The way Marvel do things dictates that each of the Avengers gets their own ‘origin story’ first, and arguably none are more important than that of the First Avenger, Captain America. The contextual necessity of his story as the original superhero makes this a rather crucial film if you’re planning to watch the whole Avengers franchise and really get to grips with it all. Set during World War II for a large portion of the film, there is a great deal of attention paid to the background of Steve Rogers and his transformation into Captain America, but unfortunately, this travel back in time does have inevitable repercussions on the viewing experience.
For perhaps the first 45 minutes to an hour, we see the failed attempts of weak, loser Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) who is determined to enlist in the US Army and fight in the war. Despite his diminutive stature, Rogers’ patriotic nature, bravery and relentless persistence to become a hero, lead him to be selected as the subject of an experimental procedure. We get a look at the famous Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Tony Stark’s late father, who hopes to turn Rogers into a super-soldier. Upon his physical transformation, Rogers becomes ‘Captain America’, and initially there are lots of pantomime-esque moments as he is turned into somewhat of a propaganda joke, a performing puppet for the Army’s advantage. Set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, the sinister Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is a worthy villain. When Red Skull unleashes the power of the notorious Teseract, Rogers is forced to shake off his longstanding inferiority to become a true hero, the real Captain America. With the bitter loss of his close friend Bucky Barnes, the Captain carries out his revenge but at the cost of martyrdom in his apparent death.
Chris Evans more than redeems himself for a poor showing in the ‘Fantastic 4’ disaster of 2005, a film which did nobody any good. All is forgiven as Evans portrays perfectly the ‘First Avenger’. He looks the part and plays a charming and believable hero brilliantly. Evans does well to maintain a dangerous and powerful aurora whilst providing the wit and likeability which makes the Captain so popular. Hugo Weaving, despite a questionable German accent, is a fearsome villain, bringing a genuinely ruthless, cruel nature to his character. As Steve Rogers’ love interest Peggy Carter, Hayley Atwell is the strong, feminine character in Marvel’s cinematic universe, providing a foreshadow to the character of Black Widow in future films. Atwell enjoys an impressive chemistry opposite Evans, as well as providing her own attitude, enough to earn Atwell her own spin-off series as ‘Agent Carter’.
The special effects used are somewhat flawed in places, particularly with the depiction of Red Skull’s haunting facial features. Indeed, it is difficult at times to see the sci-fi, magical elements against the setting of World War II. Marvel seems to be keen on distorting historical events to incorporate their own heroes, but in this instance, rather than creating an alternative history, as a viewer, I was simply very conscious that I was witnessing a slightly absurd superhero movie. The slow-motion fight scenes were impressive nonetheless, and despite the odd issue with SFX, the general composition of the film is fantastically typical of Marvel, in a good way.
‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is arguably less impressive than the ‘Iron Man’ films which precede it, most likely having something to do with the era they are set in. The film does frame the formation of the Avengers effectively, giving us the leader of the team, the original superhero. There are of course, the standard moments of Marvel humour throughout, and at times Captain America is guilty of being the more placid of the Avengers series. Take Red Skull out of the equation, and what we have here is nothing more than a very light-hearted, cheesy, simple film.
DIRECTOR: JOE JOHNSTON
STARRING: CHRIS EVANS, HUGO WEAVING, HAYLEY ATWELL, DOMINIC COOPER, SEBASTIAN STAN, TOMMY LEE JONES