Movie Review: Captain America - The First Avenger

PrintE-mail Written by Katherine McLaughlin

Set in 1940s New York, this origin story detailing how Steve Rogers became Captain America is a visual delight, as director Joe Johnston manages to capture the essence of the war time era along with the spectacle of the superhero tale. The title character is played by Chris Evans and his performance is as endearing as it is commanding.

The main focus of the film is the character of Steve Rogers and how he is ultimately chosen to take on the role of Captain America. Steve is an undersized adult who wants to serve and protect his country but due to his size and health issues has been rejected from joining the US army on numerous occasions.  His determination is finally rewarded by Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) when he witnesses his purity of heart and decides he is a suitable candidate for the super soldier serum. The main issue this film was always going to have was how to deal with the transformation of Rogers into Captain America. For the first part of the film Evans appears on screen as a tiny figure and the special effects actually work really well, I would even describe them as nearly seamless, there are no tell tale signs that what you are watching is not real. Evans performance is believable, but it was a strange experience watching his small form on screen as outside of the film everyone knows what the bulk of the man really looks like.

The backdrop of the 1940s allows the camaraderie and patriotism of the time to convey the message and starting point of Captain America correctly. The detail in the fashion adds to the overall feel of the film, even the final creation of Captain America’s sleek suit is of the time. Many of the male cast and extras sport well kept moustaches and the women’s hair is coiffed to perfection.

The relationships Rogers builds up before his transformation are dealt with equally well. Introducing Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as a reliable best friend and big brother figure to Rogers works well as the bond between the two needs to be tight to make their storyline emotionally engaging.  Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is a strong woman making her stand in a man’s world. Her charm is her strength and faith as she acts as a moral compass to those around her including Captain America. The love story between the two is a credible message of this film; knowing Rogers before and after transformation makes it clear that she has fallen in love with his goodness rather than his appearance.  Of course there are some saucy moments, including an accidental chest touch and some awkward conversations about fondue, which are all dealt with in a cheeky and humorous manner. Dr Erskine is a father figure to the orphaned Rogers, he is the wise observer who nurtures and encourages, and Tucci gives the character enough depth and warmth to warrant Roger’s friendship and trust. It is a combination of all of these bonds that enables Captain America to lead the final part of the film into some satisfying action scenes. 

Tommy Lee Jones excels as the stalwart Colonel Chester Phillips, and has been given some of the best one-liners to suit his haughty character. Hugo Weaving emulates evil as the Red Skull, whose make-up and prosthetics are impressively moulded on to his face to create an even red sheen that allows for expressions. With his inflated ego and wilful destruction he acts as a perfect nemesis to Captain America. A handpicked team of “howlin’ commandos” that follow Captain America into battle for his country are made up of Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Morita (Kenneth Choi), Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci), Montgomery Falsworth (J.J. Field) and the particularly memorable bulky, bowler hat wearing Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough). 

Joe Johnston has taken note of the source material and references it in a subtle enough manner for the comic book fan to enjoy and other audience members not to feel left out. Some characters have been changed to fit in with the narrative but this is to be expected. It ticks all the superhero, fast paced action boxes that it needs to and there isn’t much to criticise here, but it just didn’t blow me away. It was lacking some of the oomph of Thor and Iron Man, but overall it's a solid introduction to the character of Captain America in anticipation of the upcoming The Avengers.

Expected rating: 6 out of 10

Actual rating:

Captain America is released in the UK on July 29th.

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