The First Avenger
- Rated PG-13
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ver the last few years, Marvel Studios has been slowly putting together the pieces to its ultra-ambitious superhero team film, “The Avengers." And though they’ve received plenty of flack for sometimes being a little too deliberate with connecting the dots between movies, they’ve still done a good job of allowing each individual film to exist on its own. That trend continues with “Captain America: The First Avenger,” an old-fashioned adventure film that, while admittedly a little cheesy, is packed with the same charm and wit of the studio’s other movies. But for as much fun as the final piece of "The Avengers" puzzle can be at times, it's probably Marvel's weakest adaptation to date.
The film opens in present day, where a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents discover the body of Captain America frozen somewhere in the Alps, before jumping back in time to the 1940s, shortly after the U.S. has entered into World War II. Despite being denied enlistment into the army countless times, puny but brave Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) hasn’t given up hope of serving his country when Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) offers him the chance to participate in an experimental super soldier program. Instead of being sent into battle, however, the newly dubbed Captain America is sent around the country as a pitchman for war bonds. Meanwhile, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), the leader of the Nazi’s science division HYDRA, has recovered an ancient artifact called the Cosmic Cube that gives him control of an energy source capable of world domination. The U.S. military is completely ignorant to Schmidt’s true intentions, however, so Steve decides to embrace his new alter ego and take the fight to HYDRA in order to end the war once and for all.
Though "Captain America" clearly plays an integral part in Marvel’s big-picture plan, it's no surprise why they waited so long to make the movie. He’s a difficult character to adapt for the big screen; perhaps even more so than someone like Thor. Aside from the ridiculous costume (which is effectively spoofed during his time on the USO circuit), Steve Rogers lacks the kind of personal conflict that makes his fellow superheroes so interesting. He doesn't have any daddy issues or a literal monster hiding within him, so the character tends to feel a little one-dimensional at times. It definitely helps that Chris Evans doesn't make him as much of a goody two shoes as he is in the comics, but as soon as he dons the red, white and blue uniform, the film loses a lot of its personality.
That comes down to a number of things – including a lackluster finale with some tepid action sequences and the fact that Schmidt, who has his own alter ego as the Red Skull, isn’t a very formidable villain – but it ultimately has more to do with what director Joe Johnston does right than what he does wrong. Thanks to some impressive visual effects magic that has shrunk Evans down to an almost sickly size for the entire first act, the pre-Captain America Steve Rogers is a lot more relatable than the superhuman version. Evans handles both sides of the role particularly well, but he’s so good as the little guy that it almost seems like the real version is CG and not the other way around.
The rest of the cast does a fine job in their respective roles, but there aren’t any clear standouts, while the decision to sprinkle some humor into the script is not only refreshing, but helps with the pulpy tone that Johnston brings to the movie. It definitely serves its purpose as a prequel to “The Avengers” (working in several ties like Howard Stark, played by Dominic Cooper, and the Cosmic Cube, last seen at the end of “Thor”), but as a standalone adventure, “Captain America” never makes us care about its hero in the same way that Marvel’s previous films have. It’s a fun diversion, but nothing more.
Three-Disc Blu-ray Review:
If there’s one thing that Paramount has done time and again during their three-year partnership with Marvel, it’s putting out awesome Blu-ray releases for every film. And though “Captain America” may be the last movie in their distribution deal with the studio, they’ve gone out in style with a great collection of bonus material that fans will love. The audio commentary with director Joe Johnston isn’t as exciting as it probably could be, but the three-disc set is loaded with production featurettes on everything from designing Cap's iconic costume and the Red Skull’s look, to the visual effects-aided transformation of Chris Evans. There’s also another great Marvel One-Shot starring Clark Gregg that reveals the badass within Agent Coulson, a handful of deleted scenes, a sizzle reel for “The Avengers,” and copies of the film in 3D, digital and DVD formats.