The superheroes of 2011 have finally thrown their last punch, with “Captain America: The First Avenger” showing the an audience a good old-fashioned time.
World War II is well under way and both sides are searching for tools to win the war. Hitler’s paranormal research and technology division, Hydra, lead by Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), has just located a unique object, the Cosmic Cube, that once dwelled in the realm of Odin (remember Asgard in “Thor”? That Odin). Meanwhile, a scrawny little dude from Brooklyn has tried repeatedly to sign up for the military, to no avail. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) may not have much muscle, but he’s got more heart and determination than any other American –– a quality very important to Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who enlists Rogers in his super soldier program.
After going through a dramatic experimental procedure, with the help of leading mind, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Rogers is transformed into the optimal fighting weapon, known to the world as Captain America.
Now don’t be confused, he doesn’t have superpowers per se, he’s simply a human being at the height of human potential – perfect in every way.
The Allies’ best weapon is set to take on Hydra, but Cap can’t do it alone. He’s got his Howling Commandos: James Montgomery Falsworth (J.J. Feild), stripped of his superhero identity as Union Jack from the comics; James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), also stripped of his costumed identity and not Cap’s teen sidekick, but a friend of the same age; and Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan (Neal McDonough), the longest living S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent (again, this is left out). Lastly, what would Cap be without a woman to fight for? In this case it’s British agent, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who works with Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), overseeing Cap, but don’t expect her to be a damsel in distress.
Evans is dynamite as Steve Rogers/Captain America. The man’s become a familiar face to the superhero/comic book film (both “Fantastic Four” films, “The Losers”, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Push”), and he’s finally found a role worth holding on to with this one. If you’re excited to see Cap use his shield like a boomerang, it takes a while, but the performances in the meantime are very enjoyable.
Director, Joe Johnston, isn’t known for stellar action choreography, and he sadly lives up to his reputation here. One of the best moments in the trailer features Cap charging into an enemy facility, shield at the ready, with the Howling Commandos machine gunning at either side of him. Unfortunately, this memorable moment, along with several other iconic explosion sequences, takes place in montages that signify the passing of time. The visceral enjoyment of the action is turned into little more than brief breaks between dialogue. To make matters worse, it de-emphasizes Cap’s first appearance in his combat uniform.
But Johnston is known for his stylized period pieces, like “The Rocketeer” –– a strength that serves him well in bringing to life not just a World War II film, but something that both captures the feel of war-torn Europe and 1940s pulp adventures. Say “hello” to what happens when the superhero takes his cues from Indiana Jones; it isn’t historically accurate, but it sure is a lot of fun.
Yet, while Johnston handled “Captain America” well enough, I hope Marvel is smart enough to find a different director for his sequels, since the man doesn’t know how to create an engaging modern-day flick. Plus, he lucked out since “The First Avenger” could’ve easily been as bland as his previous disaster, “The Wolfman”.
The stage has been set for “the man out of time,” and now it’s time to take more cues from Jason Bourne than John Wayne.
Comics writer Ed Brubaker’s current run with the character is a far cry from the one-dimensional army spokesman found here, and he’ll be a much more successful superhero if he’s allowed to grow up.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” is a solid summer blockbuster, and the last exciting prelude to “The Avengers”, premiering in May. Get ready for Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo/Lou Ferrigno), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to joins forces against the God of Mischief, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). All that to say, stay through the credits for the latest teaser.
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