Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

2011– 124mn – 12A

Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci. Review by Walter Nichols.

Comic books were born in America during the Great Depression as, mainly, wish-fulfillment fantasies: adventures of strong, handsome, powerful men with control over their lives; plotted and created as entertainment to working class teenagers and unemployed young men on dole queues. With the arrival of World War II, many comics took a more patriotic turn – more than one series featuring, at some point, its eponymous hero punching Adolf Hitler’s lights out – and no superhero was ever as patriotic, as red-white-and-blue as apple pie, as Captain America.

As Marvel Comics plunders its back catalogue in search of material for movies, it was inevitable that sooner or later they would make a Captain America movie, the only hurdle being – in a post 9/11 world – the character’s almost jingoistic pro-Americanism, which may not go down well all around the world. The filmmakers deal with the problem by keeping the film true to its 1920s roots. Captain America: The First Avenger is an unashamedly pulpy adventure – you can almost feel the ink on your fingers, and smell the cheap printing under your nose. Set during World War II and painted in broad, appealing emotional strokes, the film opens with weakling Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he attempts to register for military service in Brooklyn. It’s his fourth attempt, and he’s – predictably, as he’s asthmatic, rheumatic, pallid and diminutive – rejected yet again. But he’s spotted by Army scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is working on a super-soldier serum. Erskine – feeling that a man who has known only weakness would value power and strength and only use them with compassion – chooses Rogers to be the experiment’s first subject. This turns him into Captain America – just in time to face off with Nazi scientist Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), who has used a similar serum to turn himself into a superman known as the Red Skull….

Predictably considering the source material, the film has none of the depth or intelligence of the X-Men, Batman, or Spider-Man films, and it’s really little more than solid popcorn fare. But it pulls its central concept off handsomely. Chris Evans makes for an old-fashioned, blue-eyed and square-jawed leading man. The rest of the cast around him is outstanding, from Tommy Lee Jones’s gruff Army colonel to Hayley Atwell’s strong and beautiful romantic interest. And Hugo Weaving – as usual – is a fantastic villain, complete with creepy Werner Herzog accent.

The ending will seem confusing, lame and unnecessary to audiences unfamiliar with comic book canon, but it’s there to set up the long-mooted Avengers movie (which will bring all Marvel heroes, such as Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, together), and makes more sense if you sit through the credits to catch the sneak peak trailer for it.

Star rating: 3 out of 5 stars