thor. Now, less than two months after that, here comes Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s third superhero release since Easter. Is it overkill? Perhaps. The only reason I’d complain about that is if they rushed these films out without considering the quality, if Captain America was a poor entry to the genre, made purely for the money. Luckily, it’s rather bloody good.

I like it because it’s different, it’s not set in the modern age, it’s a World War 2 story with plenty of evil Nazis (or rather rebel Nazi terrorists aka HYDRA) and, although the character was (and still is) basically one long propaganda exercise, the film has a rather lovely post-modern twist which plays up to the fact that Captain America is a propagandist comic book superhero, which will help this film translate into non-American cultures. Ultimately, we get more captain, less America. I also like it because it’s nice and silly! It’s proper, good old fashioned, family orientated, switch your head off and enjoy kind of entertainment, which is absolutely unsurprising given the director is Joe Johnston, director of The Rocketeer and Jumanji. The man knows not only how to make a film look good, but how to make it a good old fashioned romp for the whole family. I say well done to Marvel/Disney on yet another astute choice of director.

It’s helped along by Chris Evans, who plays Steve/Captain, and the fact that he is ripped. He looks like he could easily be a real-life Captain America, and even when Rogers is weedy (done with some weird CGI which puts Evans’ head on a smaller body, making his head look huge), Evans delivers a performance with heart. Then there’s Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. It must be said, the Red Skull make-up looks impressive, and Weaving plays a frighteningly good Nazi, a really perfect superhero bad guy. Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t really do much in his role, he plays a bad-ass good guy well, and he does again here with a couple of funny lines thrown in for good measure. Hayley Atwell is Rogers’ love interest Peggy Carter, and tries so desperately hard to pull off the sassy female who can hole her own, but it just comes across as wooden and emotionless and stands out against the rest of the cast who seem to have fallen into their roles a lot easier.

Since Iron Man 2, it’s been hard to judge whether or not the Marvel films have been done out of a genuine belief that the films would be a choice addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or whether they’ve been made purely to reach the endgame: The Avengers. With this, it’s half and half. It’s a good introduction to the character, the back story’s done well and the adventure/main plot is good, but it all gets rather silly near the end. WARNING! HERE BE PLOT SPOILERS! In order to get Captain America from 1940s America in which the film is set to 2010s America where The Avengers will be taking place, the film ends with Rogers crashing a plane into the Arctic, being found 70 years later and defrosted by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s all very convoluted and a means to an end. Plus, it ruins a potential franchise, Captain America could have stayed in the 40s and fought a variety of different enemies, creating a really different stand-out franchise in the Marvel canon, but no. Now, any future Captain America films will be of the bog standard variety. Also, throughout this film, Captain America does an awful lot of jumping and leaping about. Now, he’s a super soldier yes, but he doesn’t actually have any super powers like Superman or Spider-Man. There’s no way in hell he’d be able to jump anywhere near that far, even with his super soldier super legs, it’s just poor scripting and decidedly dodgy wire/green screen work which brought my viewing pleasure back down to Earth with a bump.

Overall, it’s not at all bad as long as you’re willing to just switch off for a couple of hours and simply sit and enjoy it. There’s a love story tangent in there somewhere which is never really touched upon, purely because even though it’s a 2 hour film, they still barely fit in the origin story and Captain’s fight against HYDRA and the Red Skull. There’s a lot of silly comic book science used to explain everything which is forgiveable of a genre film like this, and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the norm. Except at the end. Where it all goes tits up. I’d say this goes alongside Thor as the best superhero film of 2011 so far though, and I can’t see anything knocking either of them off their perch. Well done Marvel, you’re winning me over from the DC side.

Rating: ***1/2