Captain America - the First Avenger (2011)

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Captain America - the First Avenger (2011)

Post  BoG on Mon Oct 27, 2014 1:05 am

This was the first genuine film effort to faithfully transpose the famous and most American patriotic super-hero from the comic books, where he'd begun way back in 1941. Oh, sure, there were earlier attempts - in the 1944 Serial, he was more like a Fed with a gun who just happened to wear an odd costume. There were two TV movies in 1979, but these took place in modern California and he was a surfer dude who was actually the son of the original Cap. The more faithful attempt was in 1990, but that low budget effort was more like the unreleased Fantastic Four film from '94, in which the main villain, the Red Skull, was made an Italian for no discernible reason. So, finally, we get the origin story of Captain America in film as it should be told: there's a brief prologue in the Arctic, in modern times, but the bulk of the film takes place during WWII. It's early 1942 and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is as scrawny & frail as a young American can be; he's very short, about 5' 4", and quite skinny; he looks like a breeze can topple him. But, he's a fighter, refusing to back down even if a larger man (which almost all men are) is beating him to a pulp.
We still see, in these early scenes, some divergence from the comics legend: they overdid the frailness of Rogers (via computer FX); I still don't get how he, besides bulking up, also gains a foot in height after his transformation. The character of Bucky is also adjusted; in the books, he was a young kid who was taken under Cap's wing after he found out about his secret i.d.; here, Bucky a.k.a. James Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is the bigger buddy who looks out for Steve before he is changed into a super-hero. There are also plot points involving an alien power source - the Tesseract - which connect this film to the others of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Thor, The Avengers, etc.). However, much of this stays true to the original concept: Rogers, the ultimate weakling, has inner power; he watches newsreels of the Nazi threat; he tries to sign up for service multiple times, swiftly rejected; he refuses to give up. Then, Professor Erskine (Stanley Tucci) overhears Rogers and shoo-ins him towards the secret project to create a super soldier. There are no FX involved in showing Cap's impressive physique after the conversion; actor Evans worked many months to build himself up into a startling heavyweight.
The film isn't always exceptional: there's a long, drawn-out chase sequence when Rogers pursues Erskine's killer, a Nazi saboteur; it was meant to showcase the hero's new abilities but goes on too long (it was a few seconds work in the comics version). Hugo Weaving as Schmidt a.k.a. the Red Skull, fails to convey the ultimate evil which is the Skull's province; he's not bad, just more of a standard villain, though he strikes a commanding figure in his Nazi regalia. Also, as fate would have it, Evans doesn't look that good when wearing the mask. In fact, when he's in the promotional costume, selling war bonds, he looks downright goofy - though that may be intentional. In the plot, as the only resulting American super soldier, Rogers is sidelined during the first year of the war - as late as November, 1943, he's still playing the part of a showgirl, touring the USA as a morale booster. But, when he finally gets overseas to perform for the troops in Italy, an opportunity arises - he finds out that Barnes' unit has been captured behind enemy lines; disobeying orders, Rogers goes to the rescue.
There is nothing in this super-hero film that really stands out or blows your mind but, at the same time, there aren't many weaknesses - it's a gritty war adventure with some added elements of the fantastic, and it has this steady hand moving the story along, whether it's the script, the director or the actors. Tommy Lee Jones plays a standard crusty colonel and maybe he was a bit too old (65 yrs.) for the role, but it is Jones in all his bemused glory. There's also the character of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), father of Tony Stark, to give the Marvel films further continuity, and the Howling Commandos - including Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) - from the sixties comics series.  Hayley Atwell plays the only female role of any substance, Agent Carter, who likes to shoot her pistol; she would be rewarded with her own TV mini-series in early 2015. There is one other thing missing: there are no scenes of Cap training to develop his awesome fighting abilities, as if these were automatic along with his new physique. To be fair, there was not much of that in the comics either. BoG's Score: 7 out of 10
American Trivia: cameo by Stan Lee as a befuddled general; there's also Natalie Dormer in one scene as an army private who tries to seduce Cap; and, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) pops up at the end when Cap awakens in modern times; this last plot development follows the famous storyline in the comics, in Avengers #4 (1964) and Cap's next film appearance, still played by Chris Evans,  is in the Avengers film in 2012. Evans seems to have a knack for being cast as super-heroes - he previously played The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films (2005 & 2007).

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