CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, and Samuel L. Jackson
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Review by Stacy Dooks
I think it’s safe to say that of the initial releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The First Avenger, was the true acid test for the Marvel universe of films. Iron Man (2008) and The Incredible Hulk (2008) had laid the groundwork, andThor (2011) had proven you could take the universe from the super-scientific to the outright mythic. Captain America was going to be tricky, particularly when dealing with a modern world with a decidedly jaded view of the United States and jingoism in general. Steve Rogers, the eponymous super soldier, and champion of liberty, was going to prove a tough sell in a world that didn’t really buy into the myth of America as the world’s superhero, so how in the world were Marvel Studios going to get over that hill? Simple: they took the character back to when he made the most sense.
Any trepidation I felt about the film immediately vanished when I heard that Joe Johnston was tapped as the director of Captain America: The First Avenger. Johnston directed one of my all-time favorite films with Disney’s The Rocketeer, so having him return to Golden Age style adventure with Captain America was a natural fit. The film is a love letter to the early days of superhero comics while at the same time allowing for a depth of characterization that’s deeply affecting. Take the friendship Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers and Sebsatian Stan’s Bucky Barnes: you buy that they’re close as brothers and that there’s a deep and abiding bond between them. It’s also true of the chemistry between Rogers and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, as they grow close over dealing with how the world sees them and what they’re truly capable of as people.
But all of it, the entire film, hinges on Chris Evans. And you have to understand that before he was the Sentinel of Liberty, Evans had been known for humorous characters in whacky comedies like Not Another Teen Movie. His previous forays into comic book films had played into that, whether as one of the Seven Evil Exes in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World or playing the wisecracking Johnny Storm in the first two Fantastic Four films. But like Christopher Reeves before him, Evans takes the material and plays it with 100% sincerity. When you seem him up there as Steve Rogers, you believe he’s everything Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine hopes he will be: not just a soldier, but a good man.
The film embodies the adventure serial/1940s comic book with such aplomb it feels of a piece with other films set in that era like Raiders of the Lost Ark. (There’s even a fun line about Hitler’s men ‘digging for trinkets’ in the desert which I’ve no doubt launched a fleet of fanfics.) The performances are great. the story is equal parts triumph and tragedy (as the best Marvel stories are), and everyone in the film from Evans to Hugo Weaving to Tommy Lee Jones is note-perfect in their respective roles. And the final line of the film is the most heartbreaking moment in all the Marvel films, finger snap included.
Watch It. If you haven’t seen Captain America: The First Avenger you should rectify that deficit immeditely. It’s a rollicking adventure story that lays the foundations for The Avengers and everything else that followed. It’s well-written, wonderfully acted, and is a pure delight from start to finish. Recommended.