Does Marvel save their best superhero movie 'til last this summer? Well not quite, but it still packs more of a punch than Ryan Reynolds and his emerald jewelry. The last of Marvel's crown jewel characters hits the big screen in this much-needed reboot of their lone super solider, Captain America: The First Avenger.
Yes, even though this may be the first time many people will see the famous patriotic superhero on the big screen, Captain America: The First Avenger is technically a reboot or re-imagining of the classic Marvel character. Back in 1990, there was a very cheesy straight-to-video take on the character which hasn't held up over time. After selling off the film rights to some of their biggest franchises (X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, etc.) in the late 90s, Marvel decided to keep the rights to some of the key Avenger characters to make sure when the time came they were done properly.
Captain America is set in the early 1940s, right in the middle of the Second World War. America is diligently recruiting young men to go overseas and fight Hitler's army. Yet the young determined Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has been told repeatedly that he can't enlist because of his poor health, despite his heart and courage to help with fight. A scientist named Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) gives Rogers a chance to fight for his country and makes him a candidate for a new super-soldier program. After the program works on Rogers, Dr. Erskine is assassinated by a member of HYDRA (the Nazi's deep-science division). Led by the power-hungry Johann Schmidt aka "Red Skull" (Hugo Weaving), who is the only other man to have taken the super-soldier serum, HYDRA's forces soon overshadow their Nazi counterparts. Promoted, Rogers becomes Captain America, the only man who can take down the Red Skull.
Bad news first: Captain America: The First Avenger is probably one of the weaker of these new Marvel Studios-produced films. Though that may sound like a bad thing, with films like THOR and the both Iron Mans, their own competition is a lot to live up to. The main reason why Captain America may be considered an incomplete film is because it does leave many things from the comics out. The first half of Steve Rogers' origins, into becoming the famous Captain America, are done right, but the second half with him fighting alongside his 'Hollowing Commando' band of brothers is only given an abbreviated version. It still works in the context of the film, but will disappoint the fans of the comics. There is also a small stretch of the film that gets way too cartoonish for this mostly-serious subject matter of the film, as Rogers is forced to dress up and play pretend soldier to help fund America's military efforts. They did use that as a way of explaining his costume, but I still don't think it fits into the context of the rest of the film. My only other major criticism would be the ridiculous amount of action montages in the middle portion. They are done to show elapsed time, and I get that, but they are so cheesy and over-the-top that I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Any other kind of movie and I would rip the film apart because of those poor montages, yet considering it is still a comic book film I can partially forgive it. Partially.
Cast-wise, the film is pretty amazing. Other than Cap's Hollowing Commandos, who don't get nearly enough time to stand out, the rest of the supporting cast is fantastic in every role. Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as Col. Phillips, providing the right amount of credibility and comic relief the film needed. Tucci is both brilliant and funny as well as Dr. Erskine, who helps make audiences see Rogers' true character through his eyes. Hayley Atwell does a good job playing Agent Carter, Rogers' love interest, but she surprisingly -- and refreshingly -- is given more time acting as a solider than just being there as Captain America's crush. But my favourite out of the all the supporting cast has to be Dominic Cooper as the infamous Howard Stark. Cooper takes a couple pages out of Robert Downey Jr.'s book and embodies a more retro cocky genius for the time. I loved how they had Stark act as Cap's Q and give him a couple of gadgets (motorcycle), along with the iconic vibranium shield, of course. Having Stark used as such a major side character in this film just makes the comic book nerd in me geek out for the possibilities between Evans and Downey Jr. in The Avengers next summer.
These great and well-suited supporting characters aside, it's Evans as Captain America and Weaving as the Red Skull that really makes the film. Like other great superheroes such as Batman and Superman, some of the great fictional characters of modern time, Captain America is too incorruptible. Evans' portrayal of an honest and honourable Steve Rogers may be uncharacteristic for his natural swagger, but is perfectly suited to embodying what this classic comic book icon stands for. Evans obviously went through more than just extensive weight training to become the first Avenger. His skills with the shield and the agility he had when using it were more than impressive considering adding all that extra muscle would somehow reduce his speed and flexibility. Then, just like Indiana Jones, you can't go wrong having Nazis as the villain to put a hero up against. Audiences will always root for the other guy, no matter the situation. Weaving not only is a physical presence on screen, but the combination of his German accent and those Red Skull prosthetics really sells him as the ultimate villain.
It's unfortunate that Captain America didn't get its release a couple of weeks ago on the Fourth of July weekend. Marketing-wise, it makes sense, but I guess Bay and Spielberg have more pull in Tinseltown than Stan Lee. The minor gaps in the story may have been disappointing for the comic book fan in me, but as for a movie fan's perspective, this was the first film since Avatar or Piranha 3D that had some impressive, half-decent 3D effects. Captain America's ending may be a bit of a puzzle to those unfamiliar with the comics' history, but if you remain seated until the credits are done the puzzle may soon 'assemble' itself.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.