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"Captain America: The First Avenger" – and The Last One Until "The Avengers"

My movie review of "Captain America: The First Avenger" which stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers who after getting rejected from military service several times ends up getting turned into a super soldier.

Quick note before I start this review: Be sure to stay through the end credits! Many of you may already be planning to sit through them, but everyone else needs to understand this when they enter the theater. There is a very special surprise for everyone at the end!


“Captain America: The First Avenger” succeeds where “Green Lantern” utterly failed; it gives us a superhero (one for the Marvel Comics universe) that is distinct from all those of his ilk, and its character is one we quickly come to care about and root for. Steve Rogers isn’t just some cocky kid from Brooklyn with an overinflated ego to match. He’s a sickly young man who desperately wants to fight for his country, but who has been rejected from serving in the military countless times. But what he lacks in health he makes up for in spirit. Steve wants to fight for his country not because Uncle Sam wants him to, but because (and he said it himself) he never backs down from a fight.


I also liked how the movie didn’t shy from its American roots the way “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” did. While it shied away from saying the slogan “a real American hero” out loud, “Captain America: The First Avenger” doesn’t do that. At the same time, it doesn’t just beat you over the head with blind American patriotism that would make Roger Ailes at the Fox News Channel proud. It has its share of American pride, but it’s really about the spirit of this unlikely soldier which keeps him sane after he is transformed into a super soldier. The outside may be different, but the inside of the man remains the same (almost sounds like “Robocop”).


Playing Steve Rogers/Captain America is Chris Evans who you may remember him from those dopey “Fantastic Four” movies. As for myself, I remember him best for doing a grind down an icy railing which led to his ultimate doom in “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” Chris is perfectly cast and does great work in keeping his character from becoming just another clichéd war hero. His heart shines throughout the entire movie, and he never allows Rogers to become laughable or indulge in behavior that’s easily cringe inducing.


Once Steve is turned into the super soldier that is Captain America, you root for him to go into battle and defeat the Nazis. But seeing him become a pawn for the United States’ Government in hawking War Bonds is depressing even when his irrepressible spirit and love for country shines through. We understand his desire to prove himself, and out spirits rise along with his.


Of course with every superhero movie we get a vicious villain. In this case, that would be Johann Schmidt, Adolf Hitler’s right hand man who is later revealed to be Red Skull. This particular Skull has his own plans for world domination through his own organization of HYDRA, and he gets his followers to raise both hands instead of just the one for Hitler. With a stolen tesseract, HYDRA can eliminate their foes faster than those phasers that vaporized the red shirts on “Star Trek.”


Hugo Weaving portrays Johann Schmidt/Red Skull and gives “Captain America” the formidable villain it needs. Still, after being in all “The Matrix” and the “Lord of the Rings” movies, I kept waiting for him to say:


“Welcome to Rivendell Mr. Anderson!”


“Captain America: The First Avenger” also has the other requisite characters like the Army drill sergeant and the beautiful woman who dares the most macho men to treat her as a woman instead of the soldier she is. It’s not hard to guess who gets their ass kicked here. But director Joe Johnston succeeds in getting the best actors available to inhabit these roles and give them life beyond the mere clichés they could have been.


Tommy Lee Jones is highly entertaining as Col. Chester Phillips, a character we’ve seen in plenty of movies; a gruff, no nonsense military leader who expects nothing but the best from his soldiers. Jones however gives Phillips a wry sense of humor which much like the one Sam Gerard had in “The Fugitive.” Watching him being subtly dismissive of others and later coming around to see Steve Rogers is the man is a hoot, and he’s never just screaming all over the place like R. Lee Emery in “Full Metal Jacket.”


Then there’s Hayley Atwell who plays Peggy Carter, the female officer who of course becomes Steve Rogers’/Captain America’s love interest. But I really liked how her character was drawn out to where she doesn’t just exist for the sake of Chris Evans’ character. Hayley sells us completely on her tough demeanor which is no act, and she travels across the screen with an assured confidence that is not easily faked.


Joe Johnston got the job of directing “Captain America: The First Avenger” based on period movies he made like “The Rocketeer” and “October Sky.” There’s a lot of attention placed on the detail here (the story takes place 1942 to be exact), but it isn’t held prisoner by it. Heck, many of the tools HYDRA ends up using seem far removed from the 40’s, and they look like they came out of a sci-fi movie that has yet to be made for another 20 or 30 years. While he hasn’t made a great movie with this, he still has given us an undeniably entertaining one. It didn’t even need another terrific film score by Alan Silvestri to prove that!


In terms of the 2011 summer movie season, “Captain America: The First Avenger” isn’t better than “Thor” which for me had far more interesting characters, but it easily outdoes “Green Lantern” which is one of this year’s biggest disappointments. Thanks to Chris Evans’ performance, Captain America finally gets the cinematic respect long since denied to him. It all serves as an entertaining prelude to next summer’s eagerly awaited “The Avengers.”


* * * out of * * * *

See also:

Movie Previews: Captain America: The First Avenger

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